Just how cynical should we be about politics? Barack Obama's recent victory speech was a direct reply to political disengagement. In among a sometimes dull and formulaic monologue, Obama made at least two standout points: first, he cited a ''warming planet'' on a national platform, in a campaign not noted for its environmental verve; and second, he spoke for the importance of politics, when voters might easily become disaffected and disassociated.
Obama told audiences: ''… political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics, who tell us that politics are nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late at a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you'll discover something else.''
Obama then detailed specific examples of politics making a difference: A volunteer in college, who wants to give all Americans the same chance; the door-knocker galvanised by their brother regaining a job in the automotive industry; the military spouse on the phone, making sure that no servicemen are without employment and shelter.
This is all uncontroversial. Politics is undertaken by many volunteers, staff and representatives with laudable motives, and it also has demonstrable consequences. Policy matters to ordinary citizens, and seemingly small differences in a platform can nonetheless have enormous implications for a country. A few percentage points more funding for sexual health and family planning; a few more points of tax for the richest. Obama's decisions also make bona fide differences abroad, though not always the kind we laud: witness the hundreds of civilians killed, and thousands injured, by drones in Pakistan.
While the US government glosses its drone program as a precise technology, a recent study by the New York University and Stanford law schools has found that drone attacks - including double attacks that strike rescuers - are terrorising the local populations, undermining their tribal relations, stopping children from getting to school, and encouraging further resentment against America and its allies.
Glenn Greenwald, reporting in The Guardian, wrote: ''It is a campaign of terror - highly effective terror - regardless of what noble progressive sentiments one wishes to believe reside in the heart of the leader ordering it.''
This, too, is politics: distant others dying frightened while the ''good guys'' congratulate themselves on their hard-headed but humane war-making. Which is, of course, why Obama doesn't mention this in his victory speech. He wants Americans to hear intimate tales of class mobility and patriotism: it emboldens ideas of justice and freedom in his voters' minds. He mentions America's military: ''The strongest … on earth and the best troops … this world has ever known.''
But it's vital no one hears the stories of Pakistanis eviscerated, or too scared to attend weddings and funerals. Forget egos. This deceit is one primary cause of cynicism. Not just the brutality of political leaders but the facade that follows it; the unwillingness of communities to look at the cruelties done in their name.
Politics is concerned fundamentally with communities, and every community is an act of exclusion. Obama's United States includes more security, diversity and mobility than Romney's. But both are concerned chiefly with America, and the betterment of its citizens - or some of them - rather than the poorest or weakest abroad. Often, the interests of each are in direct conflict: as when one country's low wages and lax environmental and safety laws make another country wealthy. The words ''national interest'' make this clear: nations are communities founded on a quantum of selfishness.
My point is not that communities are inherently evil, or that we ought to retreat from political engagement. Quite the contrary. The point is simply one of clarity: just where we draw the lines around ''we'', and how willing we are to perceive these. It is not cynical to prefer lucidity to myopia.
Dr Damon Young is a philosopher and author. His next book, Philosophy in the Garden, will be published in December.