A Talk Shop Dialogue on Race and Politics, Part I
Jude Wanniski
May 18, 1998


Memo To: Fans and Browsers Interested In Racial Dialogue
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Our TalkShop Discussion

For those of you who pop into the website just to see the daily memo, I’ve decided to make a “Memo on the Margin” on the recent string of entries in our TalkShop on the subject of race and politics. For the last several months, we have been picking up steam in this discussion around my defense of Louis Farrakhan, who I’ve come to admire as a man who is not in any way anti-Semitic. Rather, I believe he is the most important leader of blacks and Muslims in the world -- and that it is the white world, Christian and Jewish, that refuses to hear what he is saying on behalf of his dispossessed global constituency. Why can I hear him while others cannot? Minister Farrakhan believes Allah (God) created me for that purpose, and if I can now translate to my white world of Christian and Jewish friends, we might accomplish something important. One man who is Jewish, Lewis Fein, participated in this dialogue almost from the beginning. Recently, though, his patience came to an end, at least for the moment, and he erupted in a string of invectives against the Minister and me. Of his several entries in this series, I post only the last, as the second in the dialogue. The first, from Russell Whiting, was his attempt to explain to Lewis why I was losing patience with him.

From: Russell Whiting
Date: 3/30/98

Dear Jude and classmates, I offer the following commentary as what I hope, all of the participants in our various discussions, conclude, is the voice of a "guest in the house," who is happy and grateful to have been invited to participate. Rational dialogue can only exist in the context of a dialogue. Within this context, we should note that Jude has concluded with regard to the views of Minister Farrakhan that "he has told me that he is not an anti-Semite and I have concluded that I believe him." If one of the visitors to our discussion offers criticism of this position, without citing “rhyme and verse,” then I do not think it is unreasonable to conclude that the visitor is in essence stating, "I cannot believe that you, Jude, can reasonably hold this belief." In a rational case, one might be lead to conclude that this posture might lead to a dialogue of sorts. However, if the visitor's next remark is, "The individual you hold these beliefs about, Minister Farrakhan, is the anti-Christ," a characterization usually reserved for a “monster” in history, such as Adolph Hitler, then I can certainly understand the consternation, distress and indignation the remark provokes. It is not much of a leap, from this point, for one of the parties in the dialogue to break off the discussion entirely.

From: Lewis Fein
Date: 4/15/98

Perhaps the most poignant political partnership is the one between Ronald Reagan and Jude Wanniski, for President Reagan's untimely disease affords him the opportunity to *forget* Jude Wanniski. Wanniski's ridiculous ideas -- from his constant deconstruction of the Holocaust to his heated defenses of Louis Farrakhan -- make him a fool. He chooses his words with the same degree of solemnity that he defends "Minister" Farrakhan: he shoots off letter after letter, defending Farrakhan's anti-Semitism as "sermonizing." He laments the paranoia of his Jewish friends. Just think: Jack Kemp stands to profit from Wanniski's wonderful advice.

From: Hiram, a Farrakhan supporter
Date: 4/16/98

Mr. Fein all axioms are derived from ideas, once they have stood the scrutiny of time and test. Many of the axioms we hold now to be true were once ridiculed by individuals like yourself. Some of histories greatest truth tellers were not well thought of by their contemporaries. Heed the maxim; "to be right is not always to be popular and to be popular is not always to be right." Thus if we understand the etymological, philogical and colloquial root meaning of the word "controversy" (against the popular notion of what's considered to be true) we will conclude that to be controversial is not a bad thing but a badge of honor. Rather to be controversial is to be in good company with the likes of Moses, Jesus, Galileo, Newton, Martin Luther, Ghandi, Martin L. King [Jr.], Mandela and a whole host of others. Let history judge Jude; if his ideas are ridiculous then history will regard them as such.

From: Mike Barkey, responding to Hiram
Date: 4/16/98

I have not involved myself in the discussion of Minister Farrakhan, Jude's defense of him, and Lewis Fein's dissension, but was deeply troubled by your comments.

Many controversial ideas advanced by controversial figures have stood the test of time and been ingrained in our minds, our language, and our hearts. You provide an excellent list of these. But even more controversial ideas have been left to the dustbin of history only after their incredibly tragic consequences have been allowed to play out with controversial figures usually having blood on their hands. The ABC program on the 20 most important leaders and revolutionaries of the twentieth century, referred to in today's "Memo on the Margin," evidences the body count of many of these leaders and their revolutionary ideas (although it incorrectly stated that Stalin was responsible for only 10 million deaths). One could say those opposing these controversial leaders were also controversial and therefore laudable, but are then left with the likes of both Adolf Hitler and members of the French Resistance as heroes. One of the two parties must be wrong. And when both sides have guns, or not, making the right choice at the time is very important to the day, and may be to history. Luckily, many controversial ideas and figures have been deserted early on thanks to the wisdom of the people, and the need to take up arms has been made that much more rare.

