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A Walk on the Bright Side

A Walk on the Bright Side

Our economy is in ruins, the shining hope of the Obama administration reduced to a pitiful flicker, one war “ends” but really doesn’t, another war “starts” after eight bloody years, New Orleans “celebrates” the fifth anniversary of Katrina with an oil spill, and it’s hurricane season again.

Plus, we’re about to endure the angriest election in decades, and the best that can possibly come out of it is gridlock. How could things be any worse?

That, my friends, is what you call a writer tossing himself a softball. Because if you want to know how things could be worse, all you need to do is look backwards.

These are terrible times; they were terribler before. Things have gotten so much better that they’ve created a new set of problems. Problems our forbearers would have considered great victories.

Like the Social Security crisis; that program is running out of money. The cause of this debacle is awful in its simplicity. We’re living too long. That’s supposed to be a bad thing.

I’ve heard people actually bemoan the fact that when Social Security was passed, the average life span of a male worker was about 58 and now it’s approaching 80.

Sure, we have a cash flow problem, but increasing our lives by a third in three generations? I’d say that’s a cause for celebration. Or twenty of them. One for every birthday we have now that we didn’t have then. Look on the bright side, people.

America is besieged by enemies. Al Qaeda is everywhere, like roaches; we can’t even board an airplane without the TSA taking a picture so invasive they can count our pubic hairs.

But we had more deadly foes in the past. Our mortal, implacable, enemy today is a bunch of troglodyte losers in the desert, not a superpower with enough Panzer divisions to conquer Europe in twelve months.

We live in ghastly fright that our enemies just might manage to get their sandy fingers on a single, stray, primitive nuclear device. That catastrophe could kill tens of thousands.

But, when I was a kid, we did duck and cover drills in every elementary school because if there was a war with the Soviet Union, they had enough nukes to kill everybody. We’ve gone from total global annihilation to some freaks in a cave trying, and failing, to gas a subway station or plant a fertilizer bomb in Times Square.

You don’t have to look that far back to see how much better off we are now. A couple of decades will suffice.

Twenty years ago, AIDS was going to kill us all. Remember when Ryan White, a hemophiliac kid with HIV, was expelled from school because the parents were terrified little Sissy would get the bug and die?

That fear was exaggerated, we overcame it years ago. But AIDS was a death sentence, that wasn’t an exaggeration. Today it’s a terrible, chronic disease you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. But if he gets it, plan on having your enemy around for a while, because AIDS is treatable.

Show me a 2010 catastrophe and I’ll raise you one from the recent past. BP and the Gulf oil spill, terrible. But in 1969 Lake Erie caught fire.

Today’s politics is toxic. The way we know if a politician is lying to us is if we can hear him. Politicians lie to our face, all the time. But it used to be worse. They used to lie behind our backs.

Martin Luther King is revered now. But back when he was alive and making noise, the FBI bugged him from here to Memphis. The Great American Hero, now appearing on postage stamps and boulevards all across the nation, has a 17,000 page dossier in the FBI files. The records won’t be released until 2027.

But his reputation was liberated long ago. Now, even phony conservative nut-jobs like Glen Beck invoke Dr. King’s memory to promote their causes. Which, in Glen Beck’s case is Glen Beck.

Hey, I never said everything is better.

It’s human nature to gripe and moan and pine for the good old days.

But that’s just a parlor game we play with ourselves at night, under electric light, in front of the flat screen, while machines wash our clothes and dishes. It’s just a sentiment we post to our Facebook page to amuse our “friends.”

But we know better. Things used to be worse. And if you’re too young to believe me, ask your grandparents what a “lunger” is.