Government can't fix all that ails

December 11, 1997|By George Will

WASHINGTON -- Wielding two hypotheses, one about global warming and another about frozen racial attitudes, Bill Clinton and Al Gore are postulating crises to justify fresh bursts of therapeutic government.

When The New Yorker's Joe Klein recently asked Mr. Gore why he is so interested in scientific abstractions, Mr. Gore replied, ''People in Grand Forks, N.D., who had to move out of their homes because of the flooding don't think global climate change is such an abstraction anymore.'' Clearly he means that the flooding was caused by global warming.

This is unverifiable conjecture. However, it is convenient conjecture, if the aim is to extend government's reach deeper into Americans' lives.

Do the right thing

Tim Wirth, currently undersecretary of state for global affairs, gave the game away nine years ago when he said, ''Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, to have approached global warming as if it is real means energy conservation, so we will be doing the right thing anyway in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.'' Which is why global warming and global cooling hypotheses have been fungible as rationales for arguing that government must revise American consumption and industrial practices.

In the 1970s, Americans were warned that ''Earth may be headed for another ice age'' (The New York Times) with ''extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation'' and ''a full-blown 10,000-year ice age'' (Science magazine). ''Brace yourself for another ice age'' (Science Digest). There were ''ominous signs'' that ''the Earth's climate seems to be cooling down,'' and ''meteorologists are almost unanimous'' that ''the trend will reduce agricultural productivity'' (Newsweek). Glaciers had ''begun to advance'' and armadillos were retreating south from Nebraska (The Christian Science Monitor).

Notify the armadillos to get with the new program. However, be it cooling or warming, the hypothesis hardly matters, if the hypothesizers' object is to maximize contemporary liberalism's defining sentiments/compassion (for the whole planet) and guilt. the production of gases that allegedly cause warming, America is said to be the worst ''offender,'' which presumably means that Bangladesh is an especially exemplary society.

Mr. Gore said in his book, ''Earth in the Balance,'' that our civilization is a ''dysfunctional family'' and needs ''wrenching transformation.'' Presumably government will be the wrencher, armed with what Mr. Gore calls new ''central organizing principles.''

It also will adjust America's racial attitudes, using ''race-conscious remedies,'' meaning racial preferences and government-sponsored propaganda such as the president's national ''conversation'' about race. Proponents of the hypothesis that Americans need government-supervised attitude adjustments say: Proof of Americans' dysfunctional racial attitudes is their successful determination to disguise that dysfunction.

That is the lesson some people drew from the disappointing, to them, failure, as they saw it, of participants in Mr. Clinton's "town meeting" in Akron. Participants supposedly refused to be candid. Proof of their dissimulation was, presumably, the absence of anger and alarm. ''Mr. Clinton,'' editorialized The New York Times, ''was visibly frustrated that the participants were less open and candid than he had hoped. But full candor would be difficult, given the delicate nature of the subject.''

Unless the subject is decreasingly delicate for increasing numbers of Americans. Unless the frustration arises from the annoying difficulty of trying to cure the healthy. In fact, abundant data concerning attitudes about interracial recreation, education, employment and marriage indicate steady improvement in race relations.

However, proponents of therapeutic government have a huge stake in stigmatizing (as greedy, uncandid, etc.) the notions that the planet is not in peril and the nation is not obsessed with racial uneasiness. Regarding the planet's real resilience, remember all the natural resources that, 25 years ago, we were told would be scarcities by now? And regarding racial progress, consider this from James Patterson's ''Grand Expectations,'' a volume in the Oxford History of the United States, dealing with 1945-1974:

'Tell them to fly'

When African ambassadors complained to President Kennedy about being refused service at restaurants on roads to Washington, Mr. Kennedy asked his chief of protocol, Angier Biddle Duke, ''Can't you tell them not to do it?'' When Mr. Duke began explaining the difficulty of reforming the restaurant managers, Mr. Kennedy interrupted, ''That's not what I'm talking about. Can't you tell those African ambassadors not to drive on Route 40? . . . Tell them to fly.''

Advocates of therapeutic government have to grit their teeth and face the fact that regarding global warming, not enough is known about this hypothesized problem to justify their agenda. And regarding racial attitudes, things have been getting better remarkably rapidly and are more apt to go on doing so if government will give the subject the benefit of some benign neglect.

George Will is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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