Sometimes we're wrong and oppose a good idea; most times I believe not. (I find it ironic that Jude decries those supported by the many, choosing to affirm his "outside the mainstream," "rebel," "challenger of the common understanding" image, while at the same time talking of the perfection of the electorate at making political decisions and choices in the market. Something is mistaken here. Perhaps if Jude was embraced by the mainstream, he would not be so quick to embrace instead his "Jude the Odd" image so handily, (or embrace a pariah like Farrakhan at all).

I think it is a horrible mistake to conclude that someone "ridiculed" because of their "controversial" ideas should necessarily wear that as a "badge of honor," and that we should be willing to defer to "history" to be its judge. Of course history will be the judge, but so must we. Two reasons:

First, the criticism that makes the leader or idea controversial most likely flows from the lessons learned from history which have been ingrained in the culture. One can't have it both ways: By accepting the wisdom of tradition and the judgments of history, ideas deviating from those teachings should be viewed with great skepticism, nor quickly embraced. Second, we have to live in the world now and have an obligation to challenge that which we believe is evil or wrong. We are a part of history, and as a result are all judges sitting on its bench. We must play our part. Failing to do so by deferring to the people of tomorrow would eliminate any wisdom history is suppose to contain. We would abdicate our role in history, and history would abdicate its. We may make bad decisions at times, but must make decisions despite that risk. Whether Mr. Fein's assessment of Farrakhan will prove right or wrong in the long run, I applaud his assessment whole-heartedly.

From: Jude Wanniski
Date: 4/17/98

I admire the efficiency of the electorate because it is so good at choosing its best leaders from outside the mainstream. The mainstream represents the status quo, which is a good thing for it to do, because change is a risky thing and should be undertaken only with care. My first vote went to John Kennedy, who was a rebel, not a member of the Senate Club, deeply mistrusted by the Liberal Establishment. In 1976, I noted how the voters chose Jimmy Carter from a crowded field, and realized he was the only one who was not promising to punish businessmen, to one degree or another. Ronald Reagan, of course, was way outside the mainstream. In 1980, only five of the 500 Fortune 500 ceos supported his candidacy, when it began. Of course, they crowded in upon him when he achieved power. When things are going good, the electorate wisely chooses from the center, from the mainstream. If it ain’t broke, don't fix it.

I'm sorry that Lewis Fein and Mike Barkey choose not to respond to my arguments on behalf of Louis Farrakhan, but instead denounce me for my views. You must be aware that ad hominem outbursts are generally a sign of insecurity. That is, if you could counter what I say with intelligent argumentation, you would not have to resort to epithets. I surely hope we don't have to wait for history to prove me correct about Farrakhan, as it is my aim to be proven correct on this during my own lifetime, and on the assumption that at 61 years I can't count on much more. It is of course your privilege to believe what you believe about him, based on what you have learned in the past. I'd have a higher regard for you, though, if you would challenge my arguments, my logic, the facts I present, as a way of wearing me down and persuading me I have made a great mistake. Simply telling me I am a fool isn't going to get you very far.

From: Mike Barkey
Date: 4/18/98

As I stated in my response to Hiram, I’m not interested in engaging you or Lewis or anyone else in the propriety of Minister Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. I have stayed out of that entire discussion intentionally. The whole issue is unimportant to me, and I have much better things to do with my time than argue with you over it. I just happened to click on Hiram’s captivating message title and decided to introduce what I thought was an important point in reply: one can’t champion the judgments of history and at the same time deify the individual and ideas which rebel at every turn against judgments flowing from that very history. I think this is a good lesson every good conservative should pay heed to, including you.

Although I have agreed with much of what Farrakhan said in a number of his speeches aired on C-SPAN, the last third of each invariably included what I consider a bigoted tirade intended to rile up his troops. It’s the same tactic the likes of Adolf Hitler, George Wallace, and Malcolm X used while on the stump. And as with those leaders and the bigots their rhetoric attracted as supporters, it works with this one as well. Just observe the level of audience applause and cheer in response to Farrakhan’s hateful comments compared to the rest of his message. It is not too difficult to tell from their reactions where much of his support originates. It is frightening to consider where it could lead.

