I was suffering from a pretty bad cold last weekend. While I was convalescing on the couch, I decided to turn on the TV and see what was going on in the world.

There was nothing else on, so I decided to watch the McLaughlin Group on WHYY. I always find McLaughlin really entertaining, partly because I’m always reminded of the great Saturday Night Live parodies by Dana Carvey as McLaughlin (“Wrong!”) and Phil Hartman as McLaughlin’s constant guest, Pat Buchannan. McLaughlin was one of the originators of fast paced, in-your-face panel interview shows. He’s been on the air weekly since 1982

McLaughlin didn’t disappoint. He had his guests dressed up for the New Year: the women – Eleanor Clift and Monica Crowley – in dresses, and the men – Buchannan and Mort Zuckerman – in tuxedos.

Among his rapid-fire topics that morning, McLaughlin asked his guests what their New Year’s resolutions would be – Buchannan promised to correct the record on Nixon with a book he’s planning to write over the next two years; McLaughlin said he plans to attend Burning Man, a trippy hippy festival in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.

The interesting question, though, was when he asked his guests for a “macro prediction” for the new year. Buchannan, right out of the gate, predicted a financial collapse of Europe and major states in the U.S. because of unsustainable debt amounts and other financial liabilities.

Crowley predicted a major realignment of people’s attitudes because of lingering unemployment and frustration with “socialist” government policies (she’s a hard core conservative).

McLaughlin first joked with Crowley – “Will that realignment of attitude reach Pat Buchannan?” – and then delivered a prediction that the economy would be fully recovered this year.

OK, so it was not much more than bad television,  but I was left wondering about the difference in attitude between Buchannan’s pessimism and McLaughlin’s sensational optimism.

So much in our culture is predicated on those attitudes. The entire stock market, the keystone of our economy that includes the hopes of all of our retirement dreams, is based primarily on the play between optimism of future growth potential and the pessimism of economic flat line. We are told, again and again, for the economy to work and for markets to grow, there must be optimism.

2010 was a tough year for optimism. From high unemployment to intractable and paralyzing partisanship in Washington to the three-month oil-leak in the Gulf of Mexico, there were plenty of reasons to lose faith.

Yet, we go into 2011 looking for something to be hopeful about — something on which to base our optimism. I’d like to believe John McLaughlin – a hard sentence to type, let me tell you – that we have seen the worst of it. But it’s tough not to think Buchannan might be even a little right and there are some problems to worry about.

Perhaps the best we can do is keep an open mind. It’s a new year and anything can happen, right?

Pete Mazzaccaro

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