Ob­ser­va­tions on what passes for re­al­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Thomas Sow­ell

Ran­dom thoughts on the pass­ing scene: They say that peo­ple mel­low with age. How­ever, the older I get, the less pa­tience I have with clev­er­ness.

If in­creased gov­ern­ment spending with bor­rowed or newly cre­ated money is a “stim­u­lus,” then the Weimar Repub­lic should have been stim­u­lated to un­prece­dented pros­per­ity, in­stead of ru­n­away inflation and wide­spread eco­nomic des­per­a­tion that ul­ti­mately brought Adolf Hitler to power.

Just days af­ter Colin Pow­ell in­formed us that the Amer­i­can peo­ple were will­ing to pay higher taxes in or­der to get gov­ern­ment ser­vices — and that Repub­li­cans there­fore needed to stop their op­po­si­tion to taxes — Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers re­sound­ingly de­feated a bill to raise taxes in or­der to pay for the many gov­ern­ment ser­vices in that lib­eral state.

Who was it who said: “I can­not tell what pow­ers may have to be ex­er­cised in or­der to win this war”? Ge­orge W. Bush? Dick Cheney? Don­ald Rums­feld? Ac­tu­ally it was Franklin D. Roo­sevelt, in a “fire­side chat” broad­cast on Septem­ber 7, 1942. He un­der­stood that sur­vival was the num­ber one right, without which all other rights are mean­ing­less.

They say ad­ver­sity con­cen- trates the mind. Now that Repub­li­cans have been badly beaten in two con­sec­u­tive Con­gres­sional elec­tions, what Repub­li­can leaders in Congress are say­ing to­day makes more sense than what they said when they were in power.

When my sis­ter’s chil­dren were teenagers, she told them that, if they got into trou­ble and ended up in jail, to re­mem­ber that they had a right to make one phone call. She added: “Don’t waste that call phon­ing me.” We will never know whether they would have fol­lowed her ad­vice, since none of them was ever in jail.

One of the most im­por­tant tal­ents for suc­cess in pol­i­tics is the abil­ity to make ut­ter non­sense sound not only plau­si­ble but in­spir­ing. Pres­i­dent Obama has that tal­ent. We will be lucky if we es­cape the catas­tro­phes into which other coun­tries have been led by leaders with that same charis­matic tal­ent.

When I think of the peo­ple with se­ri­ous phys­i­cal or men­tal hand­i­caps who nev­er­the­less work, I find it hard to sym­pa­thize with able-bod­ied men who stand on the streets and beg. Nor can I sym­pa­thize with those who give them money that sub­si­dizes a par­a­sitic life­style which al­lows such men to be a con­stant nui­sance, or even a dan­ger, to oth­ers.

How sur­pris­ing is it that Mr. Obama, who spent decades hang­ing out with peo­ple who spewed out their ha­tred of Amer­ica, did not say any­thing in the pres­ence of for­eign rulers like Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega, when they spewed out their ha­tred of Amer­ica?

We seem to be mov­ing steadily in the di­rec­tion of a so­ci­ety where no one is re­spon­si­ble for what he him­self did but we are all re­spon­si­ble for what some­body else did, ei­ther in the present or in the past.

Why let dis­cus­sions with vis­it­ing celebri­ties be a con­stant dis­trac­tion dur­ing a tele­vised ten­nis match or base­ball game?

If we each sat down and wrote out all the mis­takes we have made in our lives, all the pa­per needed would re­quire cut­ting down whole forests.

Much dis­cus­sion of the in­ter­ro­ga­tion of cap­tured ter­ror­ists ig­nores the in­escapable re­al­ity of trade-offs. The real ques­tion is: How many Amer­i­can lives are you pre­pared to sac­ri­fice, in or­der to spare a ter­ror­ist from ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dis­tress?

Gov­ern­ments should gov­ern, not mi­cro-man­age the econ­omy. A gov­ern­ment un­re­al­is­tic enough to think it can mi­cro­man­age is likely to do a worse job than most.

In­spir­ing as it is to study the his­tory of the strug­gles and sac­ri­fices that cre­ated and pre­served Amer­ica, it is also painful to see how all those in­vest­ments of ef­forts and lives are be­ing frit­tered away to­day for short-sighted and self-cen­tered rea­sons.

Why the mere re­lo­ca­tion of im­pris­oned ter­ror­ists from Guan­tanamo to pris­ons in the United States is a moral is­sue in the first place is by no means clear, since moral­ity deals with be­hav­ior, rather than lo­ca­tion. But putting them within the ju­ris­dic­tion of lib­eral cir­cuit court judges who can find rea­sons to turn them loose is a much more se­ri­ous is­sue.

Thomas Sow­ell is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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