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Jewish World Review April 19, 1999 /3 Iyar 5759

Ben Wattenberg

Ben Wattenberg
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Ben Wattenberg


Gore in the balance

( TWO NEW BOOKS tell us about Al Gore and his campaign for the presidency.

"Gore -- A Political Life" is a fair, readable and thoughtful biography of the vice president by Bob Zelnick, former ABC-TV correspondent. Zelnick describes the diligent "raging moderate" familiar to Washington hands, who courageously broke with Democrats to vote for the Gulf War, who worked productively within the Clinton administration to support free trade, welfare reform, budget balancing and other moderate New Democrat policies.

But, as Zelnick sees it, Gore as Dr. Jekyll is shadowed by Gore as Mr. Hyde --- zealous, mean, misleading, ready to attack the motives of his opponents. Several examples are offered, with "global warming" the case in point, and appropriate for consideration as Earth Day approaches (April 22).

Zelnick cites Gore's book "Earth in the Balance," which claims that global warming "threatens an environmental holocaust... today the evidence of an ecological Kristallnacht is as clear as the sound of glass shattering in Berlin." Gore foresees the outbreak "of a kind of a global civil war" between the ecological "resistance fighters" and the "silent partners of destruction." Gore says opponents are "enablers" of such totalitarianism.

(Unabomber anyone?)

Gore likes to point out that "the scientific argument about global warming is settled." Non-warmist scientists are said to practice "junk science" and are just like researchers who sell their souls to the tobacco industry.

But, Zelnick asks, what about James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies? He was a key witness in Gore's 1988 Senate sub-committee hearings, testifying that he was "99 percent certain" that global temperatures had increased. But in a 1998 National Academy of Science paper, Hansen pulled back, writing: "The growth rate of greenhouse gas peaked in the late 1970s... and has declined since then."

Where might Gore's extremism come from? Zelnick sees it as a personal character pattern. If so, it may be unfixable. But some of it also comes from Gore's adherence to the playbook of far-out environmentalists. In 1990, Paul Ehrlich and Anne Ehrlich's book "The Population Explosion" called for reducing per capita income, reducing Social Security, increasing foreign aid, doubling gasoline prices, and favoring regulations telling Americans how many children they may have. Sen. Gore wrote a blurb for that volume: "The time for action is due, and past due. The Ehrlichs have written the prescription..."

Is Ehrlich just one well-publicized green loony in a world full of sensible environmentalists? Well, there are indeed many clear-eyed environmentalists.

But consider now "Beyond Malthus" by Lester Brown, Gary Gardner and Brian Halweil, all of the Worldwatch Institute, of which Brown is president. Worldwatch is no marginal organization of green flakes. The book's introduction notes that Worldwatch is supported by some of the most important foundations in America including Ford, Rockefeller Brothers, MacArthur, Hewlett, Packard, Turner, Charles Stewart Mott and, wouldn't you know, the U. N. Population Fund (your tax dollars at work).

Talk about junk science. Ignoring much demographic evidence, Brown's thesis is that the world is suffering from "demographic fatigue," that the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa is the leading indicator, and it's all going to get worse unless we do what the book's authors say, immediately.

What is this fatigue? What causes it? According to "Beyond Malthus," the world's population is growing so fast in the less developed countries (LDC) that there soon won't be enough grain, water, forests, fish, energy, jobs, housing or meat. Such strains are already raising death rates in sub-Saharan Africa, via AIDS. Tomorrow the world. Birth rates may be falling now, but AIDS-like tragedies will (inexplicably) increase birth rates, causing worse tragedy. Everyone everywhere ought to have condoms.

For the record: In the last 30 years total fertility rates in the LDCs plummeted from above 6 children per woman to below 3 and are still falling, rapidly. World population grew by 400 percent this century, while people got richer and healthier. U.N. projections indicate a 35 to 50 percent increase by 2050, after which population will likely fall.

Most fatiguing about the book is its Gore-like tone. The argument is settled. You may not disagree, or people will starve. The fate of the earth is in the balance.

There are some lessons in these books for Al Gore and his run for the presidency. Zelnick's book shows Gore to be both rigid and sanctimonious about certain of his beliefs. Now, Gore neither wrote nor praised "Beyond Malthus," but, arguably, the book suggests some of the intellectual sources for his rigidity and sanctimony on green issues. It behooves Gore to rethink and reformulate some of his stated views and re-evaluate the environment whence he gets environmental guidance.

The success of his campaign, already showing signs of fatigue, is in the balance.

Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank."


04/13/99:Hollywood is sharing the spotlight
04/05/99: Lessons of Vietnam, and Serbia
03/26/99: Politics as dog food
03/19/99: Bush-whacked Bush-whackers
03/08/99: Axioms for good politicians
02/26/99:L.A., D.C. try to get back to the past
02/23/99:The sprawl brawl
02/11/99:Celebrated lives writ short
01/28/99:Who's afraid of the Euro?
01/25/99:The Vast Right-wing conspiracy and Danny Williams: The last word (hopefully)
01/14/99:Sum of scandal? It's OK
12/31/98: Predictions? I don't think so
12/11/98: Better dead than read?
11/25/98: Polling the Pilgrims
11/13/98: The icon and the iconoclast
11/06/98: What happened? Nothing!
10/28/98: Two billion never-borns!
10/22/98: Election pundits know nothing
10/15/98: The too-big-to-fail doctrine
9/29/98: The Jerk Factor at work
9/24/98: American civic engagement thriving
9/16/98: Anatomy of a cover-up
9/09/98: Draft Joe Lieberman!
9/03/98: Get over it, folks
8/28/98: McGwire. Maris. Ruth. Clinton.
8/20/98: Is consuming a Big Mac eating?

©1999, Creators Syndicate