Tuesday, November 26, 2013

President Nixon: Alone in the White House 12

On pages 378-379 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves talks about the issue of I.Q.  Reeves quotes a memo to President Richard Nixon by Pat Buchanan, which was attached to an article by Richard Herrnstein in the Atlantic Monthly.  Herrnstein's article argued that heredity, not environment, determined a person's intelligence.  Buchanan sought to apply this idea to debates regarding racial integration:

"Every study we have shows blacks 15 I.Q. point below whites on average....If there is no refutation, then it seems to me that a lot of what we are doing in terms of integration of blacks and whites----but even more so, poor and well-to-do----is likely to result in accommodation than it is in perpetual friction----as the incapable are placed consciously by government side-by-side with the capable."

Pat Moynihan, who advised President Nixon on matters of domestic policy, had different advice.  Moynihan stated:

"It seems to me essential for you to proceed on the assumption that the scientists have not proved their case....Herrnstein is probably right that the world's work is done by persons of talent, but the world is kept together by the decency of quite ordinary people...."

Nixon denied the existence of inherent equality.  Actually, Reeves states that Nixon told him in a 1982 two-hour conversation that he (Nixon) believed that Asians were intellectually superior to Caucasians, and Caucasians were intellectually superior to blacks.  But Nixon ended up agreeing with Moynihan on how to respond to the Herrnstein article.  Nixon said: "It's clear that everybody is not equal, but we must ensure that anybody might go to the top."

Here are some thoughts:

1.  On the issue of I.Q. and race, I linked in my post here to a column by African-American conservative Thomas Sowell arguing that I.Q. is not based on race.  Sowell cites examples of African-Americans doing better on I.Q. tests than whites.  Moreover, others have argued that I.Q. tests are culturally biased.

2.  I disagree with the notion that one racial group is superior to another racial group, but I still appreciate a point that Moynihan made: that even people with average I.Q.s can contribute to society.  It wouldn't be that good of a society if only those with high I.Q.s could make contributions, while everyone else was deprived of opportunity.  It's a better society if everyone is involved and makes a contribution.

3.  I think that Buchanan's comment is sad.  Buchanan is a mix, in my opinion.  On the one hand, you find tragic comments like the one in that memo.  On the other hand, I read him in another memo encouraging Nixon in 1968 to reach out to African-Americans.  Buchanan has also expressed admiration for African-Americans' religiosity, and he has argued that free trade is bad because it takes away jobs from African-Americans.

4.  Overall, at least in my reading thus far, Reeves' portrayal of President Nixon's record on civil rights is not particularly glowing.  Reeves quotes racist things that Nixon allegedly said.  He cites a memo in which Nixon shamelessly advocated criticizing judicial activism with a wink-wink to the South.  He talks about segregationists whom Nixon wanted to appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court, including the attorney who "represented Little Rock in its 1957 efforts to maintain segregated schools" (page 382).  Reeves treats Nixon's Philadelphia Plan to increase African-American employment in construction as an attempt by Nixon to "deflect criticism on racial matters" (page 376).  And yet, there are times when President Nixon listens to progressive advice.  On one occasion, Nixon listened to Vice-President Spiro Agnew on the issue of housing.  (UPDATE: In Nixonland, however, Rick Perlstein says that Agnew argued that the cuts Nixon was thinking about would hurt white suburbanites.) And Nixon agreed with Moynihan's advice to ignore the Herrnstein article.

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