Monday, July 30, 2007

Where Things Look Worse

Americans are well-known optimists. Or they used to be.

Reviewing the results of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, Michael Barone writes in the National Review that "...only 25 percent of Americans are positive about the direction of the nation, down from 41 percent in 2002. In only a handful of the 47 nations are there declines of similar magnitude — Uganda, the Czech Republic, France, Canada, and Italy."

It is understandable that the people in Uganda are not optimistic about the direction of their country, although it's hard to imagine things there getting worse. In France, pessimism is chic. It makes one sound intellectual, cosmopolitan, and very un-American. Barone surmises that the other three countries are on the list due to nasty political fights in Prague, Ottawa and Rome. That is probably true for the US, as well.

The common thread in all four capitals is the popular expectation that political action is appropriate and necessary to solve most of the problems in life, whether international, national or personal. When you expect government to solve all the problems in the world, from terrorism to telemarketing, you'll naturally be disappointed when the political system seizes up.

Meanwhile, politicians gain office by recasting everything as a political problem and claiming they have the political solution. Then they stay in office by blaming their political enemies for lack of progress. Considering the unrealistic expectations of the voters, the exaggerated claims of the politicians, and the inevitable disappointing results, it is no wonder that so many people are gloomy about their nation's future.

Only when citizens realize that it is a bad idea to demand political solutions for every inconvenience in life will they enjoy a renewed sense of optimism. Optimism requires faith in the future and a sense of control over one's destiny. Politics cannot reliably deliver either one. If anything, blind faith in politics leads to frustration and despair.

Pessimistic about politics. That's the most realistic view of all.

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