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Stanley Crouch: Here comes cause for optimism

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American optimism always should be suspect, because it has such a strong record of being at best naive, when not outright intended to deceive.

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Those who think of President Barack Obama as a weak leader are perhaps upset by his optimism, his willingness to keep believing that his opponents, too, are actually interested in bettering the country, but somehow differently than he would.

Now that he’s heading toward what will be the last roundup, in November, of his roller-coaster rodeo, that optimism might be rewarded. The elephant is at last stomping around the grass, aiming to swallow the venomous ankle-biting snakes. That begins with House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan declaring their willingness to compromise, wipe some of the shutdown muck off their faces and stand up to the misleading loudmouths in their midst.

Of course, Obama’s optimism might be disappointed, yet again. At this point, the president knows that the GOP heels when its millionaire masters call for it. These fat cats wrap their ruthless demands for profits in their well-trained pets’ high-minded calls for constitutional freedoms.

Everything can be sacrificed to the god of the marketplace: high-quality education for all; sensible raises for the middle and working classes; protective defense of our environment; even reduction of our vastly expensive (and thus profitable) so-called prison — industrial complex.

Those are things worth fighting for, against the machinations of the deceptive false optimists. But Obama’s naivete has harmed him in that good fight, his stubborn confidence in technology having brought down the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Here is what the president could have told the country: “We begin today, and, all of us having experience with technology, expect some breakdowns. Expect problems, and expect us to find and fix them in six months to a year. That has long been and remains the uncomfortable fate facing large numbers of human beings who have to deal with machines and their limitations.

“As Americans, however, we know we can take these problems as they come, and fix them as best we can. Adults do not expect instantaneous change or instant betterment.”

Had he offered that kind of frank assessment, that would have solved many yowling complaints from the GOP about his overdue and entirely needed expansion of fair and affordable health care to those in need of it.

In his State of the Union address last week, there was no confusion. He will not sign any GOP bill to repeal the law, but he will consider all specific budgetary changes so long as the numbers add up and the ideas contribute something objectively better.

One last, but far from least, point is what Frank Rich in New York Magazine has helpfully brought to the discussion, warning so-called progressives to keep their eyes on the prize instead of chasing the waving red cape of right-wing distractions.

Grow up and stop being adolescents bluffed by resident media blowhards who are slowly losing power over their own base, says Rich. You can have a loud, rattling tea party, but you need hot water to make tea, not just noise.

This is a lesson that Obama has learned — to stay clear of the far right and hew instead to his own ideas that are positioned to deliver big wins for his party in 2014. As Chris Matthews observed, he also took flag-waving away from the far right, which tends to claim the flag and its history for itself exclusively. But that should not be allowed without another form of patriotism, since we need to always know the bittersweet truth: America is a collective achievement. All of us are part of that, which is what centralizes American charisma.

That Boehner laughed at the president’s jokes at signal points in the State of the Union provides us with a real reason for optimism.

Europeans have long misunderstood the American sense of humor. They do not know that humor is far stronger here than class, color or religion. When above an update of dehumanizing minstrelsy, it is very good for all concerned. Charlie Chaplin and Louis Armstrong understood that far better than those who cannot understand humor as a form of elevation. Both the president and the speaker of the House lit that match as a traditional way of removing American darkness.

Stanley Crouch can be reached by email at crouch.stanley@gmail.com.

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