Common sense leads me to distrust any man who makes such use of vitriolic and foreign rhetoric, and view claims that he is the one to breach our nation’s racial divide or solve the troubles in the Middle East as highly suspect, even if much else he says I agree. People were making this argument a year ago at SSU, and will be making it a year hence. History has been an excellent teacher to most of us. Professor Wanniski, you simply refuse to learn. (To suggest in your defense that Kennedy, Carter, and Reagan, all of whom you voted for [I did not vote for Carter: JW], were also outside the mainstream so Farrakhan is apparently not so out of the ordinary, requires one to fish for leaders in a totally different ocean, not just at the far end of the stream.)

The polemical rhetoric in which you choose to engage in when it comes to the topic of race — a tone absent from your very enlightening discussions of economics and many other matters — is very off-putting to the rest of us for the same reason. You do a disservice to your true message on race by speaking in this manner, whatever that true message on race might be. It ends up attractive only to the same crowd the rhetoric of Hitler, Wallace, Malcolm X, and Farrakhan appeals: those looking for somewhere to direct their hatred. As ad hominem as argument is wrong, ad hominem used as a rhetorical weapon against races to gain support for a cause is just as despicable and often defeats the cause independent of its merit. People are wise enough to quickly abandon individuals wielding such weaponry and whatever merits their ideas may have hidden beneath their cheap rhetoric gets lost in the shuffle. (For example, a cut in the capital gains tax as a means for helping the black community by making capital available to those capital starved goes ignored.)

While I would never compare Farrakhan to Hitler (other than in terms of the rhetorical tactics employed by each), had I been in Germany in the early 1930s and people kept trying to convince me that this great guy named Adolf Hitler had the final solution to the race problem and an answer to the problem in the Middle East, I would eventually tire of the same old arguments, and quit listening no matter how much I disagreed. Any more talk on the subject I would consider detrimental and a waste of my time; nothing more than another argument to further incite the true believers and strengthen their convictions. That’s how I feel whenever I read your vicious attacks on those who disagree with Farrakhan, and then read the applause you receive from members of the NOI following the "dialogue." But I will not feed your fire. Nor will I feed theirs. (To respond in advance: It does not mean I cannot defend my argument because I do not wish to continue on this topic, as you will probably allege in an effort to smear me and egg me on. If someone showed up on TalkShop and argued that David Duke held the answer to our race problems, I believe you would agree that there would be no need whatsoever for a lengthy reply. Sometimes and some people can never be convinced that they’re wrong and it’s better to let matters lie and hope they will outgrow their misguided thoughts on their own, rather than expend energy on them uselessly.)

I think it’s laughable that you would imply that Lewis Fein and my "ad hominem outbursts are generally a sign of insecurity." Please. Are you serious? You go back and read your own messages on this (and other) subjects and review Mr. Fein’s replies. If your psychological assessment is correct, you may be in great need of psychological help yourself. Were you not the one who spoke of Mr. Fein as coming around "with a rope in hand" in your very first message in this "dialogue"? This is not just despicable but incredibly irresponsible of you. The next time you wonder why The Weekly Standard comments about you as it did this past week, or wonder why conservatives are disappointed in you, look no further. Find the nearest mirror and take a long, deep look.

I reread my own message to see what you might have construed as ad hominem. I guess it was my parenthetical statement that, "Perhaps if Jude was embraced by the mainstream he would not be so quick to embrace instead his ‘Jude the Odd’ image so handily, or embrace a pariah like Farrakhan at all." If this offended you, I apologize. This was not meant as an attack but simply as a psychological observation. You are a political figure who has been ostracized by many in the Republican Party who once stood proudly by your side. Just like most who find themselves outside the mainstream in the realm of politics and ideas, I was suggesting that in order to achieve your desired ends you had been forced to make political and intellectual allies you would not have otherwise made, and embrace the notion of the "rebel to the common understanding" as hero to legitimize your efforts. If my assessment is mistaken then it is mistaken. I hope it is not mistaken and that you do not truly believe all that you have been spouting about Farrakhan and race. One thing however, if a psychological observation like this is an ad hominem, by your own reasoning, would not your comment that "ad hominem outbursts are generally a sign of insecurity" applied to Mr. Fein and me also?

Even if a huge majority of people have misjudged Farrakhan as you maintain, why is it not just an idle dream of yours that droves of people will be convinced that they’re terribly wrong when you’ve spent over a year with a captive audience and had little if any success? Please learn a different tune. You have made incredible contributions to the policies of the Republican Party and consequently to the United States and the world by helping to popularize supply-side economics. I have no doubt that Farrakhan will fade away into history as a racist, and would advise you not to join him on that page. You have left your mark on history, do not tarnish it with his legacy of hate.   (Mike)

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Part II, beginning with an insightful entry by Cedric Muhammad, will run as tomorrow’s “Memo on the Margin.”