Bill Clinton’s Legacy
Early in 1997, safely back in the White House for a second term, William Clinton is said to have turned his attention to the matter of “legacy.” He wracked the Presidential brains for an undertaking so grand that it might lift his administration out of scandal and mediocrity, and enshrine his name among the truly great. Thus was born, to give it its full name, “One America in the 21st Century: The President’s Initiative on Race.” William Clinton would solve the American race problem—or at least win renown trying.
The President then appointed his much-ballyhooed Advisory Panel, and we are now mid-way through a year-long campaign of uplift and regeneration that is to culminate in one of the most useless things imaginable—a government report. Of courses, the “initiative” will not enshrine the President among the great, if only because legacies are not made by design. Men do not win renown because they picked a plan out of the air in the hope it would make them famous. Men like Washington or Lee have enduring legacies because they acted on deeply felt convictions and fought for causes for which they willingly risked their lives. It is impossible to imagine them in middle age, drumming their fingers on the window sill, trying to think of ways to fluff up their resumés. Unfortunately for William Clinton, not even highly-paid consultants can conjure up heroism in a man with no apparent convictions.
Aside from the spectacle of our President maneuvering for a place in history, as a practical matter One America in the 21st Century will accomplish nothing. The race-unconscious America Mr. Clinton claims to have in mind for us cannot be built. If his goal were once again to recognize race as an important factor in American life there would be room for much progress, but Americans will not suddenly turn their backs on history, biology, and human nature just to please William Clinton.
Another reason the Presidential Initiative will accomplish nothing is that it is so transparently dishonest. According to official White House statements, the President has called for candid dialogue, and has instructed his advisory panel to “listen to Americans from all different races and backgrounds, so that we can better understand the causes of racial tension.” But the last thing the President and his handlers want is candid dialogue. Their idea of dialogue is shoving their spavined, clapped out ideas about white wickedness down our throats. Ten minutes of dialogue with Philippe Rushton or Michael Levin or Samuel Francis would leave them tongue-tied and goggling.
Even liberals understand the dishonesty of this “dialogue.” In November, when the President’s advisory panel announced it was not open to criticism of affirmative action, who but the American Jewish Congress should point out that the dialogue was now a soliloquy. “If the presidential panel wants to talk only to itself, fine,” said executive director Phil Baum; “But then don’t pretend that it is a “dialogue’ and don’t try to pass off its findings as a serious review of the possibilities.” The American Jewish Congress, which has strongly supported racial preferences, can usually be counted on to be wrong, but this time Mr. Baum got it exactly right.
We have six more months of “initiative” to look forward to, but the “town meetings” on race that are supposed to take the pulse of the people are being choreographed to have about as much disagreement and suspense as a session of the Soviet Politbureau. One meeting has been planned for Fairfax, Virginia, just down the road from AR’s offices. We have telephoned and e-mailed for press credentials or even just a place in the audience, but have received no definite reply. Other citizens with something to say about race are beginning to wonder whether the “town meeting” may be closed to the public. Perhaps a hand-picked audience of Civil Rights Commission bureaucrats in jackets and ties will be presented to the television cameras as a cross section of the people, but more and more Americans are recognizing the “initiative” as the meaningless PR wheeze it so obviously is.
Perhaps we were naive, but while the initiative was still only a rumor a group of friends of AR thought the invitation to dialogue might possibly permit a little carefully-worded dissent. Well in advance of June 14, 1997, when William Clinton announced his program, we prepared an open letter to the President that we had hoped to publish in a major newspaper as an immediate response to the announcement. To our disappointment, it was turned down by the New York Times, New York Post, Washington Post, Washington Times, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal. Chronicles magazine also refused to publish the letter.
We have decided to print the letter, not so much because its message will startle or inspire readers of AR, but because the fact that it cannot be published is a commentary on the limits of expression. We worded this letter as moderately as possible. We secured the signatures of a score of respected academics and writers. We released it at the very moment the President’s initiative was front-page news. And yet it was still unpublishable.
