Last week a group of self-righteous hooligans did a base political drive-by at one of the greatest living Americans. Even if Charles Murray were the despicable human being members of Congress despicably asserted in a hearing ostensibly about bringing America back together again (!), he would not have deserved to be blindly walked into an ideological firing squad. They hosted a guest they knifed in the back.
These members of Congress conducted the essence of a campus riot within the halls of Congress. They invited an elderly American intellectual into their presence, and proceeded to smear him with perhaps the worst epithets in America today: “Racist.” “Bigot.” “White supremacist.” They didn’t spit on him or kick him, but they might as well have.
It was clearly an orchestrated hit on an eminent social scientist who should be receiving national honors rather than subjected to humiliating public floggings by his intellectual and moral inferiors. If you think campus totalitarians are an isolated sort of hoo-rah party among kids sowing their wild oats who will settle down once they get a real job, watch this hearing, and get very, very scared.
It’s almost two hours long, so I’ll give you transcriptions of some key portions. The scene is a hearing in the Joint Economic Committee, meaning representatives from both the House and Senate, entitled “What We Do Together: The State of Social Capital in America” and hosted by Sen. Mike Lee. In conjunction with the hearing, which kicked off Lee’s Social Capital Project, his staff released a report, “What We Do Together: The State of Associational Life in America.”
The four guests invited to testify were Dr. Robert D. Putnam, author of “Bowling Alone” and a professor at Harvard University; Dr. Murray, an American Enterprise Institute scholar and author of “Losing Ground,” which laid the foundation for Bill Clinton’s welfare reforms, “Coming Apart,” which predicted the rise of Donald Trump and his voters, and coauthor of “The Bell Curve,” which performed groundbreaking research on human genetics; Dr. Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and editor of National Affairs; and Dr. Mario Small, a sociology professor at Harvard University.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar did maintain “Minnesota nice” by not mentioning or smearing Murray directly, unlike her colleagues: “I do want to express concern that I do not believe it is constructive to engage on this matter with individuals whose theories are drastically polarizing and have been discredited.”
Next, the ranking Democrat on the committee, New Mexico’s Sen. Martin Heinrich, directed his questions exclusively to the racial minority on the panel, Small.
Heinrich: Are you aware of any evidence that inherent genetic differences drive those [disparate] economic outcomes? [an oblique reference to Murray’s ‘The Bell Curve,’ although not an accurate summary of the book or Murray’s position on its research]
Heinrich: Would it be wise for Congress to make policy predicated on either gender or genetic or racial stereotypes?
Small: No, it would be counterproductive.
Heinrich: Alternatively, would it be wise for Congress to focus on policies that invest in both peoples and communities irrespective of race, religion, creed, and also irrespective of how diverse or even how remote or rural they are?
Smith: Yeah, absolutely, that’s what I’m hoping we’ll do today.
When things got to New York’s Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the character assassination became more pointed.
Dr. Murray has rather infamously written, and I quote, ‘No woman has been a significant original thinker in any of the world’s great philosophical traditions’…We [women] must continually combat the stereotypes in Dr. Murray’s work. Offensive views about a woman’s capabilities are wrong-headed and hold women back from their full potential…These biases are a crutch and excuse to not address the real barriers women face in our economy: underinvestment in childcare, the lack of any paid parental leave, unequal pay, and so on and so on. And in my humble opinion, Congress should not give these ideas a platform in our committee, should not seek to elevate offensive claims that rely on spurious evidence.
The rhetoric grenade then exploded when Virginian Rep. Don Beyer took the mic, reading from a prepared statement, as his Democratic colleagues all had. He lobbed it conveniently near the end of the hearing, which precluded better opportunities for a response. Beyer began with the outrageous indignity of tying Murray to last week’s alt-right rally featuring self-described white supremacist Richard Spencer. Then:
Those racist luminaries whose ideas and policies would ideally be rejected by all 535 members of congress often turn to pseudoscience to justify hatred and exploitation. Cognizant of this history we would hope we would do everything in our part to make a clean break with that foul part of our legacy as opposed to dressing it up in new clothes and returning it to these marble halls.
