07/03/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Idealism In Obama's America

Cynicism about politics, rampant in the United States for years now, has peculiar features that distinguish it from its siblings in the disillusionment family, such as cynicism about romantic relationships or one's efforts at work. First among these is that it ought to be considered an oxymoron. Properly speaking, cynicism is an antipolitical phenomenon. Every political thinker, from the most brilliant theorist to the most craven TV hack, will assert that politics is the art of the possible, of measuring the perfect against the good, or at least of protecting the decent against the worst. Cynicism, on the other hand, expects neither the perfect nor the good, and often not even the decent. The worst does not surprise it. For politics, everything is contingent; an unforeseen tip on the scales of infinite forces can produce surprising results. But cynicism knows all outcomes in advance; for cynicism nothing ever happens.

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