Just so you know: 9/11 reset the clock for me. All hands went to midnight. I'm interested in what people did after that date, and if the movie shows that before the attack one side lacked feck and the other was feck-deficient, I don't worry about it. It's like revisiting Congressional debates about Hawaiian harbor security in November 1941. Y'all get a pass. The Etch-A-Sketch's turned over. Now: what have you said lately?And on pessimism in our culture:
The news is never good. If the economy's up, there's an expert on hand from the Institute of the Possible Downside warning about unforseen pressure on the bond market, softening housing, hardening tensions, turgid wage growth, and explosive release of inflationary pressures. Have a cigarette. Was it bad for you?
TV news gives me the same impression, which is why I avoid it. All those earnest faces. Good evening, we're deeply concerned, and powerless to do anything about it. Although we hope you infer from our brows the need to contact someone, and urge action on this issue. Now here's a baby giraffe.
The formulation seems simple: The continued existence of problems at this late date in human history implies that we're regressing. We're screwing up, we've lost it, and we wander confused amongst the morass of the malaise and vice versa. Hard times, brother. Hard times. I'm not saying they should pretend we live in the Republic of Happy Bunnies Who Pee Champagne, but for God's sake, sometimes you'd think the bread lines snaked from the Hoovervilles to the soup kitchens again. I'm probably confusing the sugar-coated recollections of early youth with actual history, but I grew up with a sense of optimism and confidence in the country. That really makes me sound like Mr. McFartus shakin' a whittlin' stick at the jaunty-hatted younguns, I know. But the icons in my dim early youth, either by absence or presence, were JFK and Humphrey. They weren't defeatists, and they didn't give off that rank stink of anger.
Of course, someone who's angry about different things is always unbalanced, right? I'm sure I'm regarded as a delusional tool because I worry more about Islamicists than global warming. But it comes back again to that theme I blathered about a few weeks ago, the idea of the eternal adolescent strain in American culture; to the adolescent, the cynic is the truth-teller. The optimists are the fools. (It takes an adolescent to think that people who believe in nothing are the best judges of those who believe in something.) It's all a pose, for the most part, but after a while it feeds on itself. Pessimism produces its own coal, stokes its own furnaces. Optimism is harder. Optimism takes work. You have to roll your own.
People don't seem to remember the gloom of the late 1970's when it seemed that we were trapped in "stagflation," suffering from malaise, and waiting for Japan to eat our economic lunch (cf. the book and movie Rising Sun.)
Into that gloom came Ronald Reagan. Admirers and critics alike recognized his sunny optimism. And that optimism carried him into two terms in the White House. Are there any Democrats lining up for 2008 who are optimistic? Heck, are there any optimistic Republicans?