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Jewish World Review / August 24, 1998 / 2 Elul, 5758

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell America on trial?

IN A DEMOCRACY, we hate to think that the people themselves may be wrong or -- worse yet -- fatally flawed. Yet the polls of the past several months make it hard to be optimistic about the American public's understanding of the society in which they live or the dangers to that kind of society.

Consider some polls. The public has a far more negative view of Monica Lewinsky than of Bill Clinton. Since it takes two to tango, why would you blame one more than the other -- and especially the one who is younger and who has no power and no responsibility to the nation at large?

Kenneth Starr's approval ratings have barely made it out of single digits. He is far more disliked for bringing out the truth than Bill Clinton is for lying.

Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is the sympathy poured out for Susan McDougal, a convicted criminal who was part of an Arkansas fraud that cost the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation tens of millions of dollars. She has also been indicted for embezzlement in California.

Susan McDougal's stonewalling on Bill Clinton's part in the Arkansas fraud has been magically transformed into something noble by the media. More important, the public has bought it. Hey, obstruction of justice is not so bad if she's a spunky gal.

None of these episodes and none of these individuals will matter in the long run. What will matter very much -- and perhaps tragically -- is if the public has degenerated to the point where they can only react emotionally to what is right under their noses, rather than understand how much this country's freedom and well-being depend on the rule of law.

"A fool and his money are soon parted" is a saying that goes back to the 16th century. The tragic political history of the 20th century shows that fools and their freedom are also soon parted.

Time and again, people's emotions have been manipulated to put power into the hands of despots, whether in Europe between the two world wars or in Africa and Asia afterwards. The adoration of Hitler in Germany, the cult of Stalin in Russia and Mao in China, the throngs cheering Juan Peron and Evita in Argentina are all part of the tragic montage of our century.

The very techniques and images have been the same in country after country. Benign pictures of the Leader exchanging smiles with little children have been a staple in these image-building exercises, while expressions of his "concern" for "the people" have become part of the rhetoric by which the public has been induced to give him control over their lives.

Yet here we are, at the end of this tragic century, admiring Hillary and Bill Clinton for playing these same political games that have been played with such disastrous results in countries around the world.

Add to this the mindless psychobabble of our time that can only interpret support or opposition in terms of pop psychology and you end up with people who explain a prosecutor's carrying out his investigation as his being a man "obsessed" and think that a desire to have the laws apply to the president just shows that some people are "Clinton-haters."

There is still a possibility that the public's reactions have been due to their not yet having heard the other side of the story, which can only happen when the special prosecutor files his report to Congress, laying out the evidence and connecting the dots to show the big picture. This would also be a good time for Kenneth Starr to finally break his silence -- imposed by the laws surrounding grand jury proceedings -- and explain at some length to the nation just what is and is not the purpose of his investigations.

An ideal forum would be a televised, hour-long interview with an interviewer whose integrity is respected and whose style is to bring out what the guest has to say, rather than impose his own agenda on the discussion -- someone like Brian Lamb of C-SPAN or Charlie Rose of PBS, rather than the "60 Minutes" types.

The public ought to be given ample opportunity to understand not only "the other side" but also the profound issues that are more important than either side or both sides. Only if the public still fails at that point do we need to give up hope.

Bill Clinton may or may not go on trial, either in court or in Congress. But our generation is on trial -- and the best we can say right now is that the jury is still out.

8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.