Lights, Camera... Policy?

Copyright 1998 Investor's Business Daily
March 30, 1998

Maybe Washington thought it could hitch a free ride from the Oscars. Last week a parade of stars began streaming to Capitol Hill to testify on behalf of various causes. We wish politicians would ponder rolling up the red carpet for a change.

Republicans are learning what Democrats long knew when they were in power in Congress: Famous faces make for great headlines.

But do they make for great policy?

Recall that world-renowned biochemist, actress Meryl Streep. Her sentimental maunderings before a congressional hearing a decade ago about the growth enhancer alar sent the apple industry into a tailspin.

Last week featured actors Kelsey Grammer (via videotape), Carroll O'Connor, actress Mackenzie Phillips and TV journalist Bill Moyers calling for more funding for drug abuse programs.

By week's end, it was boxing great Muhammad Ali's turn. He appeared before a House panel on health as a spokesman for the National Parkinson Foundation. Who better than a famed Parkinson's sufferer to make a pitch for $100 million in extra funding?

Then there was actress Piper Laurie, who sought an extra $100 million for Alzheimer's research. Someone in her family suffered from the disease.

Whether prominent or not, people have a right to petition their government. We applaud them pursuing their causes.

The problem lies with the politicians. By giving these famous sufferers a stage to make their pleas, politicians perpetuate the notion that government can solve everyone's problems.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Rep. Jim Ramstad, R-Minn., for instance, followed the stars' testimony on substance addiction to push an expansion of government power. The pair called for insurers that pay the costs of substance abuse treatment to do so up to the same limits as for other treatments. And the same appropriations panel heard them out.

Most of this public theater should be avoided. As gripping as celebrities' tales may be, they are not typical of most Americans. And it's ironic that these wealthy stars are going hat in hand to the taxpayer for funds.

But politicians in Washington want to keep their jobs. And they figure that by trying to be all things to all people, they will. If that takes a little window dressing in the form of celebrity victims, so be it.

Most Americans - even self-described victims - take pride in solving their own problems. Washington would do better to feature the everyday heroes who make their lives better through their own hard work. Despite Washington's mind-set, self-reliance is still a virtue.

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Copyright © 1998 Steven J. Milloy. All rights reserved. Site developed and hosted by WestLake Solutions, Inc.