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tv   After Words A Biography of Thomas Sowell  CSPAN  July 1, 2021 11:02pm-12:00am EDT

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technology, and powering opportunities in communities big and small. charter is connecting us. jason riley, it is a pleasure to be with you. we've been together on my radio show. you have made a number of videos and i read you in "the wall street journal." you are pretty ubiquitous in my life. i just want you to know that. >> thank you. good to be here. >> you have done a service to the intellectual life of america by writing a biography of thomas soul, and i will begin in an odd way how do you explain. nevertheless, i want your answer, how do you explain that
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one of the finest minds of the last half-century is unknown to have america? [laughter] >> well, i guess to use today's, he was canceled a long time ago. when he began writing about racial controversies. he's never really shook that. it's also the main reason a lot of people today know the names like tallahassee jones but notwithstanding the fact he is
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really written around those folks may be all of them combined but also for his an analysis i think it is unmatched. they remained much better known and that is one of the reasons i want to the book. >> was anything surprising in your research? will to get them to cooperate with me and writing this book for a long time as well. not too much surprised me. this is someone who didn't
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graduate from college until the age of 28. he didn't write the first book until he was 40 and when you think about how prolific he has been, it is quite amazing. a late start in terms of his career. >> let's go throughh his beginnings. we are talking about thomas soul in my opinion one of the greatest thinkers period, not just one of the greatest economists, but one of the greatest social thinkers and courageous you have to be both by the way in the last half-century. by the way, before we go to -- i want to go to his childhood for a moment. but it is fair i think for me to say he is not at all just an economist. >> no. he is a social theorist, historian, sociologist and an
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economist dabbled in any number of fields and that's what got him in trouble with people who a specialized and are very protective sometimes. the writer called him one of the great trespassers among our intellectuals. but the first discipline of what he was schooled in is economics and economic history. a brief synopsis of his childhood. >> he was born in the 1930s in north carolina outside of charlotte and spent almost the first decade of his life there. he was orphaned as a child, his father died before he was born and his mother died a few years later giving birth to a sibling. he was taken in by his great aunt and her two adult daughters, one of whom was married. so the four of them, when he was ndabout 9-years-old, moved up to
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harlem in new york city where he was raised. leaving home at the age of 17, eventually he was drafted into the marines during the korean war. he kind of got his act together and learned some discipline and do photography. then he transferred to harvard wheree he got his undergraduate degree and from there he went on to columbia for a masters in economics and to the university of chicago and received his phd and then he spent the 60s and
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70s teaching various schools, brandeis, ucla and cornell. then in 1980 he joined the hoover institution and that's where he's been ever since. >> if there were no hoover institutions with the mainstream university have hired him? [laughter] >> tom could have worked at any college or university he wanted to. he turned down offers at places like dartmouth, university of wisconsin. he could have gotten tenure and worked at any economics department in the country. he was quite talented in his discipline before he ever began writing about racial controversy and the number of academic publications.
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he had trouble with the faculty lounge. i think part of the problem was this was the 1960s and higher education was changing. you had the women's rights movement,h antiwar movement, all these things coming together. college campuses were being used as platforms for this sort of thing and tom was of a different generation. i think that he intended to teach the way that he was taught and that was hard starting in the 1960s. it became very very difficult to do. the professors and the administrators were much moret than anything tom had experienced. so, i think it reached ahead for him. he was there for the student protests and he was on the faculty at the time and i think
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that might have been the breaking point for him. eventually by the end of the 70s but his first love had been f classroom teaching. he wanted to be a teacher. >> he was probably a great teacher. by the way, i was thinking when you talked about his childhood, did he have a father figure? >> that's interesting. that man was something of a father figure. but when he talked about that experience, it's not just that he had a father figure but he was essentially an only child raised by four adults and he
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talks about how important that was in his child development. we know through studies how well a firstborn child does. he says i was lucky enough to be raised by four adults and he said that probably had more impact on how i turned out than anything else that ever happened in my life. >> just thinking i wonder if that is a relatively ignored field. people talk about the influences in childhood and i wonder if the fact that kids today spend more time with kids rather than adults, then perhaps in recorded history, and i wonder if that is having an image earning impact on the thought and personality. i am just really associating here based on what you said.
