``We are the world, we are the children. ...' The latter certainly is true. Witness America's zest for short-term crusades and cost-free weekend idealisms, as in Earth Day II. (It deserves Roman numerals, like a Super Bowl.)
``What are we going to do on Earth Day, daddy?' asks a nine-year-old girl of my acquaintance. If she has been rigorously conscripted and is marching in lock step with all of America's children (if she is not, it is an Earth Day II oversight), she will busy herself badgering her father about (these are the thoughts of Chairman Hayes - Denis Hayes, chairman of Earth Day II) ``what kind of light bulbs do we use, do we have a flow-restricter on our shower head, are we having an appropriate diet, is our car the most efficient vehicle that meets our needs?'Great. Egged on (or so Hayes hopes) by her teachers, this daughter-as-commissar is going to pioneer new dimensions of pre-teen obnoxiousness. Does Hayes know what an environmental disaster a nine-year-old is? The subject of her diet is not for the squeamish, she has never turned off a light, her complaint about my cars is that the van does not have a VCR and, as for showers, don't get me started.
America now has saturation journalism: CNN forever, one network or another from before dawn until after midnight, all-news radio, and radio call-in shows. When the media all jump feet first, on cue, into the coordinated manipulation of public opinion, as with this week of environmental ``concern,' they are doing something rather different than just covering the news. And one result is the reduction of complex issues to a pudding of trendy simplifications and synthetic anxiety and indignation.
The current surge of environmentalism coincides with the thawing of the Cold War in a way that puts an exclamation mark at the end of a decade of electoral routs for the traditional agenda of the left. That agenda evolves over time but has one constant: the expansion of state direction over society.
To govern is to choose, usually on the basis of inadequate information, partly because of the pressure of events. Earth Day II will gin up pressure (evanescent, thankfully) for choices where information is especially problematic - in environmental sciences. Regarding a range of subjects from climatic change to global warming (they are not the same subject) to the dangers of asbestos, there is on today's fast-rolling political bandwagon a high ratio of certitude to certainty.
Democrats hoping to ride the environmental wave into the White House should understand that it is an issue perfect for the brush-and-dash politics of the Bush administration. As with education, transportation, deficit reduction and other matters, the policy - style, really - is right-minded gestures, ringing rhetoric and pep talks, then a quick change of subject before the tacky matter of costs comes up.
Bushism is feel-good politics, adding self-satisfaction to the material comfort of the comfortable. It is highly popular and applicable to any issue. It feeds the media and makes for pleasant weekends of unexacting moralism. We are the children.