Optimism, Realism, Civil Disobedience

My boyhood dream to become a Merrill Lynch stockbroker became reality a few years after I graduated from college. My favorite clients were self-made rural entrepreneurs. They have a distinctive profile: They dress humbly, they’re very smart, and they’re genetically optimistic. But, the genetic code might be cracking in favor of realism. What follows realism? Civil disobedience?

Today in my work as a think tank administrator I still love to meet with rural entrepreneurs to hear their very real perspective of the world. Last week I had lunch with a retired entrepreneur who made his fortune by selling his business and wisely investing the proceeds. We only had a few bites of our tuna wrap sandwiches in the Student Union when he asked me if I’m optimistic about America’s future. I was a bit surprised by this question coming from an optimist.

I told him that I like to be optimistic and that I think America is still the greatest country on earth. He replied, “I’m an optimist too, but I’m also a realist. Are you optimistic about the future of America?” He wasn’t letting me off the hook easily.

We have too much debt, I explained, an addiction to spending, huge unfunded liabilities at the federal and state levels, and the icing on this depressing cake is the abysmally low American civic literacy rate, which may be unchangeable due to our education system. Unless we turn things around very quickly, I added, I am not optimistic save for the modest uptick in private schooling and the education system changes that might come about due to busted state budgets.

He feels the same way and says he’s partly to blame for the condition of the country because he never got involved in politics. Now, he and his wife are cautiously engaging the Tea Party movement and investing significant funds in the 2010 election because, he thinks, it may be the last opportunity to set America straight.

The silver-haired realist may be right. But if big changes don’t happen in 2010, might we experience a second phase of the Tea Party movement: religiously motivated civil disobedience? Francis Schaeffer suggested such a scenario in his controversial book titled A Christian Manifesto. For the Founders, Schaeffer said, religiously motivated civil disobedience was “the bottom line . . . not an abstract point over a tea table; at a certain point it had to be acted upon. The thirteen colonies reached the bottom line: they acted in civil disobedience.”

It’s a radical thought. I’m an optimist and a realist. I’m hoping for big change in 2010.