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The Temptation of McCarthyism - On the Left


Most bloggers are not only columnists but editors. Most allow comments and must decide whether and what to edit. Many bring in guest bloggers and must decide on parameters.

I want edbizbuzz to be a forum as much as a soapbox. Its also intended to be a place where people besides the usual edwonk suspects can get into the debate. I do not edit comments on my posts except for profanity. I have a Friday Guest Column where outsiders can have their say - whether I agree with it or not.

Last Friday I offered the Guest Column to a group of locally notable political activists writing a letter to DC City Council Chair Vincent Gray protesting the two researchers DC Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee proposed the Council approve as independent evaluators of her reform efforts.

Edbizbuzz readers know I argue that American Enterprise Institutes’ Frederick Hess and Brown University’s Kenneth Wong have conflicts of interest and/or appearances of such conflicts that preclude them from serving as independent advisors. Chancellor Rhee’s error of judgment in management, professional ethics and politics was not trivial. Her personal and professional ties to Hess should have kept her from even considering that nomination. The fact that Wong is on the record favoring mayoral takeovers will undermine anything he might report out. The two are competent, respected scholars, but this is the wrong place and the wrong time for them to serve. A disinterested observer presented with the facts could only wonder what Rhee was trying to accomplish. The City Council should insist on evaluators with no question of conflicts, and such people and firms are not hard to find.

In my view the argument should begin and end with the conflicts of interest. I was truly disappointed to read the Guest Column’s additional argument against Hess.

AEI is the think tank that funded projects such as The Bell Curve, by AEI scholar Charles Murray, which caused outrage around the nation because of its racist conclusions that blacks are of inferior intelligence to whites and Asians, and The End of Racism, by Dinesh D'Souza, which declared that racism in the U.S. has ended and that the days of affirmative action are over. We should not be hiring such an institution's directors to judge the success of our school reform efforts.

I’ve been trying to finish up a series on the dangerous move in the direction of McCarthyism that Fordham Foundation’s Vice President Mike Petrilli took asking the American Educational Research Association’s board of directors to boot former Weather Underground member William Ayers as an “unrepentant terrorist.” To any outsider, the implication must be that, if they don’t, they sympathize with terrorism - or support it. There’s not much difference between that and what’s going in on this letter. The implication is that Hess is at best insensitive to issues of race, at worst a racist. That’s McCarthyism from the left.

It is incredibly ironic for Hess to be placed in this position after he defended the right of association rather than agree with his friend Petrilli on the Ayers Affair. If he reads edbizbuzz, I suspect he would find no great joy agreeing with me.

I often disagree with Dr. Hess on matters of policy, but there is absolutely no reason to believe he is a racist, or insensitive to matters of race, or for that matter that AEI is a bunch of racists. Indeed, in my own observation, racial equality is precisely the basis of the strong alliances local organizations led by people of color have forged with conservative education policy wonks in cities across this country.

As Hess pointed out about efforts to trash AERA through Ayers, if your objective is to score political points with your own allies, it’s fun to smear people. But McCarthyism is not only unethical, it is a very poor strategy for winning the middle to your side. Indeed, if Dr. Hess is appointed to monitor DC school reform, one reason will be that the backlash to this ridiculous charge will swamp the substantive issue of conflicts.

Whatever number of edbizbuzz readers sign the letter online, I hope they will record their agreement with the conflicts issue and distance themselves from the implication of racism.


You deceived me skillfully.

You asked to post our letter as a guest column, with no mention of your strong objection to the letter (you wrote to me: "Its not in anyones interest for me to sign this letter even if I agreed with it in toto. But please send me the final copy as I am writing a post for edbizbuzz as we speak, and will post the later with the signatories names on the site.").

Then you asked me to send as many people as possible to your blog, to "see how many people you can encourage to sign up online."

Then you trashed it!!

For some reason in your own blog entry above, you don't mention your own repeated, behind-the-scenes campaign against Hess and Wong, with e-mails (which you forwarded to me) to dcedublog, and to the DC Examiner, and forwarding them to me to use in drafting our letter.

In your (McCarthyist?) e-mails to the DC Examiner reporter, you list as one of your objections to Hess that he works for AEI, which you say "Mopst [sic] education policy wonks" would categorize as one of the "mission-driven or ideological organizations like the Education Trust, the Heritage Foundation, the Center for Education Reform, and the Center for American Progress (CAP), which promote work that advances their ideological or philosophical approaches to school improvement."

(You wrote to the Examiner reporter: "Method and analyses are not without value judgments. Otherwise there would no reading wars, math wars, charter wars, debates over gaming AYP, etc etc.")

