On July 15, 1976, Jimmy Carter accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party to run for the presidency.
Three years later, as president, he gave his infamous “malaise” speech, in which he focused on energy but did not mention the one thing that actually helped turn the ’70s’ energy crisis around: the phased deregulation of oil prices that had started three months earlier, under his own directive. Instead of touting this deregulatory effort, Carter did the usual politic thing and promised a number of new government programs, extensively ground home a “crisis of confidence” message, and vaguely talked of a spiritual challenge.
The deregulation was startlingly effective, in the long run — though the immediate effect was a rocketing of prices. These high prices presented profit opportunities, and (lo and behold!) domestic production greatly increased, allowing for many, many years of lower prices. Those high prices would have worked better as market signals had not Carter and Congress also established “windfall profits” taxes, to take away those temporary gains to existing business.
Had Carter deregulated prices earlier, he would probably have been re-elected president. Had he emphasized deregulation, he probably would have beat back Ronald Reagan’s free market rhetoric — with actual action.
The price controls had been put in place earlier in the decade by the Republican president at the time, Richard M. Nixon, with the great help of his aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.