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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

America Without Optimism


Of the only man ever elected four times to the White House, the historian James MacGregor Burns wrote: "If other leaders bent under the burdens of power, Roosevelt shouldered his with zest and gaiety. He loved being president. ... The variegated facets of the presidential job called for a multitude of different roles, and Roosevelt moved from part to part with ease and confidence." FDR's optimism was contagious.

Americans, the most optimistic of people, have historically been attracted to optimistic leaders. Three years into Ronald Reagan's presidency — following major economic dislocations and international tensions — the Gallup Poll found that "Americans are more optimistic in outlook for the year 1984 than at any other time in the last quarter century."

With the exception of those whose ancestors were here when Columbus arrived or those who were brought here, against their will, in chains, all Americans are either immigrants or the direct lineal descendants of immigrants. Much has been written about the courage required of the immigrant to leave friends and family, to strike out across the sea to a "foreign" place to live among people you had never met, to speak a language, in many cases, you had never heard. But it was also a statement of optimism — a belief that in this New Land "I could make things better if not for myself, then for those who followed me."

Optimism has been a national characteristic. It is deep in the American DNA. But, in 2010, American optimism, the parent of confidence, which settled a continent and rescued and rebuilt the world, is all but vanishing.

When asked in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in 1995, "The United States is generally considered to be the world's leading nation.

Twenty years from now, which country do you think will be the leader?" 54 percent answered the U.S., followed by Japan and the European Union (tied at 6 percent), and China at 3 percent.

When the question was most recently asked, the answers were profoundly different: China was predicted by 39 percent of American respondents to be in 20 years "the world's leading nation," while only 37 percent named the U.S., with the European Union and Japan at 5 percent and 2 percent, respectively.

When asked in the same survey if they felt "confident or not confident that life for our children's generation will be better than it has been for us," only 27 percent of Americans said they were confident about their children's futures, while 66 percent answered they were not confident." Add to this the two out of three who "think America is in a state of decline," and the picture grows bleak.

Without its trademark optimism, the United States would be little more than a continental Belgium. No disrespect is intended to anyone from Brussels, but tonight there are not human beings all over this planet working, saving, praying and scheming on how to get to Belgium — as there always have been to get to the United States.

An America without optimism is an America lacking confidence either in herself or in her future. It is almost destined to become an America that is increasingly defensive, self-absorbed and unwilling to share her talents or treasure acting in common cause with the people of other nations.

For the country's and the world's well-being, Americans — who include the leaders and all us followers — must determine to recapture that native optimism and the national sense of confidence it inspires. Unless we can, we risk dooming our own children's futures. And that indeed would be unforgivably un-American.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




1 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... If you want Americans to be more optimistic give them more truth... Forget the many who do not want the truth, and cannot handle the truth... Give them them the truth... The United States is a social form, and a social form like law or government is made out of the good ideas people have, which are moral forms, and moral forms, the moral forms for which this government was formed are clearly stated in the preamble of the contsitution... We had a lot of land, a lot of opportunity, and a lot of resources in this land... The story of how all this opportunity has become the property of a few is the story of the failure of our social form, our constitution, to deliver the moral forms it was made to deliver... There is nothing wrong with the moral forms for which the constitution was written... It is a weakness of all moral forms that they cannot be defined because they are infinite..... But people are not optimistic because they are living without justice, without peace, tranquility, welfare, unity, etc. and have no defense against the world, or those among us who hate us, or who want to dine upon our souls....Moral forms are meanings, have meaning to people because humanity has found out the hard way that it cannot live without its moral forms as realities... For example, if you live without justice, you know it, and eventually life without justice will make you a slave, or take your life altogether...We are so inclined to live without justice- for all -because we feel every new addition to this country steals more justice from us; and that is true... We do not get our justice from the rich and the powerful that we must share with the poor and powerless; but our own dwindling ration is cut to give them hope, and a share... So, we are absolutely right in our hopelessness... We need truth, and the truth can be seen in the national debt which has been shared out to maintain international power, and to make the rich richer... People know they are not better off for all the export of jobs and capital, or for the import of goods they increasingly cannot afford...Government is self control writ large, and we cannot grasp the idea that individual freedom must be limited for all those who want to rob the rest of us of our freedom and opportunity... We can all be free, as free as freedom is possible, so long as we mind our business, injure no one, and leave others free, or we can give a handful the power to rob us of wealth and freedom and leave us hopeless...I think we will figure it out, but time is running out; because we cannot live without hope and freedom, and we do not need any more empty hope balloons blown up for the children among us by presidents like Roosevelt and Reagan... We need the truth... And the danger we face is not from the truth, but from all those who guess the truth, or presume the truth on prejudice.... Thanks.... Sweeney
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sat Sep 25, 2010 6:28 AM
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