[Some months ago] the Democrats and the New York Times were making hay with a Department of Energy document which revealed that Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham met with top executives of energy-producing companies while preparing an energy report that was released last spring.
In what is written as a “news” story on page one, as distinguished from an op-ed piece on the editorial page, New York Times reporters relate that Mr. Abraham met with “energy industry executives, trade association leaders and lobbyists” but “did not meet with any representatives of environmental organizations or consumer groups.” They add: “Many of the executives were leaders of corporations that were among the most generous financial supporters of President Bush’s presidential campaign and the Republican Party.”
That would be an understandable attempt to score a political point, if this were an editorial — or if it were an openly avowed editorial, rather than being disguised as a “news” story. Even so, the point is blunted considerably in view of the fact that Enron’s top executives, Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, were denied requests to meet with Secretary Abraham, despite Enron’s large campaign contributions.
A less melodramatic reading of what the secretary of energy did is that he thought he ought to talk to people with direct knowledge of energy production when preparing a report on energy. Environmentalists and so-called “consumer advocates” do not fall in that category.
Indeed, there are no requirements for any knowledge whatsoever to become an environmentalist or a consumer advocate. There are more qualifications required to become a taxi driver or a meter maid than to engage in any of a number of busybody occupations that are taken seriously in the media, as if they represented expertise on something.
Why should the secretary of energy — or any other high official — spend his time listening to shrill rhetoric from self-righteous people? Everything they have to say has already been said thousands of times before, repeated by movie stars in Hollywood and beatified in New York Times editorials.
If you were holding a meeting to discuss the problems of the automobile industry, how suspicious would it be if you talked with people from General Motors? And why would you need to give Ralph Nader equal time? Does he have any track record of verifiable knowledge — as distinguished from bold assertions — that would qualify him as someone who actually knows what he is talking about? Media sainthood is neither knowledge nor reliability.
One of the fatal weaknesses of the 20th century was the vulnerability of the public to articulate and passionate “leaders” who didn’t know beans about what they were talking about.
We are so justifiably horrified by the history of Hitler’s evil deeds that we often overlook the sheer uninformed idiocy of much that he said and did. Here was a man who never took Genetics 1, but who ran a country and murdered millions of people on the basis of his own ignorant racial theories.
Lenin was another charismatic quack. He took control not only of the Russian government, but also of industry and agriculture, even though he had no experience in either. Immediately there was a fuel shortage that left water pipes freezing in Moscow — in a country with more oil than any other country outside the Middle East. Hunger and starvation plagued the Soviet Union for decades — in a country with land of renowned fertility and a previous history of exporting surplus food.
Charismatic ignoramuses left a similar trail of havoc in their wake in other countries around the world. We in the United States were spared the worst of these consequences, though more and more scholars are now coming to recognize that the New Deal ended up prolonging the Great Depression, rather than shortening it.
Thus far, none of the fiascoes created by listening to “experts” without any expertise has produced the kinds of catastrophes suffered by many other countries where people bought rhetoric and paid with their lives. Ignoring our own noisy quacks today is something that should be commended, rather than condemned.