So it's okay for you to oppose Hess on the basis of AEI's ideological bent, but not for us to point out that AEI also has a history of publishing racist materials?

In a word, yes. With one caveat.

I gave you a forum. This isn't entrapment - with me leading you on or inciting you to accuse a man of racism. I didn't put words in your mouth or edit what you said. I didn't suggest you should add issues of race to your letter to DC City Council Vincent Gray. I made absolutely no editorial comments on the letter. I am not a member of your group and it is not my place to get in the middle of your deliberations. You said what you think, and did not suggest otherwise in the comment above.

It would be reasonable for anyone to oppose Hess and Wong based on ideology. However, my opposition to the appointment is about conflicts of interest, not about their ideological or policy inclinations per se. Had everything about the relationship between Rhee and Hess been precisely the same except that their politics leaned to the left, I would have had precisely the same objection. I favor a market in school improvement services, and that objective is not served by insider deals.

My concerns about Rhee's hiring of associates rather than putting work out to bid dates back to at least November 15, 2007 in edbizbuzz ("Should DC Schools Chancellor Rhee Hire Friends or Put Work Out to Bid?"). The fact that I have communicated with reporters via email including at the Washington Post and Examiner is pretty obvious because I'm sometimes quoted by reporters in newspapers across the county - and was recently quoted in the Examiner on this very matter. Part of what I do is point out and help reporters understand the market aspect of education policy issues - no apologies required. I offered you precisely the same factual information and commentary I supplied them regarding Hess' and Wong's conflicts of interest because I have absolutely nothing to hide.

Your letter includes what I consider to be a thoroughly unwarranted implication of racism. Conflicts of interest are one thing. Ideology is not irrelevant, but hardly a matter of moral approbation. Left and right have equal protections of their beliefs under the Constitution. Tainting a man with racism is quite a different matter. A man's reputation is not to be treated as a playing piece in a political game. If you have evidence someone is a racist, bring it to the table.

As I see it I was obliged to both publish your letter and state where I part company. Had this letter come to my attention by some means other than the way it did, I would have re-published it and said exactly the same thing. I object to McCarthyist tactics. The debate over education policy - and the children affected by it - deserve better. I want to arrive at the best decisions on the merits.

If you truly believe racism is a matter relevant to the proposed appointment of Dr. Hess, you ought to respond by making your case in print - here in edbizbuzz if you have it to make - rather than simply asserting it in a letter.

One last point. If my plan was to get your group to agree with me on the substance of the case against Hess and Wong, and also to goad you into adding racism so I could trash it, that was a rather self-defeating stratagem, given that your charge increases the chances that the two will be hired.

I may write more later, but I'll just say I see nothing wrong with judging a man based on the institution he helps run. I'd oppose hiring a leader of a Nazi party, in large part on the basis of her association with that party. Similarly, I oppose hiring Hess, a director of AEI, in part because of what AEI is and the product it produces.

For some background on AEI and race, see Think Tank Monitor's report ("The Right’s "Race Desk", http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1449) Wikipedia's entry on AEI describes the organization as a whole. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Enterprise_Institute) SourceWatch calls it "an extremely influential, pro-business right-wing think tank." (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=American_Enterprise_Institute) People for the American Way calls it "one of the oldest and most influential of the pro-business right-wing think tanks." (http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/default.aspx?oid=4456). Each of these sources provides further background.

For more on Hess's own right-wing views, one place to start is with his and Mike Petrelli's podcast. In one recent show, Hess says he opposes "democratizing" AP courses because increasing the number of children who take AP courses would result in a dumbing down of the courses. Similarly, he said he opposes increasing the number of high school students who go to college, because it would reduce the value of a college degree (5/15/08 podcast, http://www.edexcellence.net/flypaper/index.php/the-education-gadfly-show-podcast). He favors the privatization of public education.

Back on the other point about Hess, anyone interested in Hess's pro-Rhee disposition might be interested in the assessment of his pal, Fordham Institute's Petrelli. After hearing Hess defend Rhee in the face of criticism that she has been acting unilaterally/dictatorially, his co-host summarizes: "Rick Hess, still in love with Michelle Rhee!" (12/6/07 podcast , http://www.edexcellence.net/flypaper/index.php/the-education-gadfly-show-podcast). (Hess responds: "Doing what I can, baby!")

Someone doesn't want to address my sole critique of the letter to Chairman Gray - tarring Dr. Hess with the brush of racism.

When you've dug yourself into a hole, the first think to do is stop digging. Everyone does things in the heat of the moment they regret later. I'd like to believe that's what happened here.

