U.S. Senate Candidate Ron Johnson Distances Himself From Controversial Genetic Views of Speaker He Helped Bring to Oshkosh

Adam Rodewald, Northwestern (Oshkosh, Wisconsin), June 20, 2010

U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson is distancing himself from the views of a controversial political scientist who believes genetics are closely tied to intelligence Johnson helped bring to Oshkosh to speak with business and education leaders.

While serving as chairman of the Partners in Education Council, Johnson played a key role in bringing Charles Murray, a member of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, to Oshkosh earlier this year.

Murray is best known for his controversial and bestselling book, “The Bell Curve,” which discusses genetic-based intelligence and differences in abilities among ethnic groups. The book also claims IQ is the best indicator of a person’s potential success and provides the basis for class structure.

Johnson successfully booked Murray as the keynote speaker for the PIE council’s annual Business/Education Summit in March. Murray spoke about his 2009 book, “Real Education,” which asserts, among other things, that too many students go to college, and America’s future depends on the truly gifted.

Following Murray’s speech, a member of the Oshkosh school board asked the group to apologize for bringing Murray to Oshkosh because of a post-speech conversation about the theory of genetically-based intelligence he thought was racist.

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Johnson says Murray was invited to speak in Oshkosh because his message closely aligned with the business community’s wish for schools to prepare students for all paths after high school, not just 4-year college. He said he was not familiar Murray’s other views.

His campaign’s communications director issued a statement that Johnson denounces any notion that hearing a person’s views indicates an endorsement of those views.

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“I certainly think everybody should have the opportunity to go to college,” Johnson said, adding, “Kids should have an in depth understanding of all their options, whether that is college, vocational or technical college or going right into the workforce.”

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On education, Murray has written that the education system’s failures stem from a fundamental lie that every child can be anything he or she wants. Murray argues not every student should go to college and the future of America depends on the “cognitive elite.”

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Julie Leschke, the former coordinator of the PIE council who left to work with Johnson’s campaign against U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, also played an influential role in booking Murray. Leschke wouldn’t comment on this story, saying she is not authorized to speak to the press while working on the Johnson campaign.

“The bottom line is we took a unanimous vote to bring Charles Murray in,” Johnson said.

However, other members of the PIE Council say the idea originated with Johnson.

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Call for speaker’s apology

After Murray’s March speech, school board member Matt Wiedenhoeft took issue with Murray’s suggestions during an individual conversation that the United States couldn’t keep up with Asian countries in producing engineers because of a difference in genetic abilities.

According to an e-mail Murray wrote to Leschke, he told Wiedenhoeft in a personal conversation that east Asians have more of the “visual-spatial abilities associated with engineering than whites or any other ethnic group.”

Wiedenhoeft said he believes the comments were racist and requested that the Partners in Education Council vote to apologize to the community for inviting Murray.

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Murray told the Northwestern his theory is backed by IQ test data showing Japanese and Chinese students score higher on visual-spatial components of IQ tests than whites of European origin. He said that pattern is observed in both Chinese raised in China and Chinese Americans whose families have lived in the U.S. for multiple generations.

“Can you think of any explanation of this pattern that does not involve genes?” he wrote in an e-mail to The Northwestern. “The hand-wringing reaction of the council member, and of everyone who gets upset by any mention of ethnic differences is, in my view, childish.”

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