by Daniel Dale
There are product failures and there is New Coke. There are bad movies and there is Plan 9 From Outer Space. And there are bad presidential speeches and there is Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech, the July 15, 1979 address so legendarily horrendous it still elicits disdainful superlatives on the week of its 30-year anniversary.
"This is a speech I consider one of the worst speeches in the history of the presidency," says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "There are many pedestrian speeches. You can say, `Well, they're just bad speeches.' No, they're pedestrian speeches; they're not bad, they're just ordinary. This speech actually has serious inherent rhetorical failures. Usually speechwriters protect a president from that."
It eloquently illuminated complicated problems, then offered no actual solutions. It directly criticized average folks but only indirectly criticized their flawed president.
It was, many scholars of political rhetoric say, an epic, perhaps unprecedented disaster. Mary Stuckey, professor of political science and communication at Georgia State University, says the only speech she can think of that may rival its dreadfulness is Bill Clinton's lying "I did not have sexual relations" address of 1998. That one, of course, came at a pressure-packed press conference amidst a scandal.
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