Democratic attacks on Mr. McCain and Republican attacks on Mr. Obama both seek to punish impermissibly positive thoughts. At a time when there exists a sense of crisis over the economy, fuel prices and many other issues, this reinforces the odd, two realities of life in the United States today: The way we are, and the way we think we are. The way we are could use some work, but overall, is pretty good. The way we think we are is terrible, horrible, awful. Possibly worse.
Whatever goes wrong in the country or around the world is telecast 24/7, making us think the world is falling to pieces – even when most things are getting better for most people, even in developing nations.
The relentlessly negative impressions of American life presented by the media, including the entertainment media, explain something otherwise puzzling that shows up in psychological data. When asked about the country's economy, schools, health care or community spirit, Americans tell pollsters the situation is dreadful. But when asked about their own jobs, schools, doctors and communities, people tell pollsters the situation is good. Our impressions of ourselves and our neighbors come from personal experience. Our impressions of the nation as a whole come from the media and from political blather, which both exaggerate the negative.