Arthur Brooks reminds us in a New York Times column that “We Need Optimists.” It is actually better for you to be an optimist rather than a pessimist. Psychologists have found that optimists enjoy better physical health and have a great ability to cope with setbacks.
In this coming election year, however, we need to ask whether we want an optimist or a pessimist in the White House. In the past we have had presidents who were true optimists in both parties. President Ronald Reagan was a Republican; President Bill Clinton is a Democrat. But lately the two parties have been producing a number of pessimists who insist that the country is going down the tubes.
Arthur Brooks asks a good question: “Why on earth would a politician choose pessimism?” The answer is simple. It is easier to connect with people who are concerned about the future of the country. No doubt you have seen the same surveys I have seen. They show that most Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. They are concerned that their children’s lives won’t be as good as theirs. No wonder politicians are willing to tap into the dark side.
But Arthur Brooks reminds us that we pay a price for this. Most Americans also say that the last election was too negative. They complain about the destructive, ad hominem discourse that dominates politics today.
I believe that what the American people are looking for in a leader is someone who understands the challenges we face but also has a positive vision for the future. When Arthur Brooks was on my radio program recently, I quoted from his book his analysis of Ronald Reagan’s speech at the Republican National Convention. In his speech the word most frequently repeated was the word “people.” If you add in all the specific people he was fighting for (families, children, needy) the number more than doubles.
All of this is a reminder that we are looking for a leader with optimism and vision for turning America around.