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>> it might. i am not too familiar with that literature, but we do know that a lot of these gaps, these academic achievement gaps that we are still dealing with and constantly try to close to begin before the children even enter school. we know the sort of words per hour studies that have been done a huge disparity not only in the number of words but how many negative words versus positive words and can be quite different depending on socioeconomic backgrounds.
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it's much better than it is today in the 1920s and 30s and 40s, black marriage rates were higher than white marriage rates. the legacy of jim crow or slavery. >> tried to say that on a college campus today. it has a the detriment. >> harlem wasn't this violent neighborhood. it wasn't that people don't understand that how it wasn't what it became later. he might have grown up in harlem, but it was a very different place than. >> also is it fair to say, and
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feel totally free to say it's not fair to say, but i think that most americans today, black and white, have a picture of black life prior to the 60s as other servitude humiliation non-achievement which is such a distorted picture. obviously there was the evil of jim crow. we all understand that. but jesse owens who was a hero in 1932 or 36 i don't remember which olympics it was in berlin where to hitler's great chagrin it was a black runner that a beat all of the other runners. people don't know that though, do they. >> they don't. thomas spent quite a bit of time writing about this period that is often overlooked.
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they chartered the progress that was being made and it was remarkable progress. we saw the gaps closing, income gaps closing. the poverty rate, for example, in america fell by 40 percentage points between 1940 and 1960. that's before the civil rights act and before the voting rights act. you had middle-class professions, social workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, accountants. a number of them quadrupled between 1930 and 1970. that is before the affirmative affirmative-action and you are right this period does not discuss what it should and i think that is because it really interferes with the prevailing narrative which is that what we see these outcomes today among the low income blacks and the legacy of jim crow. if you point out to them blacks
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were progressing at a faster rate in generations closer to slavery and jim crow than they are today it interferes with that narrative that the left often pushes and the democrats push. so again, please tell me if this is a wrong reading or opinion, but one of the if not the central motto of conservative is please leave me alone, that's basically what we want is to be left alone. we would like to make our own mistakes, fall on our faces, pick ourselves up. is it at all fair to say that had an affect had blacks been left alone with no jim crow, that isn't being left alone, we will help you immensely. would that have been better? >> i don't even think that it's a theoretical question.
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it's something to be answered empirically by looking at trends at a period of time when the government, excuse my french, didn't give a damn what was happening to black people if you look at the progress being made in terms of income and professions and educational attainment not only in absolute terms but relative to whites if you look at the trendline you see tremendous progress. and then when the great welfare expansions of the 1960s, along with the society and so forth, well intentioned but if you track this progress going on at that point all of these things either slow, stall or start to reverse course. to give you a quick statistic, violent crime today is something of course that is front page
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news. it was declining in the first half of the 20th century and in the 1940s it fell by 18%. all the while remaining relatively flat and this is particularly remarkable because this was the time a lot were moving from the urban settings where you typically find more violence. the violent crime rate among blacks and so forth was dramatically the reverse beginning in the late 60s and then it goes on into the 70s and gets worse and worse. what thomas said about this is that -- and this gets back to your point, the leave us alone point, what the civil rights
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movement did that was most valuable was to get the government off of the backs of black people, particularly in the south with respect to the jim crow law. that was the great achievement of the civil rights movement. to play a positive role it's had a deleterious effect. even the rise of the welfare state with the rise in the black community. so, yes, the leave us alone strategy i think was the better strategy. and -- >> with regards to know community is it true with regards to black americans? ronald reagan's famous statement
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that government is not the solution it is the problem. >> yes. i think so. and that was sort of how thomas started out as a marxist. he started out thinking that the government did have a positive role to play. he remained a marxist even after studying economics at the university of chicago. he says that what changed his mind was working in the government and the department of labor. and what he saw was that the government wasn't always a benevolent force and it could be a quite harmful force when it comes to low income minorities and in his case it came after a study of minimum-wage laws and d what they were doing in terms of unemployment. >> did milton friedman have a big impact on him?
