(The Conversation) — Nearly 40 years ago, on July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter went on national television to share with millions of Americans his diagnosis of a nation in crisis. “All the legislation in the world,” he proclaimed, “can’t fix what’s wrong with America.” He went on to call upon American citizens to reflect on the meaning and purpose of their lives together.
Carter made several specific policy prescriptions. But in a presidency animated by spirituality perhaps more than any other in American history, this speech called more generally for national self-sacrifice and humility.
A nation in “very serious trouble”
In 1979, Jimmy Carter was three years into his presidency. The burdens were many. Leading a divided Democratic Party, he faced a staunch and growing Republican opposition. The nation suffered from stagflation, a combination of economic stagnation and 12 percent inflation.
In 1973 the OPEC cartel, comprised mostly of Middle Eastern countries, had cut oil production and imposed an embargo against nations that supported Israel. In the late 1970s production declined again. Coupled with high global demand, this generated an energy crisis that increased gasoline prices by 55 percent in the first half of 1979.
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