Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An embrace of optimism is a rejection of fear-based politics

Lately I've been talking about the importance of optimism. Sometimes people assume that optimism is the donning of rose-colored glasses and a dismissal of the challenges that face us. But I would suggest that it is actually the dismissal of something else...fear.

And so I am reminded of one of the most important speeches given in the 2008 primaries. It wasn't one that Barack Obama gave - but Michelle.

Those who attempt to tap into fear use a different message today than they did back then. These days they're not trying to convince us to support an unnecessary war. But its still fear they're peddling:
  • Obamacare is a disaster-in-waiting,
  • Putin is a powerful threat to a world community united in partnership against him,
  • Telling brown people that they "belong" will threaten our identity,
  • Attempts to mitigate climate change will threaten our economy,
  • Lifting up those in poverty creates dependence,
  • Common sense gun control will only make us vulnerable to the criminal hordes out to get us, and
  • Addressing income inequality is class warfare.
In addition to scaring people away from the changes that are necessary to address today's challenges, you know these are fear-based messages because there is never an attempt to propose an alternative. And so, as Michelle said, it is not about trying to engage our thinking - but to simply provoke a reaction.

But its not just Republicans who peddle in fear. If, as Democrats, our only focus is on fear/anger at what Republicans say/do, we are culpable too. That's why I believe that Eugene Robinson made an important point yesterday.
Democrats now have a positive story they can tell in their campaign ads and speeches: “We promised you that these were the right policies to get the economy on track and reform health care. We said it would take time to see results and asked for patience. You gave us your trust, and now we’re seeing the benefits. This is just the beginning. Give us a mandate to keep moving forward on an agenda that is working.”...

Listen up, Democrats. You fixed the economy. You expanded access to health care. Oh, and you ended two wars.

Show a little happiness. It’s contagious.
That's not superficial optimism. Its the same kind that President Obama summoned way back at the beginning of this journey and is still our legacy today.
For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we've been told we're not ready or that we shouldn't try or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.

It was the call of workers who organized, women who reached for the ballot, a president who chose the moon as our new frontier, and a king who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the promised land: Yes, we can, to justice and equality.


  1. Glad to see that bogus "fixing climate change will ruin our economy " b.s on that list. Even if we only stop expanding our use of greenhouse gases in a couple of years and start agressevly cutting them, our climate will still go up by 2degrees C. If we do nothing, we are looking at even more-a 4degree change and we're looking at a different Earth.
    A long winded way of saying climate change mitigation will cost Immensely less than following the fossil industry into catastrophy .
    Btw, solar power installations were up over 400 % in the last 4 years in the U.S. which puts it just over 1 % of total generation. That tells me alternate energy has reached a tipping point and we will get there .

  2. Hope is a better word than optimisim, which is why the president talks about hope, and not so much about optimism. The word optimism is derived from the philosophy that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and that everything is going to work out for the best. To me, that's just foolish, because every day we can see examples of things not working out for the best. So optimism usually leads to disappointment and cynicism and causes people to stay home during midterm elections. Hope on the other hand, recognizes that things don't usually work out for the best, but allows you to stay positive, and have some expectation that things might at least sometimes improve a little bit.

    1. To me optimism is about perspective - being able to acknowledge/celebrate the positive accomplishments that can shore us up for the challenges ahead.


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