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Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2001 / 7 Tishrei, 5762

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
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At the end -- I'VE been writing this syndicated weekly column for 20 years. That's almost 1,000 in all. Columnists, like old bread, can start coming up stale. I don't want that to happen. So, for now anyway, I'm closing up the bakery.

I will be starting up some new book projects with my sterling home base, the American Enterprise Institute, without whose help there wouldn't have been those 1,000 columns. I will also continue moderating PBS' "Think Tank" program and pursuing some additional television work.

I would like to thank my loyal readers, and even those who are in remarkable, regular disagreement with my views.

To both groups: If you haven't gotten it by now, it's either your problem or you came in late. But for the record here it is in a nutshell:

During the Cold War I was a hawk, and felt very much at home in a hawkish Democratic Party shaped in recent times by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. They knew that the Soviet Union was precisely an "Evil Empire," although that was Ronald Reagan's later coinage. The USSR was evil and it was an empire. Truman, for one, knew that the fate of the planet hung on the outcome of the Cold War.

In the beginning, the Republicans were more hawkish than the Democrats, sometimes foolishly so. Later, I felt that some Democrats didn't get the message powerfully enough. I became a devotee of Sen. Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (D.Wash.), my kind of hawk and my hero.

I never felt that America told its remarkable democratic story to the world well enough. I believed, along with Harry Golden, "America ain't what's wrong with the world." We should have done more, and could have done more, to stand up for the captive nations of the Soviet Union, just as we should now be standing up for the threatened freedom guys, in South Korea, Israel, Taiwan, and many other places. The sacking of the United States Information Agency (USIA) by our own U.S. State Department has been an untold scandal.

On the political front I believe that the Democrats have become a party that is perceived as far too liberal, principally on social issues. That is what my late collaborator Richard Scammon and I wrote in our 1970 book "The Real Majority," and it's what I wrote in my 1995 book "Values Matter Most." With all the change since then, there hasn't been so much change. This too-liberal perception has lost the Democrats votes by the many millions. I believe it was the root reason the Democrats lost the 2000 election.

President Clinton understood all this. He got elected in 1992 by understanding it better than any other Democrat. On some occasions he followed through effectively, but often it was too little and too late.

Demography has been my other passion. I confess, I am more interested in it today than in politics. I am worn out by the budget argument. It never goes away, does it? It will be here a century from now.

Something is happening on the demographic front that has still not achieved anywhere near the attention it deserves. Birth rates and fertility rates are sinking like stones, in both the modern world and among the Less Developed Countries. I think we'll be losing global population faster than you'd imagine.

Much of the intellectual ferment of recent years has centered around the idea that the human species is out of control, on the upside. Paul Ehrlich's book "The Population Explosion" was probably the first highly public debate for this case. The current argument regarding the drastic potential effects of "global warming" is only the latest in a long series of putatively human-induced mega-problems which rape the planet one way or the other, including running out of resources, air and water pollution, water shortages, and disappearing arable land.

But something very big is changing. It does not look to me that humanity is running out of control, at least not on the upside. The downside, in many places, and soon perhaps most places, is another story. According to the U.N. Europe is slated to lose 117 million people in the next 50 years. That's what I'll be exploring next. It's a long and complicated story which I hope to make shorter and simpler.

It's a been a remarkable experience working with United Media and the Newspaper Enterprise Association trying to come up with 52 ideas a year. Give it a chance some year.

I confess: I've really liked some of the columns I really liked. As for the rest? Many thanks, readers, for your forbearance.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and moderator of PBS's "Think Tank" is the author, most recently, of The First Measured Century: An Illustrated Guide to Trends in America 1900-2000 (paperback) and (hardcover). You may comment by clicking here.

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