Full Deck by Barbara Shulgasser-Parker

September 22, 2007

low expectations

Filed under: looking on the bleak side — bshulg @ 10:04 pm

  Pessimism gets a bum rap. Optimism is nice, but the unchecked variety leads to bad government (“Mission accomplished!”); divorce (“Love conquers all.”); and dental problems (“One more little caramel won’t hurt you.”).  

  I am a child of Holocaust survivors, so pessimism comes naturally to me. You could call it an inherited trait. I still view my parents’ experiences in the Lithuanian ghetto with a child’s incomplete comprehension of horror, but I’m adult now and everywhere I look the irrational lives on. Why detest every Frenchman? Why trust Dick Cheney? Why did Hitler hate the Jews? Who knows. The irrationality is best summed up in a scene from the film “Ship of Fools.”

  A Jewish passenger politely listens to a hate-spewing German.    

  “The Jews are to blame for all society’s ills,” the German pronounces.  

  “Yes,” the Jew agrees. “The Jews and the bicycle riders.”  

  The German’s face goes blank.  

  “Why the bicycle riders?” he asks.  

  The Jew shrugs.

  “Why the Jews?”    

  So, I am never surprised by betrayal, by dishonesty, by selfishness, by greed, by corruption. As a pessimist, I expect the worst and I feel kind of sorry for anyone who doesn’t.  

  Pessimism prepared me perfectly for the election of George W. Bush in 2000. I believed that he was capable of stealing the election. I believed that he would bring his energy industry cronies to power and let them design self-serving policies. I believed that as a privileged frat boy he would care nothing for the poor, the disenfranchised and the weak. I believed that he would lie about his past (his military service), his intentions in Iraq (where does one begin?), that he would sanction dirty politics (the Swift Boaters, unethical Justice Department firings, sanctioning of torture, illegal wiretapping) and try to prove he was a better man than his father by sacrificing American lives to bring down his father’s bete noir Saddam Hussein.

    Before the 2004 election, a young Army veteran told me he would vote for the service-evading Bush to the military hero Kerry. He’d rather be led by a spoiled Old Boy than by an educated, intelligent man of the world. Since Leader of the Free World is a pretty tough job, I like to vote for some one I think has a good chance of being smarter than I. Clearly a number of people prefer to vote for someone they think they might enjoy having a beer with. I’m a pessimist so that doesn’t surprise me.  

  Abu Ghraib served as another reminder that even Americans can do terrible things during war, especially when ordered to by the top brass. The Valerie Plame case underscores the fallacy that bad guys get punished. Scooter Libby is bad, yes, but mostly a fall guy for Cheney, Karl Rove, Bush and the rest of the pack. Being responsible for outing a CIA agent seems more of an impeachable offense than engaging in extramarital oral sex. I know. Bill Clinton was impeached for lying. But let’s not forget that George Bush has been telling us that we’re making progress in Iraq for four years now. And everyone knows he makes it a practice to avoid testifying under oath.     

  A study on pessimism recently concluded that optimists generally do better in life because they have Many Little Things going for them. They have better relationships with friends and co-workers. Their family lives are more fulfilling. They live as if tomorrow will be better, and when it isn’t, they think the day after will be better. Apparently this does wonders for one’s cardio-vascular well being and inter-personal relations. Pessimists, on the other hand, have only One Big Thing going for them, the study determined: they’re usually right.  

  I am not a proselytizer. I have never felt the need to promote pessimism as a living philosophy, but today, with more George Bush ahead and people who do not believe in the separation of church and state looking for a candidate to back in 2008, I feel the time is ripe. Widespread pessimism would have saved us from Bush. Expecting the worst would have prepared Al Gore’s campaign for the illegal post-election Republican assault on the Florida vote counters and Florida Supreme Court, never mind the U.S. Supreme Court. When Bush was re-elected in 2004, I tied  to console myself in the likelihood that an administration as arrogant as his would be rife with scandal, embarrassment and revelations of fraud and corruption, and that if there were justice in the universe Bush would end up in prison. But then I remember that I’m a pessimist and as a rule I don’t really expect justice.     And now that Scooter Libby has been convicted and his 30-month sentence commuted to keep him from talking, and fired U.S. Attorneys have testified that they were pressured by ranking Republicans to harass innocent Democrats before election time, and the ethics-free Bush loyalist Alberto Gonzalez was forced to resign as Attorney General, and former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan is excoriating the Bush Administration for an economic policy he fostered, and thousands of troops are facing risk in Iraq and sub-par health care when they return, and the true nuclear threats – Iran and North Korea – are still there and still threatening us, and Bush has admitted that global warming might exist, and most of the world has lost faith in the fairness, goodness and probity of the United States, I feel bad. On the other hand, I do have that One Big Thing going for me. But there is no joy in it. 


1 Comment »

  1. There are studies to back up everything. I once read that pessimists live longer than optimists because they are less likely to take unnecessary risks. You might be joyless at the prospect of more Bush-like years ahead….but you will live longer. Ah, never mind….I guess that means you have more Bush-like years ahead of you and there can be no joy in THAT.

    Comment by Lynn — September 23, 2007 @ 12:32 am

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