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>> yes. and in several ways. milton friedman i think one of the impacts was on the public intellectualism, what he is best known for today. and after friedman left, after he won his nobel prize at the university of chicago, he sat about writing popular books that could be read and understood by general-interest leaders and people who were not economists or intellectuals. he did a lot of speaking to such groups on college campuses and elsewhere. he felt that the role of a scholar, of anou intellectual isn't something to talk to your peers or academies but to explain your discipline to people that are not deep in the discipline. he is very much followed that model. he has written a book after book
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in plain english and spoken prose for everyday people and it's one of the reasons people are so disappointed when he gave up his column a few years back. i think even after tom left teaching, he was still teaching for that column and as i said at the time, he was the best professor a lot of people had even if they never went to college. i think that the public intellectualism to some extent was modeled on what friedman had done. he was a mentor. >> he studied under the persuasive left-wing economist do you think that he would have turned out differently? >> no, probably not. he is very much his own man. he was indoctrinated by friedman or stigler, another economist
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that studied at chicago. he studied under gary becker when he was at columbia working on his masters. but no. friedman pointeder this out. he is his own man. even after studying under friedman, he had to figure some of this out and i h don't thinka professor would have changed his mind. he's been very independent minded for a very long time. >> what was his first big hit? >> his first big book? >> yes. >> i would say what came out in 1981 was a very big hit and it sold a lot of copies and it's a
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book about different ethnic groups he traces their history and he's also talking about the importance of culture and how if you have what economists call the human capital, if you developp the right attitude and behaviors that are conducive to the economic advancement, you are going to be okay even if the society discriminates against you. you can see examples when it comes to groups and other countries, the ethnic chinese and southeast asia or jews in eastern europe and so forth. if you have that human capital, even if you are banned from certain schools or occupations, the groups that have that seem to be able to rise nevertheless.
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>> in my understanding the moment you say values determine behavior, you are no longer on the line. [laughter] >> i think that is a pretty fair statement. >> i know that book. i didn't realize that was the first big one. when did basic economics come out? >> the basic economics i want to say around 2000. a. >> that late, 20 years later? >> don't quote me on that though. that's all i'm going to say. >> i was just curious. in my brain, basic economics, because of the title, i thought that was one of the first that ever came out. >> the first book that he ever wrote was an economic textbook.
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basic economics is an economic textbooks. he said it was much more difficult to write a than the first one he wrote. >> you will love this. when i had him on for basic economics, which i think could be the dullest title of any book, i said to him on the radio show you should have consulted with me. let's admit the guide to bikinis would have done better and he laughed so hard that i knew i was with a real person. it's his best-selling book. [laughter] >> really? >> it's been translated into seven or eight different languages.
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>> we have to get bikini into h one of his titles. but i love joking around and he laughs so easily i don't know if people know that. he's so proud of his photography. he makes so sure -- he's good. i don't blame him. to the extent, what is the story? >> this is mostly an intellectual biography. i talk about some aspects of the personal life it came out in the
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late 19 '90s i believe, and he is married and has a couple of kids. he has written more extensively about one of his children, his son who was a late talker in life and after his son graduated from college, tom wrote a column about how he started to talk and how worried his parents had been at the time. this produced ate lot of letters from other parents that have gone through something similar and the volume was so great that he decided to write a book. he couldn't find a lot of books. they tend to be male and have great memories. there is not a lot else that is
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wrong with them other than they start talking much later. he wrote about the topic and has written about the topic. >> to reverse that on my end for a moment, i didn't speak until past three. my grandfatherat was sure that i was retarded. in those days you could use that term. my argument has always been why would i talk? i started talking when i could charge for it. i didn't know he wrote the book.
