There’s a specter haunting America’s youth, President Obama warned in his commencement address to Ohio State University graduates Sunday — the specter of “cynicism.” In Obama’s account, sinister (but unnamed) “voices” have been busily corrupting the once-idealistic Generation Y with a siren song of “creeping cynicism” toward ambitious new federal crusades. They’ll even “warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.”
I couldn’t help thinking that Obama and his speechwriters were responding to what they’d read in the New York Times a week before. In “For Millennials, a Tide of Cynicism,” the Times reported new polling data from Harvard’s Institute of Politics suggesting that Americans under the age of 30, “who turned out in droves to elect Mr. Obama in 2008, are increasingly turned off by politics. Experts fear their cynicism may become permanent.” If so, that’s pretty good news, because those mysterious “voices” are on to something.
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In 2007, candidate Obama even told a group of supporters: “One of the enemies we have to fight — it’s not just terrorists … it’s also cynicism.” (Not the most comforting thing to hear from a man who now commands his own killer drone fleet.)
Nobody likes a cynic — the kind of killjoy Oscar Wilde famously defined as “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” But in a $3.5 trillion dollar budget shot through with unfunded liabilities, maybe it’s worth paying attention to what new proposals are going to cost.
It’s a useful rhetorical trick, the president’s decision to reframe skepticism toward overweening federal power as “cynicism.” What’s “really” cynical is how, in his Ohio State speech, Obama invokes “the Founders” to rebuke “voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate sinister entity” that can degenerate into tyranny.
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Read More at reason.com . By Gene Healy.
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