In his first inaugural address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared, “So first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

FDR was wrong. Far worse than nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror is nameless, unreasoning, unjustified optimism which leads to catastrophic blunders that would not have occurred if potential costs and risks had been properly weighed in advance. The greatest thing we have to fear is … optimism itself.

More… “Our Greatest Enemy: Optimism”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.


He’s sitting with wide-open legs on the very edge of a comfy couch. His eyes twinkle, as usual, and a smile lights up his face, getting playful as it stretches over to the right where it would sometimes turn into a smirk. No smirk here, though. George W. Bush looks genuinely happy, confident, at ease with himself.


The portrait is by Robert Anderson, a portrait painter more or less by trade and, as it happens, a classmate of Bush’s from Yale. George W looked at the work of a number of painters and eventually settled on Anderson as the man to do the official portrait, the one that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian along with the other presidential portraits.

That can’t be serious, I thought to myself when I turned a corner at the… More…