Has this ever happened to you? You're having a conversation with people concerned about global warming and what we ought to do to combat it. You point out that, yes, climate change is a big problem, but the solutions on the table are unrealistic for various political, economic and scientific reasons. Icy stares all around.
Then someone accuses you of being down at the mouth because you don't care enough about the planet.
Or maybe you've been talking about how to fix the public schools, and you've observed that what ails public schooling is not something that can be remedied by putting more money into the system or simply rejiggering the educational formula according to new theories.
"Well," somebody sniffs, "what's your solution?" as if the justice or accuracy of the original critique were somehow compromised by the critic's failure to posit an alternative.
Either way, you've been blasted by what journalist Julian Sanchez calls The Care Bear Stare, after the sugary 1980s cartoon characters. As Mr. Sanchez explained on his blog, "The Care Bear Stare was a sort of deus ex machine, the magical furballs could employ when faced with some insuperable obstacle: They'd line up together and emit a glowing manifestation of their boundless caring, which seemed capable of solving just about any problem."
Behind The Care Bear Stare is the ideological conviction that there's no problem that can't be solved by the power of human intelligence and relentless application of good will. It's premised on the refusal to recognize limitation, as well as an inability to accept that some things simply must be lived with, at least for the time being. The Care Bear Stare is the psychological weapon of choice for people who cannot reconcile themselves to a world without guaranteed happy endings.
Alas for the Care Bears and their cute little tummies glowing with gladsome light, we live in an imperfect world. History teaches that the attempt to perfect it is not only futile but could make things worse (e.g., communism as a solution to poverty and inequality). This tragic vision does not deny the possibility of betterment but cautions that meaningful progress usually occurs incrementally, after skeptical deliberation; almost always requires compromise; and is never permanent.
It's in the nature of things.
And then there's the Care Bear vision, which takes as given the perfectability of humankind and correspondingly interprets all problems as fixable, given the right conditions. Care Bearism involves, in Thomas Sowell's words, "a disdainful dismissal of arguments to the contrary as either uninformed, irresponsible or motivated by unworthy purposes." Should the critics prove, after the fact, to have been right, Care Bearists grant themselves absolution because their hearts were in the right place.
Since at least the 1960s, liberalism has provided an ideological wigwam under whose pastel-colored flaps the Caring-American community has gathered to emote and caucus in its therapeutic and sentimental fashion, always looking forward to a better future (in part, because it means they don't have to look at the wreckage of their past schemes). Some latter-day conservatives began as liberals, until they understood that The Care Bear Stare was no effective defense against problems originating in human nature, which is not infinitely malleable, and in the intractability of evil.
Conservatives even compassionate ones pride themselves on being hard-headed realists who roll their collective eyes at the fuzzy-wuzzy schemes of the goo-goo left. But the right is by no means averse to indulging in The Care Bear Stare when doing so suits its purposes.
Care Bear Conservatives, for instance, proclaim that the only thing standing between us and victory in Iraq is belief in ourselves and our cause. Never mind the persistence of sectarian hatred and the cultural unsuitability of Iraqis for liberal democracy if the U.S. ultimately withdraws from Iraq having failed to achieve victory, Care Bear Cons will argue, as they did post-Vietnam, that the news media sapped the will of the American people.
In truth, Americans from all political camps are susceptible to employing The Care Bear Stare, given the can-do optimism of our national character. When Winston Churchill rallied his nation against Nazi Germany, he appealed to Brits' phlegmatic character, memorably declaring, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat."
Franklin D. Roosevelt, by contrast, called for American national unity in facing down the Great Depression by stating, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Nothing against FDR, but the difference is instructive.
There are few people Americans are less prepared to tolerate than pessimists, who are usually nothing more than realists who have managed to annoy idealists by refusing to sign off on their project du jour.
Take the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace conference, the most hopeless idea since Sylvester Stallone pitched his last Rocky movie. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas doesn't control his own people, particularly not the fanatical Jew-haters who voted for Hamas. Britney Spears will be named U.N. Mother of the Year before Mr. Abbas can be counted on to deliver a meaningful peace.
But so what? Our tummies are warm, our hearts are in the right place, and we won't stop thinking about tomorrow.