Even members of the Optimist Club are far from, well, optimistic about the path the country is on.
Even folks in the Optimist Club are having a tough time toeing an upbeat line these days. Eighteen members of the volunteer organization's Gilbert, Ariz., chapter have gathered, a few days before this nation's 232nd birthday, to focus on the positive: Their book drive for schoolchildren and an Independence Day project to place American flags along the streets of one neighborhood.I have certainly made some changes in my life. I don't even have a car in the city, and I never go to the country - where I intended to be by now. But when you have to add five bucks to the price of gallon of milk because that is what it costs you in gas to make the seventeen-mile one-way trip to the grocery store...when I sat down and did the math I decided I could ride the bus for 62.5 cents per trip - and a transfer is good for two hours - but four dollar gasoline means I am ahead of the game staying here and buying organic and local "slow foods" in the city that I would be raising, canning and freezing in the country...
They beam through the Pledge of Allegiance, applaud each other's good news - a house that recently sold despite Arizona's down market, and one member's valiant battle with cancer. "I didn't die," she says as the others cheer.
But then talk turns to the state of the Union, and the Optimists become decidedly bleak.
They use words such as "terrified," "disgusted" and "scary" to describe what one calls "this mess" we Americans find ourselves in. Then comes the list of problems constituting the mess: a protracted war, $4-a-gallon gas, soaring food prices, uncertainty about jobs, an erratic stock market, a tougher housing market, and so on and so forth.
One member's son is serving his second tour in Iraq. Another speaks of a daughter who's lost her job in the mortgage industry and a son in construction whose salary was slashed. Still another mentions a friend who can barely afford gas.
Joanne Kontak, 60, an elementary school lunch aide inducted just this day as an Optimist, sums things up like this: "There's just entirely too much wrong right now."
No matter who is president, we are going to have to suck it up and make some personal choices and sacrifices. Our republic is in peril, and that is mostly due to the piss-poor leadership of the last seven years, and the folly of the republican congress that got right down to the business of proving government doesn't work by ruining it as soon as they took over in January 1995 - but we have some responsibility too.
We have known this was coming, we were warned with specifics.
Smedley Butler warned us about the war profiteering that is bleeding our treasury dry, and Hiram Rickover warned us in 1953 about the current energy crisis. Two decorated and revered flag ranks, not soft, squishy lefties; but solid, staid and stoic Americans who only wanted what was best for the country they served; rather than the bottom line of a few companies. These men had faced down actual existential threats and knew that the path that the nation was on was the wrong one, a path that would lead to the camels nose of fascism getting under the tent - and they tried to warn our parents and grandparents what they were going to do to us if they persisted - but most of them, either out of stubbornness or selfishness, or a misguided belief that technology would bail them out - didn't listen.
Because they didn't listen, things are as fucked up as they have ever been - in fact, I would say they are probably about as fucked up as they can possibly get and we can still salvage the republic. I don't know for sure, but it might be unsalvageable now - sometimes I look at the selfish assholes that are definitely over represented in this country and wonder if there are enough of us to prevail against their sheer force of numbers? I ain't yielding to the bastards, but some days, and today is one of them, I am not so sure we can overcome the sheer numbers of the selfish and the clueless.