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i'm going toto give that book. that is so typical of tom's soul to do something on an issue that has nothing to do with economics and so on. you used the great term there are no boundaries to his thinking. you have the sense he loves life. >> i hope sohi because he's goig to be 91 this year. if there is such a thing you could recommend one book to start people off, what would you recommend? >> he put out a book called the thomas soul reader in the mid-20s or zeros. it might have been a little later.
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and it was sort of a sampling of chapters from books he's written as well as columns of various topics, economics and so forth. that might be a good way toe start. if you want to go a little deeper, however, the book of which he is called a conflict of vision and the book that came out in 1987 i believe is a book about political philosophy and thomas tracing the origins of a lot of our ideological views about justice and human nature. he traces them back hundreds of years. people like william goldman and folks like that and what he is really describing are these visions of human nature he calls them the constrained division or
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unconstrained vision, the utopian vision. there is the sense that there are problems we want to solve but we are unlikely to solve. war, crime, racism and so forth and because we cannot solve these problems, what we need to do is put into place institutions and processes. we might want to but we are not going to get it. we need a defense department and want to add racism and crime and so forth but it's probably not going to have and so we need the courts of law and a judiciary to and adjudicate. you have one view that comes from that perspective and the other is a unconstrained version that says man is essentially perfected. we do not just ration our way
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and have the willpower. we can solve all of these problems and they will be no trade-offs. these two visions of humanity or human nature are really would have would have been driving for hundreds of years. no matter what he is writing about whether it is a racial issue, cultural, economic he is operating in this framework of a constrained vision point of view versus unconstrained point of view and that book really lays it out. >> it cannot beat stated how important that is. the great evils of the 20th century that we know of emanates from utopian communism which killed the most people because
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the nazis didn't have as long of a time to do it. but it is completely based on the utopian or unconstrained version of what is possible and we are seeing that happen in the u.s. today. a country free of racism. what does that even mean? do i expect a country free of anti-semitism? the idea is t preposterous to m. the question is whether your society is anti-semitic not whether they are anti-semite. one could almost say it is an adult vision versus a child's vision. isn't that a fair way of puttinf it? >> it is in the sense that the unconstrained view is more of ntthat aesthetic of someone i interviewed for the book explained it's a preference for how the world should be and it could be completely divorced
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from any reality. to the question can you do this, is itse possible and at what cot is it possible because on this view, there are no trade-offs. everybody can have everything. they are also coming out it, as thomas explained, tom has written volumes about this literally. the view that human capital is distributed evenly among the groups and therefore we should see equal outcomes or at least proportionate on things like income, education and all kinds of facets of our lives. but people that have actually studied the society in history have never foundib the same outcome that has held up today as a norm. it's a different outcome, not a
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proportionate outcome even in the countries that are ethnically and racially homogenous you do not find equal outcomes and the idea that you would find them in america comes from so many different places, geographies with so many different histories and in terms of things they focus on and prioritize. you put them all together in america and the famous outcomes and it is just off the mark to begin with. the whole premise. yet today we have people out there that have this view of proportionate outcomes as the norm and when they don't see it they assume something nefarious must be going on and again the progressives who are largely driving this and as thomas pointed out, they've been doing this a long time. you go back 100 years ago and have theor progressives tellings that genetics determine the outcomes and are responsible for the disparities among the groups
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through that thinking. you fast-forward 100 years from now and it's discrimination is the sole decider for disparate outcomes we have today. once again they have seized on a cause and made it the cause but that is the type of thinking that we are dealing with and as pointed out it's the kind of thinking that has a long history. >> there is one area that at least not yet have they infected with the idea of equitable outcomes, and that's sports. it doesn't seem to bother them at this point, the disproportionate number of blacks and whites in hockey. >> i think that they are very
