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The pursuit of happiness On the good ship Lollipop, things suck
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepp's Commentaries
July 5, 2004

Dick Cheney is running for office as an optimist.

If the notion of the dour, cynical little class warrior being our little ray of sunshine strikes you as faintly absurd, consider the fact that this administration (which has bogged us down in a quagmire in Iraq, pissed away trillions of dollars in the national treasury in a giveaway to major corporations, and aroused rage and concern throughout America and the world) is describing itself as being happy, optimistic, and looking forward.

Pretty soon, we'll have campaign spots of Putsch leading a national sing-along of "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands." If nothing else, this will answer questions people may have as to whether the President can, in fact, sing and successfully clap his hands at the same time.

And I'll definitely set my VCR for the one where Ashcroft is singing "I'm a Little Teapot."

This all reminds me in some awful way of the scene where the campers manage to get Wednesday Addams (Christine Ricci) to smile.

If you're wondering why this collection of cold and angry men are lining up to do a rendition of "The Good Ship Lollipop," the reason is that their campaign consultants -- that would be the same campaign consultants Putsch swears they never listen to -- have told them that optimism sells, and pointed to the successful campaigns of Reagan and Bush Sr as examples.

It hit a peak in the 1992 campaign, when we had "Don't Worry, Be Happy" running against "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow." Aghast innocent bystanders wondered if the whole country might shrivel up from a saccharin overdose.

It died down in 1996 (Bob Dole doesn't DO "happy") and in 2000, when neither Putsch nor Gore were very convincing as happy-go-lucky types, and Nader was enough to encourage suicide among the Mouseketeers.

Now it's back. The GOP is spending millions to try and convince people they stand for hope and optimism, and the Democrats are the party of pessimism and despair.

Not only does optimism sell, but the GOP hopes that by branding everyone who points out the glaring deficiencies of their regime as cynical America-haters, they can discourage people from pointing out that this administration has been a major disaster.

Imagine the captain of the Titanic warning everyone that the next person caught spreading rumors that the ship was sinking would be tossed overboard. Not only would this dissuade people from questioning why the captain was backing up to hit the iceberg again, but if someone did say something the captain thought was negative, he could toss him overboard, and it might help keep the ship afloat for a couple of extra minutes.

Ah, the good ship Lollipop!

People in general and Americans in particular are suckers for the "don't worry, be happy" approach. After all, it says right in the Declaration of Independence that "pursuit of happiness" is a basic right.

Happiness, it's widely believed, includes optimism. Of course, optimism is ALSO a component of denial and delusion, too, which suggests that optimism isn't always a bedrock indicator of mental and emotional good hygiene. As an example, there is the insistence by the neo-cons that Iraqis would run out into the streets to greet American invaders with flowers and kisses. It's one thing for the Little Engine That Could to believe he could haul his load up the grade, and quite another for him to believe he could fly. The administration optimists on Iraq believed they could fly.

Even happiness can be regarded with a certain amount of suspicion, and not only because I'm of Scots descent and thus am genetically forced to believe happiness is a flaw in yer murrel character. The first problem is what is happiness, and the second is whether it is good for you or your society.

Ask one person what leads to happiness, and he'll say "success": success in making money, or getting ahead at work, or raising a family. Another will say "being liked and respected," and yet another "blowing up frogs with firecrackers." If the pursuit of happiness were the unalloyed blessing we have been led to believe it is, then we wouldn't have laws against drugs or have a culture that heaps so much scorn on the phrase, "if it feels good, do it."

Is happiness joy, contentment, serenity, or a mere sense of satisfaction? It's all of those things, or some, or none. And that's the most definitive answer you can get.

Psychologists trying to determine the effects of happiness on human behavior quickly discovered that of all human emotions, it was the most difficult to quantify. People who might describe their lives as "happy" on a sunny day, might give a non-committal or opposite answer on a rainy day. People tend to be happier overall at 10 am than at 4 am (try calling people at 4am and asking them if they're happy or not).

Even worse, psychologists aren't even sure happiness is a beneficial thing, either for the individual or for society. People who are happy, they say, tend to be more facile, less empathetic to others, more prone to superficial and simple answers to social problems.

But then, anyone who attended high school who wasn't part of the jock/cheerleader elite kinda suspected that already, right?

So, let's sum up. The administration is basing their campaign on the most subjective and nebulous human emotion, one which despite the fact that it makes people more superficial, more prone to not thinking, or putting any consideration into their decisions, is seemingly endorsed as an "American value" by no less than the Declaration of Independence itself.

Yup. Sounds like something the Republicans need to play up, given that everything else they touch is a disaster.

Don't worry. Be happy.

Posted: July 9, 2004


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