Thomas Sowell

MEDIA PUNDITS seem fascinated by the "bounce" in the polls that Vice President Al Gore got after his speech to the Democrats' convention. What should really be getting their attention is the reason for the success of his speech -- and what that says, not about Al Gore, but about the American public.

What Gore successfully sold to that public was an image of a man who "cares" about them. That political image has been sold to many publics, in many countries, by people who clearly did not care about their wellbeing, but only about their own careers and power.

Huey Long used the same populist appeals to build one of the biggest and most corrupt political machines in American history, and he was regarded as a serious contender for the presidency until his assassination. The Juan Peron dictatorship in Argentina -- as economically ruinous as it was brutally repressive -- used similar appeals to those whom Evita Peron called her "shirtless ones." Even the great mass murderers of this century --Hitler, Stalin, Mao -- all paraded their "caring" for their people and their determination to "fight" against the "enemies" of the people.

Ironically, the Russians today show far more skepticism about their leader's "caring" than many Americans do. At the same time when many Americans were impressed by the Al Gore convention show, Russians were angry at President Putin because they believe he initially refused the help of other nations, who offered to rescue the sailors in the sunken submarine, for political reasons.

Think of headlines around the world reading: "U.S. Navy Rescues Russian sailors." It would have been a humanitarian triumph for the trapped sailors and their loved ones, but a political disaster for the Russian leaders, who would have ended up with egg on their faces, for having to call on others to do what they were not capable of doing themselves. Better for the Russian politicians to stall around until it was too late and spare themselves this political setback at home and abroad.

Even leaders of democratic nations have shown a remarkable ability to concentrate their caring on their own political careers, even at the expense of other people's lives. How quickly we have forgotten Bill Clinton's bombing of innocent people in the Sudan on the eve of the vote on his impeachment. This was not just a "mistake," as so many corrupt actions of the Clinton administration have been called. Not only was there not enough solid information to justify killing people in the Sudan, those officials who deal in solid information were kept in the dark about what few facts and many uncertainties there were when this fatal decision was made.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate