Suppose President Carter changed his mind and decided to appear before Congress with a State-of-the-Union message after all. Here are some of the things we think he might reasonably say:
My fellow Americans: The state of the economy may be unsatisfactory. But the state of the union is good. I find I could have been wrong when I announced that the people of this country were burdened by a "malaise." Those who said the problem was not with the people but with the government may have had a point. At any rate, considering all the citizen complaints that may possibly have figured in my early retirement from this grand office, the morale of the American people is high.
I say this partly because the fabric of America has proved stronger than all the potentially divisive strains imposed on it. Americans have kept their cool despite the captivity of their fellow citizens abroad, despite the legal and illegal influx of refugees and immigrants, despite the whole onslaught of change imposed by the rise of other nations, by the end of cheap energy, by the decline of old industries and regions and the burgeoning of new ones. Outbursts of racial violence have been warnings of problems unsolved but not true symbols of the remarkable overall harmony in diversity maintained in our land of many nationalities.
People joked about the way I wore love on my sleeve in the 1976 campaign. But a man who sees America and Americans from my vantage point of the past four years cannot help feeling love for all of you -- unrequited though it sometimes seemed to be.
Some people say I never did learn the ropes of dealing with Congress or with Washington high society, for that matter. Well, you in Congress did give me some things I wanted for the country, though maybe a little -- a little! -- slower or a little more revised than I hoped. As for dinner-party power, I'm afraid that's just not natural where I come from. A lot of people first voted for me because I was notm in with the Washington establishment, and, as the song says, I at least had to try to do it my way.
I can see now that what disappointed many of you was that my way turned out to be different from what you expected. I make no apologies for being a politician, though I think it would have been better politics sometimes to be less political.
But you can't say I didn't work hard. You can't say I didn't try to take on the big dull problems at home and the tough diplomatic ones abroad. The raid on Iran was a misjudgment, but I won't concede that my human rights policy was -- even though I might have trumpeted it less proudly and applied it more consistently.
No, I'm not going to take the line that we tried to do too much or failed in the public relations job of making the voters realize just how very much we were accomplishing. I know I'm not the most spellbinding speaker in the world. But I've tried to talk sense and not to speak down to anyone. I really do believe that, on the important things, once I was convinced a policy would be the best one for the country, I pursued that policy whether or not it made political waves. And I believe Rosalynn and I did perhaps bring the presidency closer to a broad range of Americans, both through our excursions from the White House and through the invitations to big and small occasions there.
Finally, what is my vision for America now that I am leaving the Oval Office? It is the same as when I came in. For the government to be as good as the people. For the people to live up to the best in themselves. I have been honored to be given your standard to bear for a time.