Mortgage Meltdown? Awesome Barbara Ehrenreich Thinks We Should Get A Grip On Reality

Illustration for article titled Mortgage Meltdown? Awesome Barbara Ehrenreich Thinks We Should Get A Grip On Reality

Barack Obama has his first definitive lead in the polls, but it's not because America is full of optimists — or, at least the people parsing the polls don't think it is. Barbara Ehrenreich thinks we used to optimistic, though, and, in today's NY Times, she calls everyone out for not being realistically pessimistic enough about the world. So, Spencer Ackerman and I get out our black nail polish and dust off our old high school days and join Ms. Ehrenreich on the pessimistic hangover train to mock the deluded assholes who actually got motivated by motivational speakers.MEGAN: Hey, Spencer, want to talk about sexism for a minute? Because I think the McCain campaign just about got tired of it. SPENCER: First of all, don't type so loud. MEGAN: What kind of drinking did you end up doing last night? SPENCER: I went to Townhouse after leaving Solly's, but by the time I got to Townhouse I was pretty much ready to call it a night. Anyhow. Second of all, you think Campbell Brown is going somewhere else with this, but no! MEGAN: FREE SARAH PALIN!! I love how Campbell Brown led off with, excuse me while I pull an Olbermann and rant, it's kind of completely awesome. If only she sounded angrier, though. I like my outrage to sound more outraged. SPENCER: Did you say you want outrage? Outrage this morning? MEGAN: Why, yes, I feel like I need to get my day started with something and I haven't started brewing coffee... SPENCER: Then feast on the wellspring of all outrage: the greatest op-ed ever penned. Barbara Ehrenreich in the New York Times paints her fingernails black, turns on Cradle Of Filth and unleashes an argument the country is absolutely unprepared to accept.

GREED - and its crafty sibling, speculation - are the designated culprits for the financial crisis. But another, much admired, habit of mind should get its share of the blame: the delusional optimism of mainstream, all-American, positive thinking.

Wait, what did you say?

The tomes in airport bookstores' business sections warn against "negativity" and advise the reader to be at all times upbeat, optimistic, brimming with confidence. It's a message companies relentlessly reinforced - treating their white-collar employees to manic motivational speakers and revival-like motivational events, while sending the top guys off to exotic locales to get pumped by the likes of Tony Robbins and other success gurus. Those who failed to get with the program would be subjected to personal "coaching" or shown the door. The once-sober finance industry was not immune.


I think my dick is hard. MEGAN: It's too early for me to comment on your erections, so I'll simply say that I love that she's basically like, everyone on Wall Street was a delusional asshole! SPENCER: Oh but it runs so much deeper than that. The locus for the crisis is within the soul of America. You see, you did this, in a sense: you fell for a comforting delusion, you weak-willed sucker, and you let yourself be exploited — she's saying this in the fucking New York Times! — and now look at yourself. MEGAN: God doesn't really love you! The universe will never be stacked in your favor! SPENCER: She goes sooooo far in this direction. By the end of the piece she finds it in her heart to praise the Puritans

Americans did not start out as deluded optimists. The original ethos, at least of white Protestant settlers and their descendants, was a grim Calvinism that offered wealth only through hard work and savings, and even then made no promises at all. You might work hard and still fail; you certainly wouldn't get anywhere by adjusting your attitude or dreamily "visualizing" success.

MEGAN: If I remember correct, success was actually the only sign that God didn't actually hate you and you might not be going to hell after all. SPENCER: Here, some would object that Ehrenreich has now hit the bedrock of absurdity. But FUCK THAT. If ever there was a time for some overcorrective excess, it has to be when Henry Paulson pulls a $700 billion figure out of thin air and says the part of his plan that reads "no oversight" really indicates that he "wants oversight." MEGAN: Which is very 1984 of him. SPENCER: I think I scrawled this op-ed in Sharpie on my desk at homeroom. MEGAN: I skipped homeroom for 3 or 4 years in high school. And I never got caught, because I was too "good" to be doing that. SPENCER: I got suspended. My mom had to take a day off from work and hear from a guidance counselor how I was at risk of joining a cult. But look at me now, asshole. MEGAN: Yeah, here I am 15 years later and I am still chronically tardy. But at least I don't give a shit about motivational speakers, so I'm not completely deluded. SPENCER: What to make of Ehrenreich's final graf?

When it comes to how we think, "negative" is not the only alternative to "positive." As the case histories of depressives show, consistent pessimism can be just as baseless and deluded as its opposite. The alternative to both is realism - seeing the risks, having the courage to bear bad news and being prepared for famine as well as plenty. We ought to give it a try.


This is clearly a cop-out. She spent the previous 700 words arguing that pessimism is realism. I'll bet her editor put this in there, they fought about it for hours, and then she decided that she didn't actually care because God doesn't care. MEGAN: Well, realism is pessimism to non-pessimists. Pessimists think nihilism is pessimism. SPENCER: Meanwhile nihilists are beyond such concepts, much as they are beyond your lying, timid morality. MEGAN: Well, I'm guessing she's no big fan of the Hope campaign. SPENCER: HAHAHAHAHA yeah Ehrenreich totally isn't voting for Obama. Not that it appears he needs her anymore.

Turmoil in the financial industry and growing pessimism about the economy have altered the shape of the presidential race, giving Democratic nominee Barack Obama the first clear lead of the general-election campaign over Republican John McCain, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News national poll.


MEGAN: I think the country is no longer filled with optimists anyway:

Just 9 percent of those surveyed rated the economy as good or excellent, the first time that number has been in single digits since the days just before the 1992 election. Just 14 percent said the country is heading in the right direction, equaling the record low on that question in polls dating back to 1973.


SPENCER: Next up: America rejects God. Storm heaven; and unleash hell!

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Erin Gloria Ryan

The same optimism translates into the military hubris that warhawks exhibit when thinking, in their deluded way, that we are still capable of standing up to Russia or China.

Or that we are not on our way out as the world's economic superpower. ("The fundamentals of our economy are strong.")

Or that the international community has the same respect for us now that it had 10 years ago.

Or that our education system is up to par.

If I said these things out loud to Bill O'Reilly, I'm sure that he'd accuse me of being "unpatriotic." I didn't realize that patriotism meant thinking that America can do ANYTHING IT WANTS NO MATTER WHAT BECAUSE GOD BLESS AMERICA UNITED WE STAND IN GOD WE TRUST GO USA! USA! USA!

Thanks, Barbara.