Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Call me cynical...or not

In the past couple of days, I’ve come to a stunning realization:

I might not be a cynic.

If that’s true, then it reverses at least 15 years of convention. After all, I’ve pretty much always been one to question things and be skeptical. That guaranteed publishers would never tap me to write books on Southern dinner-party etiquette or Southern dinner-party politics, but it also fueled my interest in journalism (and arguably saved me from the temptations of signing up for a free, unsecured credit card in the quad on my first day of college). Also, I got into George Carlin far too early.

But the longer I hang around the Internet, the less I feel like a cynic. Because even at my worst, there’s always someone else way, way off the charts. And when I read what they have to say, I find myself mentally lashing against it in a way that would surely get me called a “sheeple” (or, in singular, “sheeperson”). This scares me a little bit, frankly.

On the other hand, I don’t feel like I’ve changed at all. I’m not a particularly moderate person, and I’m not always the biggest fan of compromise. I also don’t swallow hook, line and sinker whatever commercial or PR firm insists on prescribing me as the truth. I read and analyze incessantly and filter current events through my viewpoint and experience.

So when people I respect and often align with arrive en masse at polar-opposite conclusions to what I do from the same developments, it baffles me. By default, I assume that I’m the problem, and re-examine the issue accordingly. What I (usually) discover is that I’m not in fact stupid, and our respective trains of thought are actually not that hard to decipher.

Me: “Hey, they repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. That’s a significant victory for civil rights!”

Any other liberal: “Obama failed us yet AGAIN. Impeach that corporate stooge and take his fake change with him!”

“What are you talking about? The DADT repeal?”

“Yes! Exactly!”

“Not following you.”

“In passing the repeal, the Senate said nay to the DREAM Act, which would have helped illegal immigrants brought here as children become citizens if they enrolled in college or joined the military. As one dream comes true, another fades away. Once again, Obama and the Democrats failed us.”

“Uh, well, Obama really can’t dictate what the Senate does. He supports the issue and met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on it just this morning.”

“This lame-duck Congress doesn’t do anything for us. Democrat, Republican, they’re all the same.”

“Well, there is that DADT repeal. And health care reform. That’s pretty significant.”

“It’s watered down and a giveaway to health insurers.”

“It’s got a lot of positive aspects that will impact people directly when they take force.”

“Yeah, in 2014!”

“Agreed. It’s not perfect. Far from it, in fact.”

“It sucks! We need a single-payer system. Anything less is worthless.”

“I agree that single-payer is best. But that was not a politically viable idea at the moment, and to not bend on that would have meant no reforms at all, which is the worst possible option. At least this way, Obama and Congress opened the door for stronger acceptance of better reforms down the line. We’ll get there.”

“Pathetic. Just like those tax cuts for the rich they just renewed. Sacks of corporatist garbage.”

“Yeah, I didn’t like that either. Obama was in a tough spot, though. Congress gave him a tough choice: either all or nothing. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner are jerks for leading the charge on that, but the fact is that the alternative — repealing all of the tax cuts — would have been a disaster for the poor and middle class. They’ll revisit the issue in two years. Politics is a minefield, and only now that we have Democrats in power is the reality of that apparent. Bush saw few obstacles, because he had the Republicans unified behind him, and also played the fear, security and patriot cards like a Vegas blackjack dealer.”

“I wish Obama would flex his muscle like Bush did. He’s in the kiddie chair, not the bully pulpit.”

“I always said that unitary executive power is a dangerous thing. George W. Bush was the sterling example of that. We can’t wish Obama acted that way just because we like him better.”

“I don’t like him better. Not anymore. That net neutrality thing, that’s the final nail in the coffin.”

“Oh, you mean the policy drawn up by the FCC independent of the president? The one that firmly disallows page preferences for ISPs?”

“That’s the one. It’s got this giant loophole that allows companies to basically do what they want on mobile broadband.”

“Well, I support net neutrality 100 percent.”

“I do too, so this is a complete failure.”

“Not completely —”

“Yes, completely! Obama said he was all in favor of net neutrality, so why is he allowing any loopholes at all?”

“Well, first off, this isn’t the law yet. Second, if the companies in question are in fact allowed to offer tiers of mobile Internet access, would it be over content or merely to address the technological limitations of the devices in question? And either way, would limiting access even be a smart business practice? Third, you criticize everything that doesn’t go your way 100 percent of the time. How do I know that isn’t clouding your perception?”

“How do I know that your endless Obamabot rationalization isn’t clouding yours?”

“Because I used to be a cynic.”

“What’s the singular for sheeple?”

“All I know is, amid the things I’d like to see turn out differently, I’m seeing positive developments as well. All of this talk about how Obama and the Democrats let us down, lied to us and sold us out might be more valid if its premise wasn’t based on the lie that absolutely nothing has been accomplished. Politics is complex in a vacuum, let alone in a deeply divided, despairing nation of 300 million. Real, lasting change takes time and its effects aren’t always immediately apparent. Not to mention that they’re faced not only with an opposition fueled by revenge and near-divine levels of reactionary moral certainty, but also heat from many of their own supporters who mistake bitter cynicism, blind contrarianism and tea-party-level rigidity for healthy skepticism.”

“There’s nothing you won’t rationalize, will you?”

“Cynic.”

OK, I’m going outside.

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