Optimists, Pessimists, and Others
I believe in looking on the bright side. Some readers may find this hard to believe, because Im always arguing, but its true. I just try not to confuse the virtue of hope with the folly of optimism. They are entirely different things, even opposite things.
Its too easy to be a pessimist these days. Much better to enjoy the funny side of the human folly that is on display as never before.
Consider a celebrity couple whom, to protect what little privacy they have left, Ill call Brad X and Angelina Y. They are, as we used to say, shacked up and already have a natural child, but theyve announced they arent going to tie the knot, as we also used to say, until gay people can get married too.
You have to admire such a spirit of self-denial. Of course in the meantime, needless to add, theyre going to go on fornicating, as we used to say, until society has redefined its oldest and most basic institution to suit their liking.
Now if youre inclined to get indignant about such people, youre courting apoplexy. So why not just have a good laugh at their self-importance? You can also pity them for their stark inability to laugh at themselves. Theyre missing a great joke.
You dont have to be either an insensate optimist or a gloomy pessimist; the sane alternative is to be a reactionary with a sense of humor, like Jonathan Swift and Samuel Johnson. Express your disapproval with a smile.
The optimists got us into war in Iraq with their crazy predictions of quick, easy success. Now they are going to the other extreme (as optimists usually do) by predicting even worse horrors if we pull out than if we stay; for example, that if we withdraw from Iraq, the terrorists will follow us home! All the way across the Atlantic? They dont explain the logistics of this. Can terrorists walk on water?
But why on earth should we trust their judgment now? We have had horrors enough already, and those horrors will continue as long as we stay. Wishful thinking has already cost thousands of lives and maybe a trillion dollars.
But happily, there is a growing body of people whose optimism has proved curable. Bill Buckley, the great dean of American conservatism (and my old mentor, the greatest Christian gentleman Ive ever known), has had the wisdom and honesty to admit that his support for the Iraq war was wrong. There is rejoicing in heaven!
The angels must also be singing when Peggy Noonan writes her gently sagacious columns in the Wall Street Journal. She too has become something much greater than what she was: the most eloquent speechwriter of her generation. Now she writes from the heart, and what a heart it is! Ask my kids: Peggy is an old family friend, beloved of all the Sobrans for much more than her exquisite prose.
David Brooks, the neoconservative pundit of the New York Times, is another old acquaintance of mine. Though he hasnt (yet) recanted his support for the Iraq war, a subtle but definite change has come over his work, and he no longer shows enthusiasm for imperial adventure. Best of all, he writes some of the most wide-ranging and penetrating commentary in the daily press, full of original insight and humor; Im still laughing at his recent piece on Al Gores new book. His columns are often worth reading several times.
Until recently The American Conservative, founded by Pat Buchanan and Taki Theodoracopulos, was, apart from their writing, a major disappointment to me. I seldom disagreed with it, but it seemed lifeless and poorly edited. But recent issues have been electrifying. Among many other gems, it has featured a fascinating description of life in todays Iran by Peter Hitchens (Christophers Tory brother).
Some of us (ahem!) were right all along about the Iraq war; others, maybe most of the country, were a little tardy. But the real reason for hope is that almost nobody who originally opposed this war has come to favor it. All the movement of conversion is the other way.
The optimists, eager to add the glory of an Iran war to that of the Iraq war, are now talking to themselves. We seem to be eavesdropping on the soliloquies of madmen. President Bush has been called many things, but I dont think anybody would describe him as a quick study.
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