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Jewish World Review April 5, 2001 / 12 Nissan, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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Consumer Reports

"Feel good" laws -- IT IS NOT often that conservative talk-show host extraordinaire Rush Limbaugh and Harlem's left-wing Congressman Charles Rangel are in agreement on anything. But they both say that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, which has just passed the Senate to such great fanfare in the media, will never actually become law.

Moreover, they say it for the same reason -- that neither Democrats nor Republicans want campaign finance reform, so that it is just a question of which party can maneuver the other into being the one that is going to be blamed for killing it. Or maybe the Congressmen can take political credit for voting for campaign finance laws, while relying on President Bush to veto it or the Supreme Court to declare it unconstitutional.

Such is the moral fiber of our elected officials, whose purity we are trying to save from corruption by outside interests that make campaign contributions. It never seems to occur to many in the media that perhaps it is the politicians who are already corrupt and who demand tribute from businesses and others in the form of campaign contributions.

Remember Al Gore's telephone calls from the White House, telling various businesses how much money he expected them to contribute? They weren't beating down the White House gates, trying to get inside to force money into the pockets of those inside. Businesses were being summoned to pony up. No one said that refusal could lead to OSHA inspectors, IRS agents or others from the vast Washington bureaucracy descending on these entrepreneurs' factories or offices, or new taxes or red tape being imposed on them by Congress. No one had to.

"Conservative talk-show host
extraordinaire Rush Limbaugh"

No one expects big money to stop pouring into the coffers of politicians, even if the McCain-Feingold bill survives the House-Senate conference, gets signed by President Bush and -- most unlikely of all -- gets approved as constitutional by the Supreme Court. Why then is so much fuss being made about this bill? Because it has become a popular cause and it makes people feel good -- regardless of what consequences it may or may not have.

Campaign finance reform is just one of many causes being pushed because they make people feel good, rather than because of any actual net benefit to the public. Nor are liberals the only ones doing this. Conservatives are sponsoring Congressional legislation to promote moral training in the public schools. Whatever chance such legislation has of getting passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, it has virtually no chance whatever of accomplishing what its sponsors proclaim to be its goal -- strengthening traditional morality, including sexual abstinence, through school-based programs.

Anyone with any knowledge or understanding of the kinds of people who predominate in the educational establishment -- including the largest teachers' union, the National Educational Association -- knows that they are utterly opposed to the traditional morality which conservatives want them to promote. Moreover, there is no way for Congress or anybody else to monitor what they are actually doing in the classroom, much less do anything about it, given the iron-clad tenure of teachers.

Feel-good laws and policies are behind many of the disasters of our time. People in California have been feeling good for years blocking the building of electricity-generating facilities and blocking the use, extraction or even exploration for the fuels like oil or natural gas needed to power such facilities. The consequences have been either ignored -- until the lights started going out -- or else waved aside with claims that all we need is "conservation" and some windmills and solar panels.

This is in a state with a growing population and with a huge computer industry that requires electricity, not only for the computers themselves, but also for the air-conditioning necessary to keep the computers from being ruined by summer heat.

All over the country, people who are against "over-crowding" feel good when they support "open space" laws to put much land off limits for building anything. It never seems to occur to them that the more land is off limits to building, the more crowded we are going to be on the remaining land. But why should they think things through that far? If the purpose is to feel good, that purpose has been accomplished and the consequences can be left for others to deal with.

Unfortunately, that is the way too many of our laws are made.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate