Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wait, Jimmy Carter was right about American greed and consumption

Wait, Jimmy Carter was right about American greed and consumption

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Despite the social issues that make for interesting conversation around the water cooler or the foreign policy debates the pundits have on cable news, the economy is the number one issue for the American people because it's a topic that affects everyone.
Just months before the 2008 election, the American economy went into the tank. After years of unregulated capitalistic greed, the financial structure of the "good old U.S. of A" could no longer stand on a platform so weak. By the end of the year, the stock market had dropped and the unemployment rate had increased as the economy was bleeding 750,000 jobs a month by the turn of the new year. Millions of hard working Americans saw their life savings erased and homes taken away from them.
We are now five years removed the initial collapse, and while the economy is improving, it is doing so at a rate that is not helping out those who really need it fast enough. The finger point of blame is usually directed in one of two directions. Those on the political right place the blame at the door step of the current administration, blaming President Obama for a struggling economy that had imploded before he even took office. The "left" blames the previous occupier of the White House, taking shots at George W. Bush whenever the economy is brought up. The real answer is not in the end result of the economy, but in where and how the seed was planted. The seed of economic destruction was planted during the transition into the Reagan administration. Promising to launch the lower and middle class into prosperity, Ronald Reagan used his charm and ability to act to coast through the 1980 election and defeated fragile incumbent, Jimmy Carter in a landslide.
The following eight years saw the wealthy continue to line their pockets while the middle class started its downfall. Union membership was dealt a drastic blow through the Reagan years, highlighted with the decertification of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or PATCO in 1981. The union went on strike on August 3, 1981, fighting for better working conditions, higher wages and a 32-hour workweek. Reagan called their bluff which resulted in the firing of 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored Reagan's order to return to work on August 5th. As union membership took a hit so did the rest of the working class as upper income Americans could only smile.
Ronald Reagan came into office after defeating Jimmy Carter, the Democrat who many perceived as "soft," following a struggling economy, high gas prices and hostages being held in Iran. The year before the election on July 15, 1979, Carter gave a nationally-televised address which he spoke to the American people, detailing what he thought was a major problem with the current state of the country. Known as the "crisis of confidence" or "malaise" speech, Carter called out the greed of many Americans, speaking the truth many didn't want to hear. The speech was strong, but didn't help the negative image of Carter when many believed he was blaming the American people for the economy and energy crisis instead of offering ways to fix it.
To watch the entire July 15, 1979 speech, click here. (Excerpts below)
"I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy... I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might. The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation...
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning....
I'm asking you for your good and for your nation's security to take no unnecessary trips, to use carpools or public transportation whenever you can, to park your car one extra day per week, to obey the speed limit, and to set your thermostats to save fuel.... I have seen the strength of America in the inexhaustible resources of our people. In the days to come, let us renew that strength in the struggle for an energy-secure nation."
One line in the speech is very important that could also describe the current mindset of the American people. Carter stated "too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns." As millions leave their families this Thanksgiving to camp out at major chain outlets in hopes of saving a few bucks, reflecting on Carter's words can only sum up the greed of unregulated capitalism so perfectly.

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