and other perspectives on conservatism and race from Center of the American Experiment founder Mitch Pearlstein
Conclusion of a two-part story
Last week’s issue of the MSR reported on a February 18 event that was the first of four quarterly luncheons hosted by the Center of the American Experiment (CAE), a Minnesota conservative think tank (“Featured speaker calls racism ‘Blacks’ excuse for failure,” March 3, 2016).
The featured speaker was Jason Riley, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a member of their editorial board, and a frequent commentator on Fox News.
Riley, who also authored Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed, spoke about how liberal polices hurt the middle class, the poor, and minorities. Although there were approximately 300 attendees at the event, fewer than 15 appeared to be African American. The MSR was unable to speak with Riley after the event, but we did speak with CAE’s founder and current Senior Fellow Mitch Pearlstein (MP) and posed the questions intended for Riley to him.
MSR: Why are there so few Black people here?
MP: Actually, to be perfectly blunt, for one of our events this was more than we expected. It certainly was a respectable turnout of people of color. Conservative think tanks by definition — “free market” think tanks — have a hard time getting people of color to participate. There’s no great secret there.
We try hard, but it’s up to the people who want to join us. You’d like to have more people of color, more African Americans, but we certainly had a nice number, and they seemed to be on our page.
MSR: Why would you guess that there are so few Black Republicans?
MP: Republicans, especially going back to the Goldwater era, are seen by many people, including African Americans, as not very friendly. I understand that. Republicans are just less likely to support the kinds of programs that African Americans and others think are going to work, but which we heard today [from Jason Riley] don’t necessarily work.
I would broaden the question: Why are there so few African Americans at Minnesota Wild [hockey] games? People make choices.
MSR: How would the Republican Party be attractive to Black people since the party routinely demonizes Black people to scare White people into voting for Republican candidates and policies? Or using code words for Blacks like “urban,” “crime” and “welfare?”
MP: I reject much of your premise. Crime is a serious problem in the United States. It’s interpreted by some people — and I’m not just talking about African Americans — as “code.” That’s not necessarily, I suspect, ever intended. Crime intrinsically is a problem. Family breakdown is intrinsically a problem.
You raise a legitimate point about how some people, White or Black, view these words as “codes.” All I can tell you is when we use them, those words are not intended that way. When Republicans in general use these words, it’s not intended — it may be interpreted — that way.
The number of times that I have heard anybody on the Right do anything, say anything that I would view as clearly racially unfriendly would fit on the fingers of my right hand.
MSR: For one example, Ronald Reagan talked about a Black “welfare queen” who drove a Cadillac. That is still a piece of folklore on the Right.
MP: That was in the 1970s. That was a looooong time ago…
School choice. One of the reasons that we don’t have private school choice in Minnesota and some other places is that for a lot of older African Americans, they see this movement as fiscally conservative, Republican, and somehow smacking of the response of Southern states after the Brown [vs. Board of Education] decision in 1954, that places like Virginia started special academies that were private and only White. And for a lot of older people, this is what they associate vouchers and school choice with.
I assure you, we are not dealing with it that way. I assure you that is not the case. There is no question in my mind that the group that would most benefit in Minnesota by an expansion of school choice to include private, and especially religious schools, are young Black boys.
MSR: Why should telling Black people they’ve been “brainwashed” by the Democratic Party and thereby implying that Black people can’t think for themselves not be viewed as offensive and insulting the intelligence of Black people? Why should Black people accept and believe that over the experiences and observations from their own lives?
MP: I’m uncomfortable with that. Why would African Americans now vote more Republican? For the very reasons that Jason Riley was talking about: that the policies advocated by the Left — or the Democratic Party — for the last half century have not worked out all that well.
What do I think would be the most helpful when it comes to questions of poverty, regardless of race? Getting a real good education. When you get a real good education, you have more options. And you expect more out of folks…
I love the way Jason talks about culture. So why would an African American vote Republican? In fact, for the very reasons Jason Riley’s talking about.
MSR: As for the “failure of liberalism,” why couldn’t it be more accurately considered the success of racism?
MP: You raise a great question. I’m in no position to argue with you. I have just so much more confidence that at this stage of our nation’s life we’re reasonably decent people. And how in the world could things be any worse for African Americans in so many ways 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, etc., because of racism?
It is a fundamentally different world right now, which is not to say that some kinds of racism don’t exist; of course they do. But do I believe that racism is the principle reason for so much of the bad stuff we see? No.
MSR: Conservatives seem to only accept Black people to the extent that they espouse conservative views, like Jason Riley, Clarence Thomas, Ben Carson, Herman Cain, and others — Black people who continually bad mouth other Black people, and who many Black people don’t consider to be speaking for them or their experiences, or even think are crazy.
MP: That’s unfortunate. That’s not the fault of the Republican Party or any party. It’s the fault of the people that think that Jason Riley is crazy, or that Clarence Thomas is crazy. It is not Republicans’ fault that people throughout the country, regardless of race, view some very substantial and good people as irresponsible or crazy or extremist.
MSR: Black people know that racism is as strong as it ever was. Suggesting, as some of them have, that racism is over because we have a Black president seems crazy to a lot of Black people.
MP: Not to all Black people. If any group, Black or otherwise, wants to view people like Thomas Sowell as “sellouts,” “Uncle Toms,” “Oreos,” that is their business. They are fundamentally wrong.
That’s not the fault of the party; it’s not the fault of the guys I just mentioned; it’s the fault of the people throwing out the epithets.
MSR: Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson benefited from affirmative action but stand against extending that benefit to others.
MP: I know people get upset about affirmative action. But it all depends upon how one defines “affirmative action.”
Pearlstein ended the interview on that note. CAE informed us that this lecture series will be held quarterly, but at this time, no dates or speakers have been arranged.
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