A honorable man has only two choices at this point: apologize to Mr. Hess or demonstrate that he is a racist. There is also the alternative of just walking away.

What you've presented here is irrelevant bluster. Descriptions of AEI as "an extremely influential, pro-business right-wing think tank' and "one of the oldest and most influential of the pro-business right-wing think tanks." don't pass the "so what?" test. Are you suggesting that these phrases are code words for "racist?"

Stop with the vague innuendo. Apologize, prove, or walk.

Mr. Marc Borbely has no need to apologize nor any reason to conclude anything contrary to what he and others have written (including myself) about AEI and their “scholars.”

Think Tank Monitor’s opinion/analysis/conclusions about AEI certainly predate many of our conclusions about this organization, and AEI's "academic" focus and the basic opinions about blacks and other minorities.

If AEI and its visible fellows are viewed as racist and/or racially exploitative (“AEI has at times received criticism for the overtly anti-black views of its most visible racial analysts. ), it’s their own doing - as unapologetically brazen as it is.

I encourage you to pls. read....

The Right’s "Race Desk"

By Deborah Toler
Anyone remotely familiar with conservative think tanks’ diatribes regarding such hot-button race issues as affirmative action (they’re against it), bilingual education (they’re against it), multiculturalism (they’re against it), welfare "reform" (they support it) or tougher criminal sentencing (they support it) would not be surprised by the American Enterprise Institute’s analyses of race issues in the United States.

Still, even for the initiated, the ferocity of AEI’s work on race is quite breathtaking. Although the mainstream media are now deploring the overt racism of hate groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens (see this issue of Extra!), the fact is that there is an overlap between the analyses of "respectable" conservatives, like those at AEI, and the overt racial hatred of white supremacist organizations like CCC.

The differences between the hate-mongering of the CCC and mainstream conservative thought should not obscure the fact that both are at base fundamentally concerned with the question of how to manage the "hordes of color" who have long outnumbered Europeans globally, and soon will be the majority in this country.

CCC expresses this concern explicitly: "We’re only 9 percent of the world’s population, white Europeans, and our country’s going to majority nonwhite soon," Gordon Lee Baum, the council’s CEO, complained in a Washington Post interview (1/17/99). "Why can’t European Americans be concerned with this genocide? Is that racial to say that?" CCC’s strategy for dealing with this is re-segregation, an attack on interracial marriages, closing U.S. borders to immigrants of color and tacit support of the Ku Klux Klan.

The same concern about global and national reality of European populations being outnumbered by non-European populations is implicit, occasionally even explicit, in the work of AEI fellows. In a New York Times Magazine (11/23/97) story on declining population growth rates, for example, AEI’s Ben Wattenberg fretted:

The West has been the driving force of modern civilization, inexorably pushing towards democratic values. Will that continue when its share of the total [global] population is only 11 percent? Perhaps as less developed countries modernize, they will assimilate Western views. Perhaps the 21st will be another "American century." Perhaps not.

AEI’s origins

AEI’s origins are in the heart of the business-oriented conservative community. Hoping to match the influence Robert S. Brookings had achieved via the Brookings Institution, Johns-Manville chief Lewis Brown founded AEI in 1943 as an intellectual counterweight to New Deal philosophy. Initially known less as a center of research and thinking than as an uncritical defender of big business, AEI underwent a major change in reputation between 1977 and 1986 under the leadership of William Baroody Jr.

Baroody used the publicity skills he had honed in the White House Public Liaison Office of the Nixon and Ford administrations to change AEI’s image from "that of a pro-corporation lunatic fringe" (Soley, The News Shapers) to that of a mainstream conservative think tank. Baroody started AEI’s massive publicity campaigns, which included press releases about its seminars, forums and policy proposals, sending opinion pieces to newspapers and distributing free radio commentaries to broadcast stations.

While the publicity campaign helped improve AEI’s image with the media, Baroody’s hiring of former Ford administration officials after the Republicans’ 1976 electoral defeat was also instrumental. Baroody hired such big names as Herbert Stein, chair of Nixon’s Council of Economic Advisers; David Gergen, a Nixon/Ford speechwriter and communications expert; Philip Habib, Kissinger’s shuttle diplomat; and former President Gerald Ford himself.

AEI’s PR efforts increased the groups fundraising ability as well as its visibility; Ford hosted an annual "World Forum" in Vail, Colorado, where the Baroody bunch hobnobbed with the wealthy. Baroody’s strategy was extremely successful, turning AEI into a $9 million, 154-person Republican government-in-waiting. AEI employees who eventually became high-level Reagan officials included James C. Miller, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Murray Weidenbaum and Antonin Scalia.

