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Jewish World ReviewJune 1, 1999 /17 Sivan 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Demonizing for dollars

(JWR) ---- (
THE ONCE-POPULAR GAME SHOW "Dialing for Dollars" has its present-day counterpart in courts of law -- Demonizing for dollars.

The most spectacular bonanza to come out of this process has been the hundreds of billions of dollars shared by lawyers and others, as a result of lawsuits against tobacco companies by smokers, former smokers, heirs of dead smokers, local governments and anybody else who could come up with a plausible reason to get his hands in the till.

People who had been warned incessantly for years, on every pack of cigarettes, that smoking was dangerous nevertheless were able to blame their ills and expenses on tobacco companies. But, before there could be a big payoff, there had to be a big demonizing campaign. We were told again and again that tobacco companies were bad. In some ways they were in fact bad. Joe Camel was not their finest hour. However, in some ways all of us are bad, at least sometimes. But a government based on laws is not supposed to punish people just because they are bad -- or because their badness happens to be in the public spotlight at the moment. They have to have violated some specific law. They cannot simply be pronounced to be tainted. That was outlawed by the Constitution when it forbad "bills of attainder."

In today's free-wheeling world, however, what is the Constitution when we have a crusade going -- especially if we are demonizing for dollars? Once we taint them as big-time bad people, then we can get down to the serious business of digging into their cash.

Now that the financial raid on the tobacco companies has succeeded on a grand scale, the next logical targets are the manufacturers of firearms. Lawyers, politicians and assorted others are lining up at the cash window to collect another big payoff.

We live in a world where somebody has to be blamed for everything. Often it is not the person who actually created the damage but instead the nearest source of big bucks. Those crusaders who are most ferocious against firearms manufacturers and law-abiding gun owners are often the softest on the violent criminals who actually shoot people.

A little psychological counseling, some community service and other "alternatives to incarceration" and it is OK to put the hoodlums back on the street. Just don't let their potential victims arm themselves.

If we were being consistent, we should allow victims to sue governments that fail to protect them and refuse to let them protect themselves. Since guns save many lives as well as cost other lives, why not sue gun-control advocates?

Would the world be a better place if there were no firearms? Of course. It would be better if there were no weapons at all. But this is the kind of philosophical question to be discussed around a seminar table. In the real world, there are a couple of hundred million guns out there and they are not going to vanish because of any law or any lawsuit.

A blanket prohibition against bills of attainder was put into the Constitution for a reason. Nothing is easier than to formalize lynch law against individuals or groups who have been demonized. And nothing is more dangerous.

Laws become a mockery when this happens. Today it may be tobacco companies or firearms manufacturers, but no one can predict who it will be tomorrow. Even totalitarianism did not become totalitarianism in one big step. The totalitarians started out demonizing their victims and then playing fast and loose with the laws to crack down on them. That is what is being done now by those who are demonizing for dollars.

The Communists demonized the capitalists, the Nazis demonized the Jews and other opportunists have demonized whoever was handy. What they all have in common is brushing aside the principles of a rule of law by unleashing passions that overwhelm those principles.

Those who are demonizing for dollars have much more limited aims, if billions of dollars worth of extortion can be called limited.

But, once you have turned the rule of law into just some stuffy old technicalities to be winked at and finessed, you have taken a fatal step for the whole society, regardless of who the particular target happens to be at the moment.


05/27/99: The real public service
05/24/99: Income, taxes and demagoguery
05/18/99: Random thoughts
05/14/99: Aborted knowledge
05/10/99: The new "fairness"
05/04/99: Holding parents responsible
05/03/99: Exit strategies
04/28/99: Tragedy and farce
04/26/99: Guilt and cop-outs
04/21/99: Choosing a college
04/16/99: When success fails
04/13/99: A photo-op foreign policy
04/09/99: Russia and the Serbs
04/06/99: Random thoughts
03/31/99: Irresponsible "experts"
03/29/99: Another Doleful prospect?
03/23/99: Random thoughts
03/22/99: Loving enemies
03/19/99: Naming names
03/15/99: Undermining the military
03/10/99: Joe DiMaggio -- icon of an era
03/02/99: Facts versus dogma on guns
03/01/99: Losing the cultural wars
02/22/99: "Saving" social security
02/18/99: Too many Ph.Ds?
02/8/99: A national disaster
02/8/99: Economic fallacies in the media: Part II
02/5/99: Why economists visit dentists so often
02/2/99: Warning: Good news
01/29/99: What is at stake?
01/26/99:Moral bankruptcy in the schools
01/22/99: Who is going to convict Santa Claus?
01/19/99: Seeing through the spin
01/13/99: A trial is a trial is a trial
01/11/99:Trials and tribulations
01/08/99: Rays of hope
01/04/99: Random thoughts
12/31/98: The President versus the presidency
12/29/98: The time is now!
12/23/98: World-class hypocrisy
12/21/98: The spreading corruption
12/17/98: Politically "contrite"
12/16/98: Polls and partisanship
12/14/98: The "non-profit" halo
12/11/98: Corruption and confusion
12/03/98: The health care "crisis"
11/30/98: Knowing what you are talking about
11/23/98: The impeachment legacy
11/23/98: Random thoughts
11/19/98: Tales out of bureaucracies
11/16/98: Scholarships based on scholarship
11/12/98: Forward march
11/09/98: Moral outrage
11/05/98: Will the Republicans ever learn?
11/02/98: A voter's duty
10/30/98: The poverty pimp's poem
10/29/98: Random thoughts on the election
10/27/98: "Partisan" and "unfair"
10/23/98: Ed-u-kai-tchun
10/21/98: McGwire, Maris and the Babe
10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
10/14/98: A strange word
10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
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

©1999, Creators Syndicate