News Item

The Right’s “Race Desk”


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 Public Accuracy. Research assistance: Nihar Bhatt, Jenifer Dixon and Omar Nashashibi.

Original Author: Deborah Toler