Honest Dialogue: A Fond Memory of the Past

Today, many do not relate to, or trust their government — believing strongly it is out of touch with ordinary citizens and has gone rogue. Worldwide, we are faced with ongoing problems in the Middle East, waves of migration which threaten to destabilize European nations, Russia unplugged, China on the march, hacking, terrorism . . . and the sad list goes on and on.

Also today, the House, struggling to find a new Speaker, voted on a bill to repeal the U.S. Oil Exports ban which has been in effect since 1975.

Back to the Future: On July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter gave a speech at a time when the country was in the grips of an energy crisis.

Since our very way of life was being challenged by OAPEC (Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries), it is clear the overarching theme was about energy dependence. But Kevin Mattson, author of What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?, explained the intent of the speech as, “He wanted the country to become much more self-inquisitive.”

Mattson further explains, “Carter goes out there and he essentially condemns the American way of life.”

On July 15, 1979, 39th President Jimmy Carter delivered his televised "Crisis in Confidence" speech

So, while Carter’s infamous Crisis in Confidence was initially lauded, it quickly plummeted like a lead balloon — unaffectionately referred to as the Malaise Speech.

I recall the televised event, but upon reading it I discovered Carter coined the phrase, “feels your pain” although it later became synonomous with Bill Clinton’s presidential bid. But, beyond that amusing tidbit, it touched on many of the same sour notes our country faces today:

• All the legislation in the world can’t fix what’s wrong with America
• The Federal government is isolated from the mainstream of our nation’s life
• The gap between our citizens and our government has never been so wide
• Congress is twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests
• In Congress, every extreme position is defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another
• Government seems incapable of action
• There is paralysis and stagnation and drift

Why is this important? Well, even though we’ve elected so many smart, experienced people to positions of leadership, the same issues from over 40 years ago still languish throughout the dysfunctional halls of The Hill, and citizens still lament. And, while President Carter believed “The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual,” I am as skeptical and unsure today as I was in 1979 with that assessment.

You see, it’s become painfully obvious life in modern societies have abandoned the expectations that leaders should actually accomplish feats they were elected to achieve. Feeling the systemic problems won’t be fixed in another 40 years, or 140 years for that matter, people have recognized the futility of hitting heads against the marble pillars of government. They’ve opted to throw in the towel. Instead of fighting losing battles, it’s easier, perhaps more satisfying, to fight with each other. And, what better way to achieve the sense of superiority than through threading the needle: The art of wordsmithing — censoring open and frank dialogue, curtailing varying views and solutions, advancing and furthering mistrust and divide among ourselves.

Just like Blue Laws which have lapsed into a fond memory, speaking clearly and genuinely also is a thing of the past. Words and phrases are couched in such a way that honest discussions no longer take place; replaced with evasive, legalese, veiled speech. Every word is metered and dissected — whether at school, work, or politics at home or on the world stage. Opponents assign their inner subconscious fears and ideas onto the speaker/author — rummaging through remarks looking for possible errant meanings.

Eerily sounding like the disturbing 1950s to me, it was Senator Joseph P. McCarthy of Wisconsin who quelled free speech, freedom of assembly, ruined careers . . . and  lives. This blight upon our citizens became known as McCarthyism. The dark period in our nation’s history which made it chic, laudable and easy to besmirch, label and unfairly accuse those of varying views as unpatriotic. This tactic handily repressed and restricted dissent and political criticism — a cold blanket of fear covered America. Today, over 60 years later, the cloaked words of choice are bigot, racist, right-winger, socialist, liberal . . . any one of which is hoisted upon an opponent in order to accomplish a McCarthyism end.

But there’s a new phenomenon, a new word which seems to be taking a prominent seat at the editorial board table of newspapers nationwide. I’d like to introduce you to . . . Tone.

• Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took a hawkish tone defending the Iran nuclear deal in a speech
• Clinton strikes populist tone to make case for 2016 campaign
• Hillary Rodham Clinton changes her tone in responding to questions about her email
• Republicans Fear Donald Trump Is Hardening Party’s Tone on Race
• Trump Has Become the Tone-setter for Today’s GOP
• Trump: GOP didn’t tell me to ‘tone it down’

And, also today, as the 2016 out-of-the-box presidential race continues to pick up steam on the home front, I was sickened when a New York Times headline jumped off the page:

• NATO, Tested by Russia in Syria, Raises Its Guard and Its Tone

As the morphing PC one-way train expands their cheeky, feel-good words into critical issues of the day in lieu of honest debate, I’m very concerned the packaged homogenization of thought has paralyzed and desensitized us to the realities of armed conflict. And, while Rules of Engagement are necessary, never more haunting words were foreshadowed and uttered in the Malaise Speech, “When we enter the moral equivalent of war, Mr. President, don’t issue us BB guns.”

I, for one, am not interested in the touchy-feely word craze, or the significant damage it continues to inflict. Nor do I buy into the chic moniker “Tone,” especially at a time when citizens and the world ache for honest answers. The fact is we are in a dangerous place and alliances are being tested. It’s well past the time for all self-appointed PC-Tone Pundits to pack up their damaging wares.

Unfortunately, we’ll continue to experience the stagnation in government-citizen relationships, that just seems to be reality. But, one thing I know — although the Crisis in Confidence speech shared many concerns we continue to struggle with, none could be more critical — I’m in agreement with our 39th president, “for the sake of our nation, it is time for us to join hands in America.”

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