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Jewish World Review June 5, 2000 / 2 Sivan, 5760

George Will

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Consumer Reports

Liberal Condescension --

"It was a year when, in the greatest prosperity of the richest nation . . . drugstore counters were stacked with tablets to make you tranquil and other tablets to set you leaping."

--Dorothy Parker

"Banquet of Crow" (1957)

What year will Al Gore inhabit today?

When discussing Social Security, he is a man of 1935: Nothing has happened, economically or demographically, since that year of enactment to justify any significant recasting of the system, such as George W. Bush's proposal for allowing Americans to invest a small portion of their payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts.

When discussing ballistic missile defense, Gore is a man of 1972: Nothing has happened, geopolitically or technologically, in the 28 years since the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty was signed with the Soviet Union (that has changed), to justify anything more than a minimal system. And such is the fetish Gore makes of the ABM treaty, not even the minimal system should be built unless Russia (more change: its economy is now the size of Iceland's), by agreeing to amend the treaty, gives us permission to defend ourselves.

When promoting campaign finance reform, Gore is a man of 1974: In the quarter-century since the government embarked on the post-Watergate experiments with limits on permissible kinds and amounts of political communication, nothing has happened to dampen enthusiasm for more of the same.

But Gore is generally a man of the 1950s, the decade when liberalism became a species of condescension. One of his objections to personal retirement accounts is that "tens of millions" of Americans are incapable of making elementary investment decisions. He says national self-defense, which appeals to most Americans, cannot be allowed to have a deleterious "impact on our ability to protect arms control," which is the arcane responsibility of a small clerisy. And at the core of all proposals for more campaign regulations is the very Fifties fear that the lumpen American electorate is infinitely manipulable by what political money buys--advertising.

Adlai Stevenson, the Democrats' presidential nominee in 1952 and 1956, began the transformation of liberalism from a celebration of the average American into a doctrine of disparagement and reform of the average American. Stevenson was the darling of the intelligentsia, partly because he lost to the darling of the electorate, Dwight Eisenhower, whom the intelligentsia called "the bland leading the bland"--a simpleton whose smile was his philosophy. When a supporter told Stevenson he was the choice of thinking people, he replied that, unfortunately, he needed a majority.

Shadowy character?: Gore

The canonical text of liberalism's disparagement of Americans' competence became a best seller in 1958--"The Affluent Society," by John Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard economist. Galbraith adopted a tone of laconic amusement about the inability of the bovine society beyond the faculty club to understand what was self-evident to those within the club: The law of supply and demand had been repealed.

Capitalism, he said, was threatened not, as Marx had thought, by the immiseration of the masses but by the satiation of the masses: All desires for necessities had been satisfied by capitalism's stupendous productivity. What could save capitalism from a crisis of insufficient demand? Advertising.

Galbraith simply asserted--evidence is superfluous when dealing with the self-evident--that modern market research and the manipulative techniques of the advertising industry enable producers of goods to manufacture in the public a demand for whatever goods the producers find it convenient to produce.

It was inconvenient for Galbraith's thesis that his book appeared as Ford was introducing a new model, backed by all the company's marketing might: the Edsel. Oh, well.

Never mind. A theory so politically satisfying--the herdlike masses; hence the need for shepherds--cannot be wounded by mere facts. Besides, the year before Galbraith's book, another best seller, Vance Packard's "The Hidden Persuaders," had explored "a strange and rather exotic new area of American life."

"Far more than we realize," said Packard, "the patterns of our everyday lives" are being controlled by people using "insights gleaned from psychiatry and the social sciences." Those new tranquilizers and other psychotropic drugs that Dorothy Parker said "drugstore counters were stacked with" were tokens of the burgeoning science of social control.

The fact that Galbraith's and Packard's book-length warnings about social manipulation became best sellers might have suggested a public not oblivious to, and hence armed against, "hidden" controllers. Nevertheless, the predicate of condescending liberalism--the attenuated competence of the average American--had been planted. That liberalism is a not-at-all hidden theme of the Gore campaign.

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06/01/00: Great Awakenings
05/30/00: Suddenly Social Security
05/25/00: Forget Values, Let's Talk Virtues
05/22/00: AlGore the Hysteric
05/15/00: Majestic Avenue
05/11/00: Just How Irrational Is the Exuberance?
05/08/00: Home-Run Glut
05/04/00: A Lesson Plan for Gore
05/01/00: The Hijacking of the Primaries
04/28/00: The Raid in Little Havana
04/24/00: Tinkering Again
04/17/00: A Judgment Against Hate
04/13/00: Tech- Stock Joy Ride
04/10/00: What the bobos are buying
04/06/00: A must-read horror book
04/03/00: 'Improving' the Bill of Rights
03/30/00: Sleaze, The Sequel
03/27/00: How new 'rights' will destroy freedom
03/23/00: Death and the Liveliest Writing
03/20/00: Powell is Dubyah's best bet
03/16/00: Free to Be Politically Intense
03/13/00: Runnin', Gunnin' and Gambling
03/09/00: And Now Back to Republican Business
03/06/00: As the Clock Runs Out on Bradley
03/02/00: Island of Equal Protection
02/28/00: . . . The Right Response
02/24/00: Federal Swelling
02/22/00: Greenspan Tweaks
02/17/00: Crucial Carolina (and Montana and . . .)
02/10/00: McCain's Distortions
02/10/00: The Disciplining of Austria
02/07/00: Free to Speak, Free to Give
02/02/00: Conservatives in a Changing Market
01/31/00: America's true unity day
01/27/00: For the Voter Who Can't Be Bothered
01/25/00: The FBI and the golden age of child pornography
01/20/00: Scruples and Science
01/18/00: Bradley: Better for What Ails Us
01/13/00: O'Brian Rules the Waves
01/10/00: Patron of the boom
01/06/00: In Cactus Jack's Footsteps
01/03/00: The long year
12/31/99: A Stark Perspective On a Radical Century
12/20/99: Soldiers' Snapshots of the Hell They Created
12/16/99: Star-Crossed Banner
12/13/99: Hubert Humphrey Wannabe
12/09/99: Stupidity in Seattle
12/06/99: Bradley's most important vote
12/03/99: Boys will be boys --- or you can always drug 'em
12/01/99: Confidence in the Gore Camp
11/29/99: Busing's End
11/22/99: When We Enjoyed Politics
11/18/99: Ever the Global Gloomster
11/15/99: The Politics of Sanctimony
11/10/99: Risks of Restraining
11/08/99: Willie Brown Besieged
11/04/99: One-House Town
11/01/99: Crack and Cant
10/28/99: Tax Break for the Yachting Class
10/25/99: Ready for The Big Leagues?
10/21/99: Where honor and responsibility still exist
10/18/99: Is Free Speech Only for the Media?
10/14/99: A Beguiling Amateur
10/11/99: Money in Politics: Where's the Problem?
10/08/99: Soft Thinking On Soft Money

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