by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
During a Q-and-A session on Tumblr last week, President Obama complained to young people about young people. “You guys,” he said, “are fed a lot of cynicism every single day about how nothing works and big institutions stink and government is broken, and so you channel a lot of your passion and energy into various private endeavors.” This, apparently, is a bad thing, because it suggests that young people are insufficiently naïve about their politicians. That they are aware of the government’s failures makes it much, much harder to con them. As Obama sees it, the blame lies not with the government for failing but with the cynics who point out its failures.
Obama’s anti-cynicism is one of his signature themes. When running for president in 2007, he said his rival was “not other candidates” but “cynicism” itself. The rivalry is intensifying. Because his policies have failed so demonstrably, Obama, unable to persuade via argument, is resorting to his favorite non-argument: being against people who are against things. …
… Consider the federal government’s largest undertaking in the last half-century: the war on poverty. Proclaimed 50 years ago, it is still going on, with no end in sight. Forty-four years after Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional war on poverty in America,” then–presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said that, if elected, she would appoint “a cabinet-level position that will be solely and fully devoted to ending poverty as we know it in America.” She should have listened to Jimmy Carter, who in 1978 proclaimed before Congress, “Government cannot eliminate poverty.” For once, Carter was right.
But what is realism to most is cynicism to Obama. In his view, cynicism about the government, not the government itself, is the real problem.