Despite (or because of) its close ties to Reagan administration appointees and policies, the AEI became a leading source of guests for PBS’s NewsHour during the 1980s. Between January 1982 and October 1990, AEI spokespersons appeared on the NewsHour 142 times, an average of 1.4 appearances per month--almost twice as often as representatives from the Carnegie Endowment or Brookings Institution (Soley, The News Shapers).

Money on the right

While AEI appeared very conservative in the late 1970s when compared to the Carter administration, during the early years of the Reagan administration the political center shifted. Think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation were further to the right, and attracted the attention and money of conservative donors. Donations to AEI declined, causing both a financial and ideological crisis at the organization. AEI’s then-chair William C. Butcher, chief executive officer of Chase Manhattan Bank, fired Baroody, and in December 1986 appointed Christopher DeMuth, a former staff assistant to President Nixon and a publicist in Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget.

Under DeMuth, AEI has made a dramatic rightward shift. In addition to such well-known conservatives as Irving Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Lynne Cheney and Richard Perle, AEI currently houses what amounts to a "race desk" made up of Judge Robert H. Bork, the John M. Olin Scholar in Legal Studies; Dinesh D’Souza, a John M. Olin Research Fellow; and Charles Murray, a Bradley Fellow.

Note the involvement here of well-known conservative foundations like Olin and Bradley. In their book, No Mercy: How Conservative Think Tanks and Foundations Changed America’s Social Agenda, Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado report that in 1991 Bork received $150,880 from such sources; D’Souza got $98,400 plus an additional $20,000 to promote his controversial book, Illiberal Education.

AEI has at times received criticism for the overtly anti-black views of its most visible racial analysts. But certainly the publicity surrounding D’Souza and Murray has not hurt AEI’s fundraising. AEI’s 1997 Annual Report shows revenues totaled $18.6 million, with roughly equal amounts coming from foundations, corporations and individuals, and the remaining 18 percent from conferences, sales and other revenues. Expenses totaled only $14.3 million, with AEI investing the surplus in building its endowment, and prefunding future research.

Deborah Toler is a member of the Institute for Public Accuracy's editorial board. Research assistance was provided by Nihar Bhatt.


Slouching Towards Bigotry: AEI’s Racial Fellows

Robert Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline is an extended screed warning about the demise of "bourgeois culture" and the rise of a "degenerate society." The signs of degeneracy that he detects often have a racial tinge:
We hear one day of the latest rap song calling for killing policemen or the sexual mutilation of women; the next of coercive left-wing political indoctrination at a prestigious university, then of the latest homicide figures for New York, Los Angeles, or the District of Columbia; of the collapse of the criminal justice system, which displays an inability to punish adequately and, often enough, an inability to convict the clearly guilty; of the rising rate of illegitimate births, the uninhibited display of sexuality and the popularization of violence in our entertainment; worsening racial tensions, the angry activists of feminism, homosexuality, environmentalism, animal rights--the list could be extended almost indefinitely.

Rap music, for Bork as for other AEI writers, is a symbol of what is most "sick" about African-American culture. He wrote in his book that it is "little more than noise with a beat," that the lyrics often range from "the perverse to the mercifully unintelligible," and that "it is difficult to convey just how debased it is."

The New York Times (9/24/96) concluded that Slouching Towards Gomorrah is in the end "an ugly and intemperate book," but not before the reviewer noted Bork was on target in his criticisms of "self-esteem" (i.e. multicultural) programs in schools, and in his insistence that it is equality of opportunity, not outcomes, that Americans should seek.

Legalizing discrimination

Dinesh D’Souza is clearly one of AEI’s "superstars"--ranking his own page on AEI’s website of fellows’ biographies. D’Souza has impeccable conservative credentials. Arriving in the United States at age 16 in 1978 on a Rotary Scholarship, D’Souza became editor-in-chief for the Dartmouth Review, the notorious right-wing college paper (also heavily supported by the Olin Foundation). He later became managing editor of the Heritage Foundation’s Policy Review, and served as a policy adviser in the Reagan administration.

D’Souza’s Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus-- a compendium of anecdotes purportedly documenting the horrors of political correctness and affirmative action on college campuses--propelled him into the media spotlight. D’Souza’s recent The End of Racism was so patently offensive that staunch black conservatives Robert Woodson and Glenn Loury both denounced the book and severed their ties with AEI in protest.

