Do-Gooders: Cynicism Exposed

by | Mar 15, 2005

Back in the 1980s a White House staffer told about a revealing incident on Capitol Hill. The staffer was walking down the corridors of one of the buildings on the Hill when a Senator motioned to him to step inside his office. “I’m going to make a speech next week, denouncing the effect of the […]

Back in the 1980s a White House staffer told about a revealing incident on Capitol Hill. The staffer was walking down the corridors of one of the buildings on the Hill when a Senator motioned to him to step inside his office. “I’m going to make a speech next week, denouncing the effect of the President’s policies on my constituents,” the Senator said. He added: “Pay it no mind.”

My own experience with political cynicism in Washington came a few years earlier, back in 1976, when I was nominated to the Federal Trade Commission by President Ford. At a private meeting with a Democratic Congressional staffer for the Senate committee in charge of confirming my nomination, the staffer gave me the word.

“We have gone over your record with a fine-toothed comb,” he said frankly, “and, since we could find nothing to object to, we are just not going to hold hearings at all.”

He explained that, since this was an election year and they expected their candidate — Jimmy Carter — to win, they would just sit on my nomination until Carter became President, so that he could then appoint his own man to the FTC. Which he did.

Anyone who does not understand the utter cynicism of politics does not understand politics. An education on that subject can be found in Mona Charen’s incisive new book, “Do-Gooders.”

Ms. Charen’s book is about the enormous damage done by liberal social policies from the 1960s on, but it is also about the shameless demagoguery unleashed against those who have dared to oppose the liberal agenda or reveal its failures. Examples range from cynical lies about judicial nominees to the biggest big lie of our time, the claim that black voters were “disenfranchised” by Republicans in Florida during the 2000 elections.

Depicting judicial nominees as being against civil rights — and therefore implicitly racist — is a political tactic that has been used cynically and successfully, even against judges with a history of being in favor of civil rights and who have even had the endorsements of civil rights leaders like Thurgood Marshall and Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

The most famous example was the use of the anti-civil rights charge against Judge Robert Bork during his confirmation hearings as a nominee for the Supreme Court in 1987. It is a matter of public record that, before he became a judge, Robert Bork had filed briefs on the side of the NAACP in a number of civil rights cases.

Even though Judge Bork was endorsed by the most famous civil rights attorney in history — Thurgood Marshall — that meant absolutely nothing politically. His opponents couldn’t care less about his civil rights record, except as something to twist in order to deny him a place on the Supreme Court.

The same game was played, years later, when Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering was nominated to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and rejected by the Democrats who controlled the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2002.

Back in the days of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi in the 1960s, Charles Pickering not only risked his political career by speaking out for civil rights, he risked his life. When Judge Pickering’s nomination came under political attack in Washington, decades later, local black leaders in Mississippi came to his defense. One said: “I can’t believe the man they’re describing in Washington is the same one I’ve known for years.”

Pickering’s actual civil rights record, which had been praised by Mississippi civil rights leader Charles Evers, had nothing to do with the opposition to him. Liberals were afraid that someone with Judge Pickering’s judicial philosophy might not rule in favor of abortion — their real litmus test — and if depicting him as someone opposed to civil rights would stop him, so be it.

The most successful political demagoguery of our time has been the claim that black voters were “disenfranchised” in Florida during the 2000 elections. Mona Charen’s book examines that claim in detail. The Civil Rights Commission issued a report repeating that claim — after hearings in which not a single black voter testified to being personally denied the vote.

“Do-Gooders” shows not only the destructive consequences of liberal policies on crime, education and welfare, it shows the corrupting cynicism used to try to keep the liberal agenda afloat.

Thomas Sowell has published a large volume of writing. His dozen books, as well as numerous articles and essays, cover a wide range of topics, from classic economic theory to judicial activism, from civil rights to choosing the right college. Please contact your local newspaper editor if you want to read the THOMAS SOWELL column in your hometown paper.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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