The Fundamental(ist) Optimist President

As Wall Street began taking another tumble this morning, reaching depths not imagined even by the most stalwart of doomsayers, the US President delivered a short morning address (tellingly, when no one would really be paying attention, as Wall Street brokers scurrying on the floor of the Exchange clearly were not), in which he insisted that: 1) “we’re all in this together”; and 2) that he’s still “fundamentally optimistic.”

And why not? The one thing the ideologue and the propagandist never face is the possibility that optimism and pessimism are not our only philosophical or economic options. There is realism; there is pragmatism. Both have been in desperately short supply for the past eight years.

That President Bush remains optimistic, effectively fiddling while Wall Street burns, comes as no surprise. It was the optimist, after all, not the realist, who ordered an invasion in Iraq he believed would be over in a month. It was the optimist, not the realist, who declared “Mission Accomplished” when the mission had scarcely begun. It was the optimist, not the realist, who believed that the strength of American moral capital around the world was sufficient to get us a “free pass” in Iraq. And it was the optimist, not the realist, who believed that our market credit was such that we could continue to borrow against tomorrow in order to bankroll the wars we fight and refuse to pay for today. As I have argued before, the optimist, not the realist, behaves fiscally as if “there is no tomorrow.”

This optimist may never face reality. Hunkered down in his White House, these days, he has little opportunity to do so. But his successor will have to face reality, and of the two, only McCain continues to indulge in the self-preening rhetoric of “fundament(ist?) optimism”; Obama prefers realism as his rhetorical trope.

The bottom line (if there is a bottom to this economic flatline) is that reality has washed over the global economy with force that should awaken any thoughtful optimist from his dogmatic slumber, and wake even the most truculent true believer from his tomorrow-less dreams. For tomorrow has already arrived; that happened yesterday.