Monday, July 7, 2008

Optimists vs. Pessimists

By Alan Caruba

We all know someone who is either an optimist or a pessimist. In general, optimists are more fun to be around. They are the ones with the most enthusiasm, the risk-takers, and the ones who pick themselves up after encountering a problem and consider it a learning experience.

Pessimists tend to see setbacks as a signal of more to come around the corner. They are rarely happy with anything or anybody. They assume a gloomy outcome. As such, they are more likely to be a pain in the asterisk than not.

Perhaps the most identifiable national characteristic of Americans is that they have been, as a group, optimists. Their belief that science and technology can solve any problem comes out of a long history of innovation and invention. They are proud of their history, but tend to be more focused on the future.

When President John F. Kennedy said that America would put a man on the moon few doubted that we could or would. The optimists saw an end to the Soviet Union. The pessimists were astounded when it fell apart. You don’t win military or ideological conflicts by assuming defeat.

Since the 1970s, however, America has been beset by the biggest, best funded, and more ideologically dedicated group we have seen in the modern era. They are the environmentalists who, back in the 1970s, were predicting an ice age and a decade later were predicting “global warming.” In both cases they said that we had to drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and abandon our lifestyle of consumption.

Instead, what we have witnessed since those days is a world where nations with huge populations like China and India have lifted themselves out of a Third World status and are emerging into dynamic economies, producing goods, using energy, improving the living standards of their citizens.

While all nations talk the environmental game, few if any commit totally to it because they understand that people need to eat every day, can see how others in the world live, want success for themselves and their children, and in general there is the lingering suspicion that environmentalism is just a different name for communism.

It’s not that we don’t want clean air and clean water. We do. It is instructive that the most advanced nations like the United States have not hesitated to spend the money to achieve this. Poorer nations must allocate their money to more immediate needs.

In a Rasmussen telephone poll taken just before July Fourth, voters were asked whether America’s best days were ahead or behind us. It should be kept in mind that almost from week to week the mood of the voters changes with various events and news. It was instructive, though, that just 32% of those polled thought that the nation’s best days were yet to come. A whopping 50% thought America’s best days were in the past.

These people are probably too young or too lacking in the knowledge of America’s history to know that the America of the past included decades of slavery, a huge and bloody Civil War to end it, a population that was mostly agrarian until the Industrial Revolution kicked in, a huge push to open the doors to immigrants to man the factories and build the nation’s infrastructure, leading to the creation of unions to oppose the widespread exploitation of workers. There were epidemics of influenza that killed thousands and polio that crippled or killed as well. Along the way the nation fought a number of wars including two in Europe and three in the far East, and a couple in the Middle East.

The past was a place of widespread disease and turmoil in addition to one of great achievement in the creation of goods and services that were and are the hallmark of a dynamic, optimistic society.

The last thing America needs right now is half the voters thinking that America is in decline and the future is bleak.

The survey revealed that 39% of Republicans think the best days lay ahead as opposed to 28% of Democrats and 30% of unaffiliated voters.

The November election may not reflect the mood of the nation in July 2008. One candidate is running on nothing more than vague promises about the future, but the future is always unknown while his experience and qualifications are slim at best, thoroughly inadequate at worst. The other candidate is a known quantity, tested in war, with a long career in public service.

So the question is whether the optimists will prevail or the pessimists?

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