The country is frustrated. Democrats say Americans want change from Bush administration policies. That much of the country was also frustrated when Democrats were in charge apparently has escaped them.
A new Washington Post-ABC News Poll finds that nearly three-quarters of those surveyed believe the country is on the wrong track. They are deeply pessimistic about the future and dissatisfied with Washington’s corrosive political environment.
The public believes most politicians are out for themselves and not the people. They also think most politicians say and do the bidding of their respective polarizing groups and rarely say what they mean, or mean what they say.
Politicians are not the sole cause of cynicism. For too long, too many of us have asked (or allowed) government to act as a sugar daddy, dispensing ever-greater amounts of goodies, paid for with taxpayer money. When government reaches its limits — as it has now — we become angry, frustrated and, yes, cynical.
When the stock market increases by a smaller percentage than its increase last year we complain of “hard times” and worry about an approaching recession. Our grandparents never dreamed of the prosperity we enjoy today. Even the poorest among us is richer than much of the world’s poor, and the poor in America at least have the opportunity to climb out of poverty, when this opportunity is virtually nonexistent in much of the rest of the world.
Our problem is we have more of what we don’t need and less of what we do need. More things and poor relationships translate into more for self and less for others. It would appear that self-storage facilities are one of the fastest growing businesses in America. I see them everywhere multiplying like overpriced coffee shops. Why do we need so many storage units? It’s because we lack room in our larger houses for all the stuff we don’t need, bought on credit with money many of us didn’t have. It is because the marketers have sold us on the value of things, while culture has diminished the value of human relationships.
When money, pleasure and stuff don’t satisfy, we can’t blame these inanimate objects, so we blame politicians. But it isn’t entirely their fault. They were only trying to give us what we said we wanted.
Our ancestors understood sacrifice and adversity. In them it produced character and virtue. Today, the mere thought of such things breeds resentment in us. We see pleasure and things as rights. To suggest “hard times” or sacrifice is viewed as a violation of such rights. Our superficial natures quickly and inevitably give way to cynicism and pessimism.
If one is looking for a new direction, as the Post-ABC Poll suggests, one must first have a destination in mind and a strategy to get there. Where do these disaffected cynics and pessimists wish to go? Back to the ’90s, Democrats would say. Really? That was a time of false hope; a time when the defense budget was slashed and the “peace dividend” embraced. It was during the ’90s that the Taliban and their terrorist buddies used our negligence to map out 9/11 … and who knows what else?
Change can be a good thing. A changed life is good, if the old one was bad. Change back from a dollar is rare, but nice. But in order to change the direction of our country we need leaders who will boldly take us in a better direction, ones who will fight this war until we win it.
While the political GPS system is calculating the route, it would be nice for some of the presidential candidates to start talking about what kind of character we need to have when we arrive, lest we continue our present practice of filling even more storage units while our hearts and souls remain largely empty, except for the poisons known as cynicism and pessimism.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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