Thomas Sowell

Some years ago, while walking across the campus of Stanford University, I happened to encounter the late Glen Campbell, then head of the Hoover Institution, where I work. Glen was also a regent of the University of California and the regents had just made some horrible decision that had me upset.

After I explained to Glen why I thought the regents' decision was so terrible, he said with a wry smile, "They know all that, Tom." That stopped me in my tracks.

"Why did they do it, then?" I asked.

"They want to be liked," he replied. "If they voted the way you wanted them to vote, they wouldn't be liked." Glen could never be accused of courting popularity and he had voted the other way.

Cynics say that every man has his price, but it is amazing how low some people's price is. Being a regent is not a career or even a stepping stone to a career.

Many of the regents were already independently wealthy -- or rather, they were wealthy enough to be independent, if they were not concerned about their popularity.

Popularity may not be the right word, if it means being liked by the public at large. Many things are done -- by regents, by judges, and by the intelligentsia -- that are very unpopular with the public. But these things enhance their status with their peers.

The very fact that the public doesn't like what they do may only solidify their sense of being one of the special people who are wiser, nobler or more daring. Some things are believed, without evidence, because such beliefs are a mark of belonging.

Once I asked a federal judge why some of his fellow judges made some of the incredibly bad rulings that they had made. His answer was not very different from that of Glen Campbell -- except that he specified that it was the opinions of the liberal media and the elite law school professors that was the gallery to whom these judges were playing.

"You mean they care what Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times writes about them?" I asked, incredulous.

"Yes," he replied. That certainly gave new meaning to the term "the Greenhouse effect."

It was even more baffling to hear, within the past year, professors at two of the top law schools in the country tell me that (1) they found the arguments used to justify affirmative action were just a crock and (2) they supported affirmative action anyway. One said he didn't want to offend donors to his law school.

We usually think of peer pressure as something that kids succumb to. But not only is such pressure effective with people who have long since passed childhood, not all the peer pressure on children is spontaneous.

Thomas Sowell

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

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