You may cynically be thinking that the cynical' "Don't be cynical" campaign theme is the final gasp of a dying presidency to a moribund nation which, despite its abysmal ranking on the Gini coefficient scale of income inequality, seems bound and determined to start World War III. To be sure, there are only two fronts so far: the entire Middle East, and Ukraine. But please, stand up to the cynicism that I know that you are feeling right now! The entire continent of Africa is also up for corporate plunder. And like a gigantic red. white, and blue vulture, USA is encircling China as well. There are shadow wars going on all around the world to keep hope alive. There will be plenty more military bases where that first thousand came from.
For his own part, Obama is fighting back against cynicism by channeling Herbert "Prosperity Is Just Around the Corner" Hoover rather than his successor, who sanely and cynically welcomed the hatred of the plutocrats. But Obama feels nothing but love for the plutocracy. He even told a bunch of working people so during his Laborfest speech this week:
It’s a good thing that corporate profits are high; I want American businesses to succeed. It’s a good thing that the stock market is booming; a lot of folks have 401Ks in there, I want them to feel good.And since the moonshot, there's the obligatory shout-out to war as our first weapon against cynicism:
Cynicism is fashionable these days, but cynicism didn’t put anybody on the moon. Cynicism never won a war, it never cured a disease, it never started a business, it never fed a young mind, it never built a road or a bridge.Cynicism is a bad choice. Hope is the better choice. Hope is what gives us courage. Hope is what gave soldiers courage to storm a beach.Or drone a predator missile, or torture some folks, whether it be by waterboarding, force-feeding or sleep deprivation. Just who is being cynical here? Obama's words literally drip with it, along with disdain for common folk. His speech to working stiffs was.... you guessed it.... nothing but a vote-grabbing ploy in a midterm election year:
Don’t boo, vote. (Applause.) Don’t boo, vote. It’s easy to boo -- I want you to vote. Don’t boo, vote.And would an Obama speech be an Obama speech without (besides his annoying verbal tics) a gratuitous mention of how grizzled he's getting in the War Against Cynicism? The constant bullshit must take a toll even on a clinical narcissist:
So I just want everybody to understand -- because you wouldn’t always know it from watching the news -- (laughter) -- by almost every measure, the American economy and American workers are better off than when I took office. (Applause.) We’re better off by almost every measure. But, look, none of this progress has come easy. Every inch of it we have had to fight for. Every inch of it we’ve had to work against a lockstep opposition that is opposed to everything we do.But it was worth it. Every gray hair is worth it. (Applause.) Every gray hair is worth it -- and at least I’ve still got some hair. (Applause.)
Would it be un-Pollyannish of me to mention that by every measure, people are actually worse off since Obama took office? Of course, if you define "the economy" and "American workers" as the top One Percent who raked in more than 90% of the wealth regained since the 2008 crash, then yes, "we" are better off.
Still, even the Federal Reserve cynically insists that by every measure, only the most affluent Americans have actually recovered. As Binyamin Appelbaum reports,
For the most affluent 10 percent of American families, average incomes rose by 10 percent from 2010 to 2013. For the rest of the population, average incomes were flat or falling.
The least affluent families had the largest declines. Average incomes dropped by 8 percent for the bottom 20 percent of families, the Fed reported in its triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, one of the most comprehensive sources of data on the financial health of American families.
Appelbaum is so cynical. Obama would tell him that even a tiny slice of rancid pie is better than no slice at all. Crumbs are especially tasty when they fall from the gilded plates of the wealthy, and the poor are forced to grovel on the floor for them. It's what gives the plutocrats the ego-stroking they crave when they join such philanthro-capitalist efforts as Obama's "Brothers' Keeper" program. It must give them the grand illusion of being gargantuan zoo-keepers.The new report, broadly consistent with other data on the aftermath of the Great Recession, underscores why so many Americans think the economy remains in poor health. While the pie has grown, most people are getting smaller slices.
The result is that wealth also is increasingly concentrated. While overall wealth barely changed during the survey period, the money sloshed from the bottom toward the top. For the top 10 percent of families, ranked by income, estimated average wealth increased by 2 percent to $3.3 million. For the bottom 20 percent of families, average wealth sharply declined by 21 percent to $65,000.
The passive "sloshing" of wealth from the bottom to the top is not quite cynically realistic enough, in my view. A better, non-Panglossian metaphor would have been that the elites took a giant straw and deliberately sucked up every last vestige of sustenance from the bottom of the glass.There is growing evidence that inequality may be weighing on economic growth by keeping money disproportionately in the hands of those who already have so much they are less inclined to spend it.
The stock market bubble that Obama so effusively praised is bound to burst, sooner rather than later. I'd say that the gluttony of the elites will kill them right along with us, except that they've cynically come to expect bailouts and wrist-slaps as a reward for greed, rather than prison time or increased taxes on their ill-gotten gains.
So given the choice, I think I'll keep picking cynicism. It sure beats the mindless acceptance of corruption, which is hazardous to our mental, physical and emotional health. Sorry, Doctor Pangloss -- I'd rather be mad than depressed.