Is this Obama’s ‘malaise’ moment?

June 24, 2014

Obama addresses the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington

Malaise is back.

President Barack Obama’s situation is getting perilously close to President Jimmy Carter’s in 1979.

Americans see little evidence of an economic recovery, more and more workers are giving up hope of ever finding a job, the burden of student loan debt — now larger than credit-card debt — is crushing the hopes of young people, the president’s signature achievement, healthcare reform, is broadly unpopular, our borders are overrun by migrant children, Iraq is falling apart, Syria and Ukraine are in turmoil and the president seems hapless and ineffectual.

“Malaise” was the term used in 1979 to describe the deep pessimism Americans felt about the way things were going in the country.  That year, inflation was soaring, unemployment was rising, the United States faced a debilitating energy crisis, a tax revolt had broken out, Americans were waiting in long gas lines, and Iran had a revolution, further roiling the Middle East.

Carter seemed hapless and ineffectual. When the president addressed the nation on July 15, 1979, he appeared to blame the American people. Carter described “a crisis of confidence,” saying, “We 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.”

Support for Carter was so low that he was nearly overthrown by a challenge in his own party from Senator Edward M. Kennedy. The voters fired Carter in 1980, replacing him with a man who would have been difficult to elect in any year but 1980. But Ronald Reagan offered what the country desperately wanted after four years of Carter — strong, decisive leadership.

carterIn his 1979 speech, Carter called attention to “a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media and other institutions,” adding, “It is a warning.”

Indeed, it was a warning — for him.

Though Carter himself never used the term, the speech was labeled the “malaise” speech. The public reaction was initially positive.Within a few days, however, Carter had demanded the resignation of his entire Cabinet. Americans wanted leadership, and Carter was creating confusion – and seemed to be assigning blame.

Carter was calling attention to an alarming collapse of confidence in institutions. In 1979, Gallup reported deteriorating public confidence in the presidency, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, public schools, newspapers, banks, big business, organized labor, even the military and organized religion. The average percentage of Americans expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in these institutions in 1979?  Forty-eight.  And what is it now?  Thirty.

Americans become deeply disturbed if they see events spinning out of control and their elected leaders incapable of managing them.  That was the perception that doomed Carter.  It is now becoming a problem for Obama.

The American public actually agrees with most of Obama’s policies, particularly his caution in making foreign-policy commitments. They are also terrified of what Republicans would do if they ever took over.

But the public doesn’t see any results. Congress does nothing, and whatever Obama is doing — on the economy, on immigration, in Iraq, in Ukraine — is not making a lot of difference. The New York Times new poll reveals a growing lack of faith in the president and his policies. In this month’s Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, 54 percent of Americans said they felt Obama cannot lead the country and get the job done.

In 1979, when Carter’s job approval rating was at 42 percent, he was getting 53 percent support from his fellow Democrats and 29 percent from Republicans — a 24 point gap.  Obama’s job approval is the same as Carter’s was — 42 percent. But Obama is getting 78 percent support from Democrats and just 9 percent from Republicans — a whopping 69 point difference.  Can any leader pull together such a divided country?

FILE PHOTO OF FORMER US PRESIDENT REAGAN WAVING FROM SOUTH LAWN OF WHITE HOUSE.Reagan did in the 1980s. But he had certain advantages. One was his personal charm. Even people who disagreed with Reagan tended to like him.  Second, Reagan took office in 1981, after four failed presidencies in a row – Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford and Carter. So people really wanted Reagan to succeed. Third, the country was less bitterly divided. Now we have a sizeable constituency rooting for Obama to fail.

If Obama were eligible to run again, he would almost certainly lose. Obama’s problems probably doom his vice president, Joe Biden, as well. If Biden were the Democratic nominee in 2016, voters would see it as a third term for Obama.

Is there anyone out there who looks like a strong leader?  Right now, people don’t know too much about the potential Republican contenders. But they know a great deal about Hillary Clinton. And what they see is a sharp contrast with Obama.

On every one of nine issues tested in a CNN poll this month, the public thinks Clinton would do a better job than Obama. For example, 63 percent believe the former secretary of state would do a good job handling foreign policy.  Just 40 percent say Obama is doing a good job on foreign policy.  On the economy, 63 percent think Clinton would do a good job. Just 38 percent believe Obama is doing a good job on the economy.

It would be a stretch to argue that Clinton is another Reagan.  But she does project an image of leadership and competence that people don’t see in the current president.

Gallup recently asked Americans to rate the five living presidents. Obama was rated the worst.  Carter and George W. Bush were only slightly higher.

Which living president do people consider the best?  Fellow named Bill Clinton.

Another Clinton? That doesn’t sound too bad.


PHOTO (TOP) : President Barack Obama addresses the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington June 23, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

PHOTO (INSERT): President Jimmy Carter announces new sanctions against Iran in retaliation for taking U.S. hostages, April 7, 1980. Courtesy of LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

PHOTO (INSERT 2): President Ronald Reagan, waving to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House on April 25, 1986. REUTERS/Joe Marquette


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“Americans see little evidence of an economic recovery, more and more workers are giving up hope of ever finding a job, the burden of student loan debt — now larger than credit-card debt — is crushing the hopes of young people, the president’s signature achievement, healthcare reform, is broadly unpopular, our borders are overrun by migrant children, Iraq is falling apart, Syria and Ukraine are in turmoil and the president seems hapless and ineffectual.” – unless you are an Obama supporter, then all the listed above has no meaning. To the progressive mind Obama is the second coming of Christ.

