Vivek, Race, and Government

Vivek, Race, and Government

The other day, we eagerly read a story published by The Hill under the headline “Ramaswamy Sparks Furor with Comments on Race.”  We were unfamiliar with any racially charged comments Vivek might have made and so were curious to read what he’d said.  We were also unfamiliar with any “furor” he might have sparked and so were equally curious to learn what’s all the hubbub, bub.  As it turns out, what we’d missed was pretty amazing – although not for the reasons one might initially suspect.  The story read as follows:

Vivek Ramaswamy has sparked a firestorm of criticism since launching his 2024 presidential campaign for comments that some have called racially charged.

Recently, the 38-year-old entrepreneur faced backlash for comparing Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Black Democrat representing Massachusetts, to “modern grand wizards” of the Ku Klux Klan. He has said that the U.S. education system is a “modern ghetto system,” that the government pays women in inner cities to be single, and has argued with former CNN anchor Don Lemon on what it was like to live as a Black person in America.

“I think there is a pattern here, but to be honest, I will go one step further and say that this is a cornerstone of his campaign,” said Brandon Weathersby, presidential communications director for the American Bridge PAC.

“Just because you deliver it with a smile, just because it’s a little more palatable, doesn’t mean that it’s not going to have a lot of the same negative implications for folks or literally feeling like there’s a target on your back when you go outside or when you go into certain communities, because that rhetoric has been normalized.”

If you have unlimited time on your hands and nothing better to do, then you can, as they say, read the whole thing.  Be forewarned, however.  If you do, you won’t discover any heinous and grievously racist things that Vivek has said or learn any more about the “furor.”  That’s pretty much it.  He said a few things that are marginally controversial and a few people who are marginally notable are unhappy about it.  Ironically, the reactions of the “experts” cited by The Hill and even the fact that The Hill thought that this was a story worth covering say a great deal more about them and about race in American society than they do about Vivek.

Vivek’s comments about Congresswoman Pressley and his discussion with Don Lemon are, in our estimation, pretty unnewsworthy – except for the fact that CNN canceled Lemon immediately after that discussion, which we think speaks clearly on the question of which party was in the wrong.

His other two “racially charged” issues are, however, vitally important – if for no other reason than the reactions they have elicited from the political and academic mainstreams.  First, Vivek is criticized for saying that “the U.S. education system is a ‘modern ghetto system.’”  OK.  But what else would you call the schools detailed in this story (published the same day as the hit piece on Vivek)?

The latest round of state test results is raising alarm in Baltimore City Schools. Project Baltimore found that 40% of Baltimore City high schools, where the state exam was given, did not have any students score proficient in math. Not one student.

“This is educational homicide,” said Jason Rodriguez, deputy director of People Empowered by the Struggle, a Baltimore-based nonprofit….

But that’s not the only alarming finding we made. In those 13 high schools, 1,736 students took the test, and 1,295 students, or 74.5%, scored a one out of four. One is the lowest level, meaning those students were not even close to proficient.

Think about that for a minute.  Thirteen schools with ZERO proficient students, and 74% of those students scored the lowest possible grade.  And then think about the fact that Baltimore is, by some measures, not even in the bottom 5 public school systems in the country.  Whatever you call that – “educational suicide,” “a ghetto system” – it’s appalling.  And the people suffering from this disgrace are overwhelmingly poor and racial minorities.

Vivek was also accused of being racially insensitive for saying that “the government pays women in inner cities to be single.”  According to Ange-Marie Hancock, executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, these comments harken back to Ronald Reagan’s comments about “welfare queens.”

“The difference between what President Reagan said in the 1980s in that speech was that it was coded,” Hancock argued. “‘Welfare queen’ didn’t say Black, didn’t say African American, didn’t say women of color or something to that effect. So the change that Ramaswamy is doing is he’s being explicitly racist as opposed to using coded language.”

That’s one way to look at it, we suppose.  A more reasonable way to look at it, however, is to note that Vivek’s comments were not a criticism of black women (or black people in general or “people of color) but a stab at government and the unintended consequences of its institutionalized “empathy.”  A more sensible precursor to his comments, then, is not the long-distorted welfare queen tale but the now almost 60-year-old report written by Daniel Patrick Moynihan when he was an Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Johnson.

In that study – titled “The Negro Family:  The Case for National Action,” – the late Senator Moynihan noted the pervasiveness of black poverty and the correlation between that poverty and the breakdown of the nuclear black family.  In an attempt to explain why black economic advancement lagged both political advancement and the economic fortunes of other ethnic groups, Moynihan examined countless reams of data and endless studies of black family life.  And what he found – a paradox which came to be known as “Moynihan’s Scissors” – was that welfare and male unemployment in the black community no longer appeared to be nearly perfectly correlated, as they were in other populations and as they had always been in the past.

What Moynihan discovered was that male unemployment was diverging from welfare outlays because the family was breaking down.  In other words, welfare made it possible for women, primarily black women, to survive and raise their children without those children’s fathers present in the home.  In turn, the absence of the father from the home became necessary for the collection of welfare.  A vicious circle had been created by the federal government, and it was exacerbating black poverty tremendously.

Although Moynihan was accused of “blaming the victim” and attempting to shift responsibility for black poverty away from racism and to that which he called the “pathologies” of ghetto culture, time eventually proved his research and conclusions to be essentially accurate.  As Kay Hymowitz noted in a defense of Moynihan’s work on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, the years after the report was issued proved every bit as devastating for the black community as Moynihan feared they would.  She put it this way:

Indeed, by 1980, 15 years after “The Negro Family,” the out-of-wedlock birthrate among blacks had more than doubled, to 56 percent.  In the ghetto, that number was considerably higher, as high as 66 percent in New York City.  Many experts comforted themselves by pointing out that white mothers were also beginning to forgo marriage, but the truth was that only 9 percent of white births occurred out of wedlock.

And how was the black single-parent family doing?  It would be fair to say that it had not been exhibiting the strengths of kinship networks.  According to numbers crunched by Moynihan and economist Paul Offner, of the black children born between 1967 and 1969, 72 percent received Aid to Families with Dependent Children before the age of 18.  School dropout rates, delinquency, and crime, among the other dysfunctions that Moynihan had warned about, were rising in the cities.  In short, the 15 years since the report was written had witnessed both the birth of millions of fatherless babies and the entrenchment of an underclass.

In both of these cases, Vivek Ramaswamy has been accused of being “racist” for noting the ways in which government (at the local and federal levels) has become the enabler and perpetuator of black poverty.  What is amazing here is that the media (in this case The Hill) and the so-called “experts” are unable or unwilling to tell the difference between criticism of government and criticism of those whom government afflicts.  Their presumption is that government and minority populations are indistinguishable from one another, that to attack one is to attack the other.  The implications here are both disturbing and depressing.  They suggest, among other things, that perpetual dependency is now perceived, at least in media and academic circles, to be both necessary and desirable.

The bottom line here is that Vivek Ramaswamy’s crime was not the crime of the overt racist or the white supremacist.  Rather, it’s the same crime for which many in the media and academia hate Nikki Haley, and Tim Scott, and Clarence Thomas, and Thomas Sowell…and on and on and on.  As a person of color, he has rejected the necessity and desirability of perpetual dependence on government, contending that it is destructive to minority communities and callous to the lives of minority individuals.

Such views are thoroughly unacceptable in certain corners of our society.  And yet we wonder why race relations continue to move backward.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.