My friend defended herself ably from this contention, but it run a chord with me nonetheless. My liberal friends do have a very bleak outlook on the direction the world is going in.
On reflection, I don't think it has anything to do with liberals being particularly pessimistic, or conservatives being optimistic. I think it's more about empowerment. American liberals are living under a Republican Congress and Republican president, and they quite naturally feel that this government doesn't reflect their political ideals. We're on the wrong track; of course things -- politically, at least -- are bound to get worse instead of better. I see the same pessimism in many conservatives, for that matter, because a lot of them aren't getting what they want either. Y'know, like some people on the left are ticked because we don't spend enough money on schools and we have a patchwork hash of a healthcare system, while some on the right hate the national gov't is still spending hand-over-fist and digging us deeper into debt. Which is funding, among other things, a hugely expensive drug benefit for Medicare. I don't actually know anyone on any side who's actually voiced approval for that drug benefit. You'd think it'd make someone happy but I don't know that it has.
Anyway, part of my point is that political orientation is so much more complex than our "two party" system represents. A lot of my friends are so far from identifying with either that it doesn't much matter which party is in power: they're still going to feel disenfranchised. They know how they want the government to work, and neither mainstream Republicans nor mainstream Democrats agree with them, so they're not going to win no matter which side comes out on top.
Funny thing is, that last describes me pretty well, too. I still vaguely consider myself small-L libertarian: fiscal conservative, social liberal. The Libertarian party is never going to go any where, and Republicans have been doing at least as much tax-and-spend as Democrats do, just on different issues. (Sometimes.) "Family values" and "war against terror" gets a lot more lip service than "civil liberties" nowadays (has it always? Are civil liberties just not sexy, in the same way that small government and untargetted tax cuts are not sexy?)
And yet I'm basically optimistic about the state of America and the world. I don't know why that is, exactly. I just have this peculiar faith that things are going to be OK, that the police and the military are not going to be overwhelmed by corruption and powerlust, that we're not going to lose our prized freedoms, that the economy is not going to face-plant into the ground. This isn't a factor of "my guys" being in power. I felt just the same when the Republicans took Congress in my liberal days in the 90s, or when I'd switched to libertarian leanings and Clinton was still president. "It'll be all right."
Maybe it's that I think the nation is resilient, that there are enough good people in the country that it doesn't matter which monkeys you put in Washington.
Or maybe I'm just not that convinced that my politics are right. Hey, it's the way I think the country should be run -- but I could be wrong. Maybe it's just as well that my side isn't in charge. Who knows what hash we might make of things?