Beware Cynicism

Beware cynicism, friends. Beware it always. For it loves above all else to wear wisdom’s dignity, and speak with wisdom’s voice. But wisdom is earned, often at great expense, where cynicism is cheap as air, and for the most part as substantive. It likes to put on wisdom’s clothes and stomp around making big noise, like a child raiding their parents’ closet. Worse, it counsels inaction when action is desperately needed, and acceptance of the worst in events and human nature. It’s easy and safe, like playing dress-up in your parent’s clothes, because it takes no chances and affords hope no space or soil to take root in.

It’s said wisdom comes from experience (and experience from lack of wisdom), and it’s true. Wisdom is earned when we try to do hard things. If we succeed or if we fail matters, but it matters more that we try. That’s why cynicism is so dangerous. Because cynicism will tell you it’s not worth it to try. That failure is inevitable.

And here’s the thing. Sometimes cynicism is right. Often as not we *will* fail. But right or not about the outcome, cynicism is always wrong, because it ever and always stops us from acting. From trying and doing the hard thing. And the wise know what the cynic never can: that it’s better to try and fail than never to try at all.

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Towards a Progressive Foreign Policy

Elizabeth Warren said two things last night I wish more people were picking up on and talking about, because I think they’re both very important, both on their own merits and with regard to the actual powers of the office of the Presidency.

One, in reference to Afghanistan, she talked about putting an end to the American practice of tasking our military to solve problems that don’t have military solutions. Most problems don’t, and we’d be much better served as a nation to think less about warfighting and more about building a stable, sustainable world in which every human has what they need to thrive and live a meaningful (to them) life, using all of the tools in our toolbox, and not just the hammer.

Two, she talked about leveraging the power and prosperity of the American market to pressure other countries to bring their environmental, human rights, and labor practices into alignment with our highest values. Not only does this make the world better on the merits, it’s also good for the American economy, because it disincentivizes companies taking jobs elsewhere because labor is cheaper and there are fewer regulations. It’s power we have, but choose not to use, because our government has been captured by corrupt oligarchs who’d rather make a buck than the world a better place.

Not only are these things more relevant to the Presidential election than the healthcare debate (which is, help us all, the purview of Congress), they constitute a sea change in approaching previously intractable problems, and are one of the best — if not first — articulations of a genuinely progressive foreign policy I’m aware of. People can agree or disagree, but it’s a fundamental shift in approach that merits discussion and (to my mind) celebration and support.

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Dem Darn Debates, The Third

Start with the obvious: this was a much better debate than the previous two. First, because a bunch of also-rans didn’t qualify, so we didn’t get to hear John Delaney talk for half an hour about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for or watch Seth Moulton deny in real time that he’s not as cool or popular as his handlers tell him he is. Second, the moderators took a page from Chuck Todd’s book and burned it and did not insert themselves into the debate, save to ask clearly-researched, candidate-specific questions (except the first one: George Stephanopoulos’ invitation to Joe Biden to throw some ‘bows about health care and doing his damnedest to get the Republicans a sound-bite saying middle-class taxes would go up). Third, they actually touched a little on things like foreign policy and trade, which a President has a whole hell of a lot more to do with than health care, which is properly the concern of Congress, God help us all.

If you thought those three hours went by fast, you were right, because it was only two hours and forty-five minutes. That said, it was a good deal more substantive and, well, debate-like than these things often are.

So, how’d everyone do?

I’ll start with Elizabeth Warren, because she’s my favorite and, despite the current poll ratings, the one to beat, in my mind. She did, as ever she does, a good job staying above the fray and sticking to making a positive case for what she wants to do (clean up corruption and save democracy and the world!) and tell the very good story about why she wants to do it. She had some standout moments, though they don’t seem to have been picked up on, being more substantive than flashy. I’m talking about her line about not tasking the military to solve problems that can’t be solved militarily and her suggestion that we leverage the power of access to US markets to make other countries up their game when it comes to environmental and labor practices. Like so much else in her campaign, it’s both sensible and radical, and one of the reasons I support her for President. Continue reading “Dem Darn Debates, The Third”