…I cannot imagine, senator, a man of your intelligence and political acumen was unaware of the meaning and consequences of inviting Charles Murray…I don’t believe that this committee’s time and resources should be used to burnish his reputation. After all, it was his unconstrained exercise of his constitutionally protected right of free speech that gave him his toxic reputation in the first place.
You can watch it at 1:25:51 and following, queued up below.
Beyer demanded they “address the elephant of bigotry in the room,” then asked Small to say what he thought of “The Bell Curve.” Small looked uncomfortable at being asked to participate in the PR production, but said he’d “be happy to” provide a longer answer.
Beyer: What’s…the utility of a book that argues that African americans are born with lower IQ than white americans [sic] that there’s a racially based genetic difference in IQ? Can this really be a guide for policy makers?
Small: Not a very effective one, no.
Beyer, fumbling: Well, let me move on, then.
After implying one of the people in front of him is a freaking Nazi, Beyer’s next question, to the other panelists, was accompanied by jocularity and consisted of “Why don’t we have any friends?” Yes, that’s an exact quote. Let’s just say if I thought a Nazi was in my Senate hearing as an expert witness, I would not pretend to engage in the hearing, or would use my speaking time to demonstrate exactly why he was wrong. Beyer dodged the only opportunity for that when Small openly offered it.
That’s the key problem here. None of his haters has either the intellectual capacity or appetite for actually dealing with Murray’s research. Their interest is public moral masturbation. I came away from it feeling sick and violated. This may be a good time for a disclosure: My first job out of college was at AEI, and I participated in a class for young employees with Murray on Alexis Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.”
The class had both sexes well represented and a variety of races. Murray treated we junior colleagues with impartial kindness, dignity, and respect. The man whom major world leaders eagerly seek and has more professional opportunities than he could fill if his life were twice as long generously gave that time to younger colleagues, also visited a little nobody colleague’s office to advise on a fledgling research proposal (that would be me), and has graciously answered a few personal emails since. Remember, this is for someone who has nothing to offer him, he hardly knows, and is using up his valuable time. He had nothing to gain from us and everything to give, and he gave it with no condescension.
As a researcher, unlike most at his level Murray will not let assistants touch his Excel sheets. He would rather make and check the millions of entries rather than countenance an error or have it attributed to anyone but himself. As one of the world’s leading social scientists, Murray has inspired landmark legislation that helped lift millions of Americans out of poverty into lives of dignity. It’s fair to say his work has helped more poor people and people of color than that of any living social scientist. And for that he is now called a racist. It’s sickening. These jerks smearing Murray aren’t worthy to lick his boots, and they should be ashamed of themselves for pretending to care about “divisiveness in America” when as public leaders they are wantonly fueling it.
Despite the vileness of his enemies, Murray has, with a magnanimous tone, responded in great detail to these base insinuations and accusations about his work and moral character. His latest in the personal defense archive he shouldn’t have to mount includes this hopeful introduction:
In April, I recorded an interview of almost two and a half hours with Sam Harris for his Waking Up Podcast which, I learned only after I had done it, regularly attracts a few million listeners. We spent more than half of the interview discussing what is actually in The Bell Curve as opposed to what people think is in it. Both of us expected our Twitter feeds to light up with nasty reactions after the interview was posted. But the opposite happened. The nasty reactions were far outnumbered by people who said they had always assumed that The Bell Curve was the hateful pseudoscientific mess that the critics had claimed, but had now decided they wanted to give the book a chance. It has been a heartening experience.
Your member of Congress may prefer to score political points by axe-murdering a good man’s reputation, but you don’t have to follow suit. Try reading Murray’s condensed “Bell Curve” yourself, and see what you think after you set aside the smoke and mirrors designed to keep you outraged. Sadly, I fear those who take the path of open inquiry will be far fewer than those whose leaders have taught them to rip into others for 15 minutes of fame. It seems Congress is now another gladiator pit for the American empire.