Thomas Sowell

DOES AMERICA have a terminal case of triviality? Just weeks from now, we will be selecting someone for the highest office in our land -- and the most important office in the world. This is someone who can take us into war, or blunder us into war, someone who can restore the rule of law or further corrupt our institutions until this is no longer America.

Yet what are we talking about? How Gore kissed Tipper, how Bush kissed Oprah, how Lieberman is Jewish and what Cheney's retirement package was from his previous employer. Is this how little we think about the future of our country and the lives of our children?

As election day gets closer, we are going to hear more and more repetitions of the mindless mantra that we need to "get out the vote." But how are we better off if more people who don't even care enough to become informed about the serious issues show up at the polls to make choices by guess and by golly?

That is putting form over substance. It is also putting enormous power in the hands of political demagogues who exploit the voters' ignorance to gain power for themselves. It used to be said that an informed citizenry was the foundation of democracy. It is still true, but it just doesn't get said any more. "Participation" is now the magic word, even if it is participation in self-destruction.

Truth and reality count for so little today that the cardinal sin, according to the media, is "negative advertising." In other words, when some political chameleon misleads the public about the kinds of policies he has supported and the kind of ideology he embraces -- the classic example being Michael Dukakis in 1988 -- then it is terrible if someone exposes him for the phony that he is.

Far better that a politician should acquire the enormous powers of President of the United States under false pretenses than that we should hear "negative advertising." This is a blank check for phonies -- including both Clintons and Gore.

The whole history of this century reeks with the tragic consequences of blank checks for people whose chief talent has been the emotional manipulation of the public for political purposes. Lenin was charismatic. So was Hitler. So was Mao. In each case, tens of millions of people paid with their lives for this charisma and their own emotional decisions to follow the pied piper of the moment.

Would it have been so terrible if there had been some "negative advertising" to warn the people of what these aspirants to power were really like? Or would that not have been sporting? Or would it have spoiled the fun of those who looked up in glassy-eyed admiration at their heroes, even though these were heroes who would lead them to their doom?

Thomas Sowell

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

Creators Syndicate