16 Feb


Louise Annarino



In Italian being “cynical” means being “unprincipled”; changing with the wind, switching sides without affecting conscience. A cynical person is an opportunist. “Skepticism” is entirely different. It is core virtue of reason, allowing flexibility of thought and change position based on the disclosure of truth. Cynicism is destructive; skepticism is healthy.


As a second generation Italian, Sicilian father and Napolitan mother, I can assure you no one is more skeptical than a Sicilian. It is in our genes. We question everything and everyone. The more powerful the authority, the more skeptical we become. For the upcoming campaign season, I suggest we all become a bit more Sicilian.


Negative campaign ads are part of the political climate, and are increasing in intensity. They are destructive for two reasons: first, lies repeated enough appear to be truth; and second, they build a climate of cynicism among voters.


Not all campaign ads are the same; neither are the political candidates, nor their parties. Yet, Republicans such as Mitt Romney, Joe Hannity, Karl Rove et al. consistently respond to any criticism of their unprincipled, change in the political wind distortion of past policies and legislation with a shrug “They all do it; Democrats are just as bad as Republicans”. Even  Chris Matthews at MSNBC falls easily into this trap of cynicism. In a recent on-air interview questioning a Republican guest about the extremely negative Republican presidential race, Matthews allowed his guest’s statement that President Obama ran a very negative attack-ad campaign in 2008. How soon we forget the campaign for change based upon hope. This is just one example of the pure cynical revisionism we will hear and see more of as election day nears.


Such willingness to behave so cynically destroys are faith in our political process. It drives people away from political involvement. While this may benefit Republicans whose numbers are dwindling due to changing demographics, an unwillingness to change, or to exercise flexibility of thought. However, it does not serve well the Democratic party. We need to get as many voters as possible involved in the political process, and to the polls. Our numbers are greater. Their best hope is to turn our hopeful voters into cynics. We must stop being cynical; and, instead be skeptical.


Not all political attacks are untrue. When President Obama warns that Republicans intend to dismantle/privatize Social Security he is basing this so-called “attack” on statements of fact by Republicans. Paul Ryan, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney et al. have each proposed privatizing Social Security and Medicare, differing only on whether it would be a partial vs, complete privatization;and, each would raise the minimum retirement age. Their proposals would effectively gut funding, making the current program which is fully funded for next 30years, unsustainable. A cynic would argue that President Obama is engaging in negative attacks just as Republicans attack him – citizenship, patriotism, socialism etc. They are not the same. Cynical ad hominem attacks are a poor substitute for policy attacks.


A skeptic would check out the Republican proposals to see if what President Obama alleges is true, check out President Obama’s own proposals; then, decide whether his or her initial impressions were accurate. A cynic would merely ignore the cognitive dissonance such truth-telling engenders, shrug and say “politicians are all the same”. Cynicism never improved a single thing; it does not promote positive change. Only skepticism can do so.


Let’s get skeptical! Sing it out in tune to Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical”…now, I am dating myself!







  1. Cherri Hittie-Staley February 28, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Thanks, Louise. This is an important distinction.
    Love the Olivia reminder!

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