Paul Greenberg

Surely it's just my fallible memory, but I can't recall a presidential address that has fallen as flat as Barack Obama's last week, at least not since Jimmy Carter gave his (in)famous Malaise speech back in the dismal summer of 1979.

Without actually using that French-sounding word, which may have been the one mistake he avoided in that overwrought and overthought speech, that beleaguered president got his message across clearly enough: He was the victim of a crisis of confidence on the part of the American people.

And if we would just regain our spirit, all the other crises his administration faced would go away -- from gas lines to hyperinflation to the general feeling that no one was in charge. It was really our fault that he was proving such a failure.

Strangely enough, We the People didn't buy all that, maybe because we expected a president of the United States to take the lead in solving problems, not go on national television to psychoanalyze them, and us.

As it turned out, the American people did have a lot of confidence in themselves; it was their president they lacked confidence it -- a feeling that would be borne out by Mr. Carter's defeat in the next presidential election a year later by Ronald Reagan, the happiest warrior to occupy the White House since FDR.

Having campaigned on a promise to give America a government as good as its people, Jimmy Carter had come down from his mountaintop, specifically Camp David, where he'd spent two days getting advice from everybody in sight, to tell the American people that we weren't as good as his government. Which was a funny way to restore people's confidence.

Glenn Beck

If I recall correctly, it took a couple of days for the full force of public opinion to set in against that speech, and then descend on the White House like an avalanche of negative reactions.

Things happen much faster in these computerized, iPhoned, YouTubed times. Barack Obama had scarcely finished his speech last week about the oil spill and what a great job he'd been doing to contain it when the rotten tomatoes started flying. We've just never been that big on Malaise in this country; we would rather a leader tackled problems than analyze them.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.