Wilken's Watch

Who is the cynic?

A woman stopped me on a Lower Queen Anne street the other day. She was one of those perky-looking older ladies, somewhere between 60 and 70, wearing athletic shoes and a baseball cap advertising an Oregon tourist town.

"I like your writing," she said. "I'm a cynic, too."

I don't always enjoy it when folks stop me on the street to talk about my column. But I immediately liked this woman's open face. She seemed intelligent, and what the hell, she likes my writing so she probably isn't anything short of a budding genius, in addition to being a first-rate newspaper critic.

I told her all cynics start as romantics. I don't really know if that's universally true, but I certainly started that way. I believed John Wayne won World War II single-handedly and didn't find out until years later he had a girlish name and avoided active military service. Later, while promoting the Vietnam War, he was rumored to be living in New Zealand. Brave Ronald Reagan, another childhood celluloid hero, was a recruiter in the Los Angeles area during World War II, who went home every afternoon after using his celebrity to sign up poorer, less-celebrated young fellows, some of whom went off and died in uniform. These sentiments of mine about former heroes are evidently what causes folks like my nice, street-corner fan to think I'm a cynic.

The New American Heritage Dictionary of the English language defines cynical as "scornful of the motives or virtue of others, bitterly mocking, sneering." The NAHD defines a cynic as "a person who believes all men are motivated by selfishness."

Although I am not always as precise in my use of language as I should be, I am a strict grammarian compared to many of those currently working in politics and big business. I do not believe all men (or women) are motivated solely by selfishness.

One has only to read the daily newspapers to see that many of our corporate leaders - can you say wreck a company and then take a huge buyout as you flee the rubble you created? - are not merely selfish; they are greedy to a point where words like fairness and honesty have no real meaning.

You can watch the political debates and attack advertising of Washington's gubernatorial candidates, allegedly televised to help us decide who to vote for, then read daily newspapers across the state, and discover more than 50 percent of Rossi's and Gregoire's statements and ads are incorrect or worse, blatant falsehoods. Any fair-minded person who listened closely to Rossi on Gregoire, or Gregoire on Rossi, would be horrified to wake up and discover either of these people had moved into the neighborhood. Nothing seems beyond them.

Obviously, they are motivated by an unholy lust for power, unknown to most of us. Once again the word fairness would die of loneliness on these people's prevaricating lips.

I would say that pointing out and mocking venal CEOs and the maliciousness of the two current power-crazed gubernatorial candidates is not cynicism, but merely good, wolf-like reporting disguised as the sheepish blathering of a weekly columnist in your neighborhood newspaper.

Would that we had CEOs or candidates for our state's highest office who brought out those warm feelings created by Marion Morrison and Ronny Reagan in my once innocent young breast 50 years ago.

I would close by reaffirming that I am a failed romantic and that it is the platitude spewing CEOs, and the vicious-campaigning Rossi and Gregoire, who are the mocking, truly scornful (of our hopes), self-serving cynics, who evidently believe the truth is only one more way, and not the only way when dealing with dupes such as ourselves. I think I am a realist, not a cynic.

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