Pollyanna, Pull Your Head From the Sand

<i> Linda Leonard is a writer in Los Angeles</i>

Denigrating cynicism has lately become a favorite Washington pastime. Bill Clinton is accusing talk-show hosts of spreading it. Hillary is blaming Republicans for using it to defeat health care, and Al Gore has warned Harvard graduates that it “withers the soul.”

A healthy dose of cynicism is good for the soul. The most publicly damaging attitude is the cloying, phony, “Isn’t everything ducky?” approach. Who are they kidding? Optimists are the ones who breed cynics. They promise so much that when things fall short, cynics pick up the slack. What the Administration doesn’t seem to understand is that cynics are really disillusioned optimists--disillusioned because things are not going well.

This is what we face: crime out of control, babies out of wedlock, job-seekers out of luck. The House post office scandal, nuclear threat in North Korea, genocide in Bosnia. Then there’s Watergate, Whitewatergate, Nannygate, Bimbogate. Only someone hooked up to a Valium IV could easily remain an optimist.

We need cynics; they keep us honest. They ask why, how, when. Cynics may dampen spirits a bit, but they fertilize the mind because they make us think. Cynics force dreamers to focus, to plan and to explain. They ground the flighty and reward the prudent.


Like good health care, cynicism is preventive. It prepares us for the worst so it will be more palatable if it happens.