Some of the signatories would prefer not to have their names published in AR, so we have left them off. Otherwise, this is the full text that was rejected by some of America’s most highly-regarded publications.
‘Real Dialogue on Race’
Dear President Clinton:
As men and women who have thought and written about American race relations, we welcome your initiative on one of the nation’s most enduring social problems. We applaud your call for frank discussion, for we believe this is the very thing the country needs.
In this spirit we urge you to challenge some of the thinking about race that has prevailed for the last 50 years. We believe certain assumptions limit debate and hinder progress, and that policy on so important a question as race relations must not be based on restricted thinking. If your initiative on race is to leave a real legacy, we believe it must be prepared to reexamine the following assumptions:
(1) All races, on average, share exactly the same set of abilities. There is simply no evidence for this view—only attempts to explain away persistent differences in achievement. To be sure, there is a great deal of racial overlap in all areas of ability, but there is no reason to expect all races to be equally represented at the same level in all fields.
Virtually every possible attempt has been made to discredit intelligence testing, but it remains the single best predictor of performance on tasks that are generally recognized as requiring high intelligence. Today, virtually no one with a professional knowledge of mental testing believes that all races have the same average intelligence. Even under the most rigorously fair and neutral testing conditions, whites score higher than blacks. Jews and certain Asian groups score higher than Gentile whites.
There is still some question as to causes, but every serious investigation suggests that heredity influences these differences. Even the famous Minnesota study carried out by Sandra Scarr and her colleagues with black children adopted by white parents—which was designed to investigate whether racial differences in intelligence scores could be altered as a result of rearing environment—produced compelling evidence that environment narrows the racial gap only slightly, if at all. Some of us have written carefully researched articles and books that explore these issues in great detail.
(2) Justice requires equality of results. This assumption follows naturally from the first. Today, whenever minorities do not achieve at the same level as whites, the difference is invariably attributed to “white racism,” past or present. Our society has not only launched a massive campaign to root out this “white racism,” but has established a system of quotas and racial preferences designed to boost minorities into the positions they are thought to deserve.
But what if we are right about racial differences in ability, Mr. President? If, as we believe, differences in achievement are partly the result of innate differences in ability, the last 40 years of social engineering are based on mistaken assumptions. Equality of results cannot be achieved without penalizing whites and, increasingly, Asians as well. The recent ballot initiative in California reflects deep popular discontent with “affirmative action.” It cannot be “mended” as you have proposed, and if you continue to support it you will only alienate the increasing number of Americans who think it is unjust and divisive.
(3) Americans want racial integration. We are not really sure this is true, Mr. President. Large-scale integration generally takes place only when required by law. It is now well established that after reaching a very modest peak in the 1980s, integration has gone into reverse. Americans of all races are now drifting back towards self-segregation.
Nor is this simply a matter of “white flight.” Large numbers of blacks now reject integration as an end in itself, and resist the influx of Hispanic and Asian immigrants into their schools and neighborhoods. Whether we like it or not, it seems that most people prefer to work, live, and study with people like themselves.
(4) Racial diversity is a strength. This is yet to be demonstrated, Mr. President. Indeed, diversity of language, ethnicity, religion, and culture is at the heart of every major conflict on the planet, from Burundi to the Middle East to what was once Yugoslavia. Your initiative itself is necessary only because of diversity, because people of different races live together in America. Your initiative is not a celebration of strength, but an admission of weakness.
We are writing to you, Mr. President, because we want your initiative to succeed. We want it to bring real improvement. But for this to happen, society must not cordon off certain basic issues and treat them as taboo. We must face the facts of race relations as they are, not as we would like them to be. Unless your initiative does more than recirculate bromides about “racism,” “sensitivity,” and “reaching out,” we fear it will only create expectations it cannot fulfill. Progress requires more than good intentions, Mr. President; it requires a strong commitment to open pursuit of the truth.