WASHINGTON (AP) — To hear President Barack Obama describe it, there's a creeping case of cynicism setting in across the country, leading Americans to suspect that not only is Washington broken, it's beyond fixing.
If that line of thinking continues, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy with dire long-term ramifications, Obama says. If compromise-minded Americans get so frustrated they just tune out, lawmakers will feel even less pressure to work together for the good of the country.
With a mix of alarm and dismay, Obama has started musing about the dangers of cynicism in nearly every major public appearance. The cautionary note has showed up in speeches to students and civil rights groups, at Democratic fundraisers — even in his meeting with Pope Francis.
It's a sharp change in tone from the days when then-candidate Obama rallied millions to his side with ambitious aspirations about hope and change.
"It's easy to be cynical. In fact, these days it's kind of trendy," Obama told a crowd of thousands recently in Minneapolis. Cynicism may masquerade as wisdom, he said, but it can't liberate a continent, invent the Internet or send a man to the moon. "Cynicism is a choice, and hope is a better choice."
But in Obama's stagnant second term, those inclined to cynicism haven't had to look far.
With Washington at a near-standstill politically, both parties have essentially written off prospects for any major legislation for the remainder of Obama's presidency. Obama' attempts to circumvent Congress to get things done have drawn rebukes from the Supreme Court and a threatened lawsuit from the House, casting a bright light on the state of Washington dysfunction.
"There were at least times in 2011, 2012 when we had big battles over things, but they usually wound up with something getting done," Obama's senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, said in an interview. Not anymore, he said. He blamed the poisonous atmosphere on six years of a concerted GOP strategy to breed cynicism for political advantage.