August 22, 2000
Well, he did it again. Al Gore has brought his
family into the picture at a Democratic convention for the third straight
time. In 1992 he described his sons near-fatal accident in order to
display his humanity. In 1996 he recalled his sisters death from
lung cancer. In 2000 he planted a long, passionate, and (he said later)
completely spontaneous smooch on his wife, as if oblivious
to the presence of TV cameras.
Can we all agree now that Al Gore is a
real human being, and not a space alien mimicking earthlings?
Yes, he looks good in a golf shirt. And
no doubt he cares for his family. But his public use of his loved ones
always seems less than completely spontaneous. In fact, as
Robert Novak said of the kiss, it can be rather
Cant we presume that public
figures have private feelings, without seeing them acted out before
millions of viewers? Most people refrain from such displays, not because
they lack affection for their families, but because they know that private
affection may be unseemly in public. The most sincere emotions can
become affectations when shown for effect.
may have loved his dog Checkers, but when he spoke on TV of his
determination never to deprive his daughters of the animal, it became a
national joke. Nancy Reagan was undoubtedly devoted to Ron, but her public
dewy-eyed adoration of him on all occasions eventually became a little
cloying. And was there ever a more contrived display of connubial bliss
than the photo of Bill and Hillary, in the midst of the Monica scandal,
dancing on the beach in their bathing suits (with her thick lower legs
discreetly shielded by foliage)?
Clinton himself is the past master of
simulated feelings. We never saw a better White House thespian than the
man who, quivering with fury, expressed his outrage at us for even
suspecting him of having had sexual relations with that
woman. Most of the time he professes deep concern about
our children. Or he feels our pain. Or he quotes the Bible.
Im always wary of those who
want to make politics an index and test of feelings. Politics
is about power. Every law imposes obligations on us, obligations backed by
force. Law should therefore be fair, impartial, and dispassionate, designed
by reason, not impelled by emotions.
The politician who professes to
care about us who offers a program in the name of
compassion is usually a cunning demagogue. He
makes his appeal to unreasoning passions (passion being the root of
compassion) rather than to calm reason. He is promising some
voters benefits at the expense of others, usually on the pretext that only
the rich will have to pay which would be unjust
even if it were true.
Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt
this has been the Democrats game. Theyve portrayed
themselves as the caring party, charging the Republicans
with lacking compassion for the poor, the working man, the
minority group, even for women as a sex. This strategy has served them
well, since it keeps the Republicans on the defensive.
This year, though, George W. Bush is
threatening to beat them at their own game by touting the benefits of
compassionate conservatism. Gore, for his part, is
reverting to the pre-Clinton politics of pitting poor against rich, the
allegedly needy against the allegedly greedy. In Democratic parlance,
need means wanting someone elses money, while
greed means wanting to keep your own.
But in a time of general prosperity
(for which the Democrats claim credit), this appeal may be out of date.
More people understand how wealth is really produced, and they realize
that forced redistribution only imposes a drag on everyones efforts
to produce it. Economies that increase dependency on the state produce
only general poverty a lesson of the socialist era that seems to
have escaped Gore.
There are principles at stake in this
election that deserve full debate. But it looks as if both Bush and Gore
will stick to image-buffing and cultivating shallow impressions; any
debate will be confined to a few inane barbs. In their
different ways, both candidates will keep the campaign strictly personal.
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