What Ever Happened to Optimism?
“I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”- Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams, August 1, 1816
The risk inherent in the creation of our new nation was immense. Everyone involved knew that it was a great experiment in social science and most of the international community was convinced that it would fail. How can a collection of people be capable of self-rule, especially without the experience necessary for such governance? How can a society exist without the strong leading hand of a monarch? But present at our founding was a great belief, not only in mankind itself, but man’s nature in particular. There was faith that people would be far more capable of governing their own affairs than to have rules and regulations handed down from a distant and unquestioned power. But at the heart of these beliefs and notions was a tremendous optimism. That even through the harshest winters, the overwhelming odds, the stringent opposition, and the very real life threatening circumstances that the future would shine brighter in a world with liberty. Quite a bit can be said for optimism and it is noticeably absent from our current political discourse. The high-minded dreams of our founders have descended into a bleak look at our future. The view of our future now is largely dystopian. We view an unending chain of government abuses of power and the whittling away of individual rights, exchanged for an unwieldy gathering of collective ones. With the growing pessimism on both sides of the aisle it could be argued that we are creating a self-fulfilling prophecy since this accepted fate saps our strength and demoralizes the any who dare to stop it.
For example, there is a rather important mid term election coming up in less than a year. The Republicans have yet another chance to recapture control of the Senate at a time when legislative authority faces dire threats from an overactive executive branch. Does it seem as if they are in the midst of a particularly big election though? There are no grand pronouncements of conservative ideals or Republican plans to find solutions. You have worry and doubt over immigration plans and talk of demographic data. You see friendly fire aimed at the “crazy” Tea Party crowd, bitterness reserved for RINO Republicans, and a willingness to denounce any one person who crosses this amorphous line as untrue and not conservative enough! If there exists any defense of conservative principles it is timid at best, loaded with disclaimers and half apologies. We can still follow the example of one of the best defenders and leaders of the conservative cause in our time, Ronald Reagan. He called for a banner of bold colors and no pale pastels, because he understood not only the resonance that those principles have with the American people but their necessity for our continued prosperity. Even though he could have capitalized on the national malaise and played into the bitterness of gas lines and stagflation but he refrained. He painted a picture of a brighter future of less government intervention and more personal freedom. He talked about letting the people keep more of their own money in a broad new view of taxation, he led the way toward standing up against the Soviet Union and brought an end to the Cold War. That cheerful and fearless espousal of conservative philosophy also had a dramatic impact on world history and won him 44 states against a sitting President.
We can all remember well how effective hope can be even merely as a moniker. It is interesting to see how President Obama’s numbers have crashed down since he forsook the hope portion of his initial campaign and has since focused solely on the change. Optimism, even misdirected, is a powerful force. Another pleasant and electable quality to optimism is that it is usually bereft of anger and partisan rancor. A focus on the opportunities of the future relieves the public from the fruitless political finger pointing that consumes the talking heads today. To put a finer point on it, it matters little, to the public, if the Democrats are to blame for the healthcare debacle if the Republicans have no plan to fix it. Sneering with a seemingly justified sense of self-righteousness does little to solve the problem that is actually affecting people. One must be careful not to indulge that little feeling of smug superiority however tempting it may be, because people want solutions, not to know who was right. So boldly declare them. Aside from outright repeal, there are plenty of options on the table to talk about and present. Harry Reid and the Democrats in the Senate have already shown beyond the shadow of any doubt that they are disinterested in the realm of new ideas or discussion. They have shut down several budgets presented by the House and have presented none of their own. They have refused debate on several issues and bills passed by the House. It is time to call them into the open by forcing the issue. We can go directly to their constituents with plans and thoughts of our own and force them to debate openly this election year. But none of this will happen with the continued timid approach that cedes a powerful position and gaining nothing in return.
We have had no better opportunity since the 1970’s to see how antithetical this boundless government and bureaucratic authority is to the American way of life. Instead of capitulating to a political class, how about siding with the American people. There is near universal dissatisfaction with Congress and the approval of both executive and judicial branches is on the downslide. Obviously the answer lies elsewhere. The people have not yet seen what they want. Press this advantage we are given! It is time now to strike out with a message of unbridled enthusiasm and limitless potential. The future of this country is always directly tied to the ability of the people to find success. With the rise of expatriations we are seeing a nation with such bright dreams of the future denigrate into an impediment to success.
Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address closes, “we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth”. A speech given in the midst of a cemetery, while a war raged on contains a beautiful expression of the enduring power of the optimist. A dogged assurance that the right will prevail as long as there are those who continue in its name. There are countless opportunities that lay before us, we must take heart and take them. Ceding the advantages given to us out of fear or timidity is to spit in the eye of Providence. We need to believe again that it is morning again in America. Who knows what rises with the dawn?