GOP Intellectuals, Black and White
Jude Wanniski
December 3, 1997


Memo To: Professor Glenn Loury, Boston University
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Conservative Intellectuals
Your op-ed in Sunday's New York Times, "Cast Out By the Right," came as a pleasant surprise to me. I've been watching black intellectuals who have been associated with Republican causes getting kicked around for the last three years by the party's white intellectuals, and have wondered when you would take notice and raise objection. You write that conservatives no longer know how to talk about race, and I quite agree: "Black conservative intellectuals are faced with rebutting arguments like those made by Charles Murray in The Bell Curve, which suggested that blacks might be genetically inferior, or countering arguments made by Dinesh D'Souza in The End of Racism, which held that blacks are culturally inferior." You cite a Washington conference of conservative intellectuals this fall at which you suggested that a modest degree of affirmative action in higher education could be justified. "That prompted an angry response from John Podhoretz, the conservative writer and editor, who called me ‘disingenuous' and added, ‘I much prefer the old Glenn Loury to the new one.'" You note your public termination, along with Robert Woodson of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, of your association with the American Enterprise Institute two years ago for its support of Mr. D'Souza.
Let me offer my view on what is going on. First of all, there are widespread remnants of racism among white intellectuals, both conservative and liberal. When the Bell Curve was published two years ago, I frankly was shocked at how many conservative intellectuals and opinion leaders I know who gave it rave reviews. In a long essay I wrote for the Forbes MediaCritic, I named names of many of those old allies who I sadly concluded were "benevolent racists." That is, they do believe there is an intrinsic inferiority of people with black skin pigmentation, although it is small, small enough that it can be ignored in their political eagerness to proclaim an "End to Racism." Recall that Louis Farrakhan addressed his concerns about "white supremacy" in his Million Man March speech. I did not know him at the time, but was certainly impressed with that speech. I've discussed "benevolent racism" with him in this context: Four hundred years ago, white people probably viewed black people as being 10% or 20% of a white. By the time the Constitution was written, the percentage climbed to 60%. A black was three-fifths of a white! This number remained into the 20th century. I find no record of any white arguing that there is no genetic intellectual inferiority until we get to the most recent period of our history, as neuroscientists have begun to make that argument. The percentage may now be as high as 90%, lower for older white Americans, higher for younger white Americans, but as long as it remains at all, the notion of inherent black inferiority is central to the racial divide. I'm afraid it is so deeply embedded in the culture, that it affects the black community as much as the white -- a point made to me by Justice Clarence Thomas.

One of the key interpretations of the Bell Curve thesis was that no public assistance would ever make up for the inherent inferiority of blacks. This became part of the silent justification for blanket opposition to “affirmative action,” as Republican intellectuals mapped plans to downsize government. I would not say this was the primary reason for the GOP drift away from the black community, however. In its continual quest for power, the GOP has been acting on the assumption that blacks are comfortable in the Democratic Party, because of the crumbs they get there, and that the energy required to get black votes could better be spent on the care and feeding of white Americans, particularly angry white males.

This consideration was not obvious prior to 1994, when the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives. The matter of how white intellectuals truly regard blackness and intrinsic intelligence had not surfaced. This 1994 political event "moved the yardsticks" for the GOP's intellectuals, who could suddenly smell a minimalist government. One of the key considerations was a poll taken at the time that showed 62% of white adult males opposed "affirmative action." At the time, I was advising Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who had been a major supporter of affirmative action in his years in Congress. The poll caused Dole to shift his position to opposition. He actually announced this on "Meet the Press" in February 1992 and I wrote him a memo practically begging him to reconsider. A week later, asked by Frank Sesno on CNN's  "Sunday Edition" what the first thing he would do as President, Dole said he would end affirmative action! Why? Because his primary competitor for the right-wing vote in seeking the GOP nomination, Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, had said that would be the first thing he would do! What we have here is a quest for power that continues to act against the interests of black Americans -- and white politicians and opinion leaders do not even realize what they are doing.

You mention John Podhoretz, who is one of the founding editors of The Weekly Standard, which I have dubbed “The Beltway Standard.” Another of the founding editors is "Beltway Bill" Kristol, who was chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle. Podhoretz is the son of one of the leading intellectuals of the past 40 years, Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, now retired. Kristol is the son of Irving Kristol, the godfather of neo-conservatism, and over the years one of Norman Podhoretz's closest friends. Their two sons are still "junior intellectuals," but they have significant influence on the "political correctness" of any given idea, public policy, or individual. There is no room in their world for Glenn Loury, or for me. They gather in their salons with like-minded men who enjoy the idea of "playing with the world" from their vantage point at the top of a triumphant United States. They are the flip side of the liberal social engineers who took affirmative action to ridiculous and corrupt excess. As long as they have the only game in town, that's where you will have to go if you wish to influence Republican thinking.

That's why I was so pleased to see you step out in the Sunday Times, to practically announce that you will not play that game. If other black intellectuals follow the lead you and Bob Woodson have taken, the GOP would at least be forced to confront its drift. And there are a number of white intellectuals in the GOP who are uncomfortable with the only game in town, but have no place to go. It would be helpful if conservative black intellectuals and like-minded white intellectuals could coalesce around Republican political leaders, new and old, who still wish to bridge the nation’s racial divide, no matter how much time and energy it takes.