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4 Stories About Jimmy Carter's Malaise Speech

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by "¨Kevin Mattson

On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter spoke to the American people about the nation's crisis of confidence. Kevin Mattson's latest book, What the Heck Are You up to, Mr. President?, re-examines the address that defined—and perhaps doomed—Carter's presidency. Here are a few things you might not remember about the speech.

1. Carter Never Used the Word "Malaise"

Weird, huh? The speech was actually entitled "Crisis of Confidence." The media hung that term on the speech, both before and after it was given. But it was really in two speeches made by Carter's political opponents where the word turns up the most. In November 1979, Ted Kennedy announced he would run against Carter in the primary and stated: "The people are blamed for every national ill, scolded as greedy, wasteful, and mired in malaise." Kennedy was quickly followed by his political better, Ronald Reagan, who said that in taking stock of the country, "I find no national malaise. I find nothing wrong with the American people." So Carter's presidency is often defined by one word he never used, but that his shrewder critics were quick to employ.

2. Weird Riots Were Happening in America

America had just experienced two of its weirdest riots right before the speech: One in Levittown, Pennsylvania, the other in Chicago.

The Levittown riot was generated by independent truckers protesting dwindling supplies of diesel fuel and stoned teenagers who liked to light things on fire. Both groups seemed to rally around the country song "Cheaper Crude or No More Food," played over and over by a local disc jockey.

The other riot had something even more to do with music. It was called Disco Demolition. Kids brought disco records to Comiskey Park in Chicago and tossed them into a vault, getting in for cheap to a White Sox doubleheader. Between games, Steve Dahl came out and blew up the vault of records. Then stoned teenagers ran onto the field and lit it on fire. That was just a few days before Carter's speech, which focused on themes of dwindling civic respect in America. Perhaps a coincidence.

3. Carter's Intellectual Speechwriters

Jimmy Carter actually invited intellectuals into the White House and to Camp David to help him write his speech. He listened to Christopher Lasch, a historian who wrote The Culture of Narcissism, and Daniel Bell, a sociologist who wrote The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (take it from me: Neither of these are "easy" books to read). The White House seemed, for a moment, to become a hotbed of ideas—even if Carter explained that he had gotten through these books by speedreading.

4. His Poll Numbers Actually Went Up

carter-mattsonThe speech is thought to have been a disaster for Carter—he's been depicted ever since as scolding the American people. The speech certainly turned an unkind light on the American people, but it actually drove Carter's poll numbers up 11 points. The White House received more calls than it did when Richard Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia, and the support was overwhelming. Go figure: American president tells tough truths to the American citizenry, and they actually listen and take heart. This, of course, is just one strand in the story. There are others, none too favorable for President Jimmy.

Kevin Mattson is the author of What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President? He's a Professor of Contemporary History at Ohio University.

Here's the first part of Carter's speech (audio quality not great):

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Food
Let Alexa Help You Brine a Turkey This Thanksgiving
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There’s a reason most of us only cook turkey once a year: The bird is notoriously easy to overcook. You could rely on gravy and cranberry sauce to salvage your dried-out turkey this Thanksgiving, or you could follow cooking advice from the experts.

Brining a turkey is the best way to guarantee it retains its moisture after hours in the oven. The process is also time-consuming, so do yourself a favor this year and let Alexa be your sous chef.

“Morton Brine Time” is a new skill from the cloud-based home assistant. If you own an Amazon Echo you can download it for free by going online or by asking Alexa to enable it. Once it’s set up, start asking Alexa for brining tips and step-by-step recipes customized to the size of your turkey. Two recipes were developed by Richard Blais, the celebrity chef and restaurateur best known for his Top Chef win and Food Network appearances.

Whether you go for a wet brine (soaking your turkey in water, salt, sugar, and spices) or a dry one (just salt and spices), the process isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. And the knowledge that your bird will come out succulent and juicy will definitely take some stress out of the holiday.

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Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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