The book is specifically about African-Americans, who, according to D’Souza, should stop using institutional racism as an "excuse" for their "failure" to achieve what whites and Asians have achieved. Instead, they should accept that they are held back by a "culture of poverty" consisting of high crime and illegitimacy rates, and dependency on welfare and other government programs.

In a stance not so different from that of the CCC, D’Souza advocates legalizing racial discrimination. "What we need is a long-term strategy that holds the government to a rigorous standard of race neutrality," he wrote in The End of Racism, "while allowing private actors to be free to discriminate as they wish." In D’Souza’s vision, "individuals and companies would be allowed to discriminate in private transactions such as renting an apartment or hiring for a job." Lest there be any doubt as to his intent, D’Souza states: "Am I calling for the repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Actually, yes."

Welcoming The Bell Curve

D’Souza does, however, dissent from his colleague Charles Murray’s genetic explanations for poverty in communities of color. As a fellow at the Manhattan Institute during the 1980s, Murray wrote Losing Ground, a book that provided the blueprint for the Reagan administration’s attacks on welfare. This book was extremely influential in shaping the welfare "reform" legislation that ultimately passed under President Clinton (Extra!, 3-4/98).

But when Murray began to write The Bell Curve, with Richard Herrnstein (now deceased) as co-author, his thesis was too extreme even for the Manhattan Institute. He soon found a welcome mat for his racialist views at AEI.

The Bell Curve makes the turn-of-the century argument that blacks’ intractable IQ deficiencies, and not racism, are responsible for their disproportionate poverty and incarceration rates. The book and the controversy it caused made the covers of The New Republic (10/31/94), Newsweek (10/24/94) and the New York Times Magazine (10/9/94). The book also got a glowing review in the New York Times Book Review (10/16/94; see Extra!, 1-2/95).

Other important AEI contributors to the race debate include theologian Michael Novak and Ben Wattenberg. Novak, a welfare specialist, makes religious arguments that capitalism offers the best hope for the poor. He maintains that welfare breeds dishonesty, as recipients try to circumvent the rules and taxpayers engage in tax-cheating to avoid paying the cost for these programs.

Wattenberg worries about the death of Western civilization under current cultural patterns in the U.S., and like his colleagues opposes "proportionalism" (i.e., affirmative action). Wattenberg’s television show, Think Tank, is funded by Olin, along with the William H. Donner and JM foundations.


Think Tank Monitor is a joint project of FAIR and the Institute for PublicAccuracy. Research assistance: Nihar Bhatt, Jenifer Dixon and Omar Nashashibi.

You quoted from our letter selectively. You also seem to be trying to put words in my mouth. Here, in full, is what we said about Hess in our letter:

Mr. Hess can hardly be considered independent and unbiased, when he has already publicly praised the Chancellor's reform efforts, in an op-ed in the Washington Post in September, and when the Chancellor wrote a glowing review for Mr. Hess's publisher to use to promote one of his books.
In addition, as you know Mr. Hess is the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) - a neo-conservative think tank that has served as the ideological kitchen for the Bush Administration and helped shift resources from social services to war and profits for corporations. AEI is the think tank that funded projects such as The Bell Curve, by AEI scholar Charles Murray, which caused outrage around the nation because of its racist conclusions that blacks are of inferior intelligence to whites and Asians, and The End of Racism, by Dinesh D'Souza, which declared that racism in the U.S. has ended and that the days of affirmative action are over. We should not be hiring such an institution's directors to judge the success of our school reform efforts.

I'll try to say the same thing more concisely: Hess is a leader of an organization that has helped shift funds from social services to war and corporate profits, and that promotes racist books as "breaking new ground and old taboos."

This is certainly "tarring" AEI with the brush of racism -- and I don't apologize for that. As far as I know, AEI has never repudiated its racist products -- others have decided to quit AEI as a result. Hess instead chooses to help lead AEI and represent it publicly.

That's a moral decision, and it's a part of why I wouldn't my elected representatives to choose him as evaluator of D.C. public school reform efforts.

I don't think either side here is going to convince the other of their position, and that's not the objective of this blog.

As far as I can see, the arguments have been laid out in sufficient detail for edbizbuzz readers to make up their own minds on this topic.

It's time to let them do so.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Marc Dean Millot: I don't think either side here is going to convince read more
  • Marc Borbely: You quoted from our letter selectively. You also seem to read more
  • Carolyn C. Steptoe /Ward 5: Mr. Marc Borbely has no need to apologize nor any read more
  • Marc Dean Millot: Someone doesn't want to address my sole critique of the read more
  • Marc Borbely: I may write more later, but I'll just say I read more




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