- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2000

Pop-culture politics

"In our system, politicians function most effectively when they recognize they are popular culture figures. They only get in trouble when they want to do things like debate legislation and pass laws, things that have no real place on television.
"Bob Dole didn't realize this until after he was soundly defeated, something that might not have happened if he had recognized the power of sharing the stage with David Letterman while the campaign was still going on.
"After the campaign, people started to comment on how relaxed Dole seemed as he joked with late-night talk-show hosts. It was as if he felt that he could indulge in a little celebrity banter now that the serious business of running for president was behind him, never recognizing that indulging in celebrity banter is what running for president is all about.
"Bill Clinton knows this instinctively… . Ever mindful of his legacy, he knew he would be remembered for weeks, possibly months, as the central figure in the greatest pop-culture orgy since the O.J. Simpson trial indeed as the great pop-culture figure of the past three years… . It was to be the nation's first pop culture impeachment."
Matthew R. Kerbel, in his new book, "If It Bleeds, It Leads: An Anatomy of Television News"

Paying for pain

"In the 18th century, life at sea on the tall ships was so miserable that crews had to be press-ganged into service. In the 21st century, people not only volunteer for the job, they call it a vacation …
"How about impressing your friends and co-workers with tales of a week on horseback following the eagle hunters of western Mongolia as they pursue fox and wolf across the steppe? This winter, Boojum Expeditions is offering just such an exclusive experience, complete with tent accommodations in temperatures that never get above freezing.
" 'At times,' the travel outfitter's disclaimer croons, 'you may find yourself frightened, cold, hungry and uncomfortable.' But such wretchedness is just the cost of keeping up with the souls of the Joneses.
"Sometimes, pain isn't just the byproduct of an inimitable experience, but the whole point… . Once we tried to escape pain. Now pain itself is an escapist pleasure."
Debra Goldman, writing on "Pain? It's a Pleasure" in the January issue of American Demographics

Missing workers

"Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan … fears that an acute shortage of high-tech workers will hobble the economy, impeding further economic growth… .
"America's present-day labor shortage was in part created by policy decisions made three decades ago. By 1970 the national media were claiming that the most pressing issue of the day was overpopulation. John D. Rockefeller [III], as chairman of the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, pushed the Nixon administration to act to curb the US population growth rate… .
"By 1977, America's birthrate had dropped below replacement. Goaded again by anti-natalist propaganda, Congress pumped millions into high school sex-ed campaigns… . Teen promiscuity surged, teen abortion rates skyrocketed, but the birth rate continued to fall… .
"In view of our current labor shortage, the Clinton administration's effort to increase funding for domestic population control programs … by $35 million seems particularly shortsighted. We are already experiencing a birth dearth of historic proportions that is threatening to cripple the economy. Why should we spend tens of millions of dollars more to make the baby shortage even worse?"
Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, in PRI's March 3 "Weekly Briefing"

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