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive

Obama started assigning blame right from the beginning.
It seems he thought that wishful thinking would propel him through the reality of his vast inadequacies but his arrogance wouldn’t allow him to take responsibility. Still doesn’t.
He is still using smoke and mirrors to distract the less fawning media but the almighty poll numbers prevent the normal suspension of disbelief.
So a rational politician might try the more centrist approach and try to work across the aisle but the opposite is Obama’s gambit. Playing more to the extreme left will, at least, give him the sugar high he is addicted to.

Posted by gitmojo | Report as abusive

Nobody is “rooting for Obama to fail”. It seems he is doing just fine on his own. Does Rueters really think we like our children to be unemployed and homeless just so Obama can fail? I have five kids, all are unemployed, 2 are homeless, and 2 have student loan debt that they will probably never be able to pay off. But of course, I like them to be poor so that Obama can fail. Sorry, kids, but it is necessary that you live under the overpass and stand by the freeway with a cardboard sign, because otherwise, Obama might succeed, and we can’t have that!

Posted by JestSaying | Report as abusive

Another Clinton sounds horrible to me.

Posted by chaemeleo | Report as abusive

Unfortunately this article is very true. My small business has lost half of my customers and many of their employees as there is no work and nothing to move this economy forward. Any program that could have created jobs has been shelved i.e.. NASA and the benefits of their research. In healthcare more people are out of work than have jobs just ask my wife (Physician Assistant-Certified). Nothing and nobody has been this bad since Carter. Even many of his original supporters have given-up on him.

Posted by ajwidget | Report as abusive

Americans saw little evidence of an economic recovery in 2012, too.

The difference is that the news media used to be more honest in Carter’s day, and didn’t spin the news like they did for 0bama in 2012. Now as 0bama’s presidency is coming to a close and the news media is gearing up to spin a protective cocoon around Hillary Clinton instead.

Posted by SamHains | Report as abusive

Poor Bill. He is such a Beltway guy that he thinks Obama is a victim in all of this domestic and international destruction.The facts are Bill,Obama is the perp behind all of this on purpose since he is driving the USA down a peg or two as all libs have wanted to do for a generation or more. And please, Clinton is not what the nation needs. Especially not the Hildebeast who is simply a female ….Obama. Nothing she would do would rescue our heritage, history or values and our economy. From the VA to Benghazi, from IRS to NSA,from the invasion of our borders which Dems are driving, from Fast to Solyndra, this lawless Adm is , the MALAISE.

Posted by phillyfanatic | Report as abusive

I’ve been saying Obama is the worst President since Carter and now even liberal reporters are beginning to see that is true.

Posted by moonhill | Report as abusive

Who cares, as long as we don’t end up with another Reagan. That’s what Carter’s travails resulted in. Another Reagan would be the end of the country. Besides, Obama has had two terms and one certainly expects a decay of interest by the less than cognizant followers of TV propaganda. I guess Reuters is trying to tap that market. Portray things as you will, you are simply blowing fluff.

Posted by kinid | Report as abusive

How soon people forget. Dubya put us in the hole BIG TIME with the billions poured down the rat holes of Af/PAK and Iraq (and for what? as we see now) and a then of course the enabling of Wall Street shenanigans that left our financial system gasping. Obama had a stinking big mess to clean up but alas he hasn’t been able to do to the satisfaction of the American people. Hillary would have been better cleaning up but no, the chattering classes were enamored a “historic” African-American president and identity politics trumped competence. But if I was GOP I wouldn’t be too smug or chortling right now. They have NOBODY of national stature that can conceivably win in 2016.

Posted by bluepanther | Report as abusive

Strong leader.
Beat off the war mongers.
Advance on climate change.
Fight for the middle class.
Al Gore – Elizabeth Warren.
Unbeatable in 2016.

Posted by jim.e.k. | Report as abusive

Allow me to respond for the Obama administration:

More and more workers are giving up hope of ever finding a job: Unemployment rates continue to decline under Obama.
The burden of student loan debt is crushing the hopes of young people: We will forgive student debt and pick up those votes.
Healthcare reform is broadly unpopular: We have to read the bill to see what’s in the bill. But if it doesn’t work we will just allow you to opt out for a year.
Our borders are overrun by migrant children: We will send notes to Central American countries suggesting they not send kids to the US.
Iraq is falling apart, Syria and Ukraine are in turmoil: We’ve got Kerry looking into that and are forming a coalition. If that doesn’t work we plan on sanctions and taking away visas.

Obama was never qualified to be President and was elected by the media. If the election was based on resumes and achievements only and no one knew what either candidate looked like he would have never won an election. As for Clinton, how can she afford to take the job?

Posted by Tarheel72 | Report as abusive