Flashback: Jimmy Carter’s 1979 Malaise Speech

"Malaise" speech

When the energy market exploded — an occurrence Carter tried to avoid during his term — he was planning on delivering his fifth major speech on energy; however, he felt that the American people were no longer listening. Carter left for the presidential retreat of Camp David. For more than a week, a veil of secrecy enveloped the proceedings. Dozens of prominent Democratic Party leaders—members of Congress, governors, labor leaders, academics and clergy—were summoned to the mountaintop retreat to confer with the beleaguered president. His pollster, Pat Caddell, told him that the American people simply faced a crisis of confidence because of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the Vietnam War; and Watergate. On July 15, 1979, Carter gave a nationally-televised address in which he identified what he believed to be a "crisis of confidence" among the American people. This came to be known as his "malaise" speech, although the word never appeared in it.


The ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech was to mark a turning point in Carter’s struggles as President. But it did not.

My most vivid personal memory from this time was from two months after this speech. I remember watching the evening news and seeing that Jimmy Carter had entered a road race, the Catoctin 10K, the first and only time a US President has done so.

Catoctin 10K

Carter did not run after his departure from the Navy. However, he began recreational jogging in 1978, and devised his own training program based on Jim Fixx’s The Complete Book of Running. His running reached 40 to 50 miles per week and began training for his first 10K race.

On September 15, 1979, Carter ran in the Catoctin 10K as one of 900 runners. It was the only time that the United States President had competed in an open road race. He was accompanied by Secret Service agents who ran by his side. However, he had not properly trained for the hot and hilly course and collapsed from heat exhaustion while climbing a hill. After Carter recovered, he joined the runners at the finish area to present the trophies at the award ceremony.


I remember seeing Jimmy Carter on the television collapsed in a heap on the pavement from exhaustion. It was symbolic for me – for the Carter Presidency and the United States. It was a jarring image that has stuck with me for thirty years – more than any of the other memorable images of American presidents since.


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