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good at compartmentalizing certain things, particularly if something disrupts that narrative that i spoke about earlier. today again using discrimination as the sole factor and explainer of disparate outcomes, they are always one of the problems and when you include this in the equation if you want to talk about bank loans and loans asians are approved at higher rates than whites. you talk about school discipline and suspended or expelled, asian whites are expelled and suspended at higher rates than asians.ks they don't talk about that. they read the data to the point where they can make whatever point they are trying to make and then they stop and ignore anything that interferes with
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that narrative so that's what you see going on here with the group. >> let me pose a challenge to you and tom as well if he were on with us right now there seems to be one arena that is largely ignored by people that i so admire and that is the role of the church and religion and people's lives. we one the conservative side wil emphasize how the government of course as you pointed out so eloquently doesn't help in fact it hurts and how much government policy has heard black life. but the out of wedlock birth rate of whites has gone up tremendously and i see it as directly correlated with
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religious identification and church attendance as that has gone down out of wedlock birth rates have gone up do you see a role for this and the problems that face black life generally? >> i do. it's not something that i've come across inhe full research other than when he writes about decision-making and various institutions and societies groups count on to help them make decisions and feedback and so forth it's going to have a negative impact. i would also point to the role that the church of religion has
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played in helping other ethnic minority groups rise. i can think of the irish in particular, who came here from a country very poor and were very slow to rise economically in america. the catholic church had a big role of turning that around helping irish immigrants setting up schools, setting up hospitals and so forth so we do have an example of the role the church can play and there are still churches today that are playing a similar role. it's still one of the few functioning institutions and in someof these communities andk that they have their work cut out. i've talked to some ministers about this in the past four and one of the problems they point out to me is the women who show
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up, it's the men they are trying to reach and that is part of the challenge. >> that was worth noting. so on a very difficult subject, you listed these names of thinkers that are extremely popular, kennedy and coats and so on i've actually almost wept when i compared it to tom's soue or for that matter you to be perfectly honest. there is no intellectual rigor. they are just outbursts and we have the claims made with no basis. how do you account for them? is it simply the establishment media agreed to them and that is the whole issue? >> it is a large part of the
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issue. i don't know if it is the whole issue but they certainly do have the media on their side and not just the media. when i mentioned earlier, he was an academic. you think about not just to controls the media etymologically but who controls the academy and who is in charge of the committee that hands out more of the prizes and intellectual circles these are all left liberal groups and intellectuals and they've been able to accommodate the intellectuals that they want to and sort of cancel the ones that they don't. one of the questions he would often get asked during interviews and i've watched hundreds of hours of interviews with him and research for the book as he would often be asked how does it feel to be out of step with other blocks in your
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views and he would always correct the interviewer and say out of step with other black elites and hend would say black elites are no more representative than white elites are of white people and you cannot conflate the two. so talk about the issue of voter id laws or canceling the police or defunding the police, these are views that the ones you were just y discussing and in the mea their views are not told by the black community and people living in these neighborhoods and so forth. voter id laws are supported by a majority of blacks. >> most want more policing.
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>> often times the media is guilty of acceptingoo their opinion and by no means is this a new phenomenon. you don't have to have groups like the naacp reporting. when it shows that most blacks did not support. so this is a very old phenomena. >> and as i mentioned, school choice. that is another example. that is huge. so, okay, why do -- if this is true, why do blacks keep voting democrat? [laughter] >> it's not a phenomenon unique to blacks. i will give you an example in
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2020 there wasmo a referendum, proposition six in california that would have reinstated the racial preferences in college admission, something california voters had rejected back in the 1990s. this was an effort to put them back in place. asian americans were part of the group that helped to defeat the proposition. but at the same time, they voted overwhelmingly for joe biden. you can look at the district in california that are heavily asian and they are against proposition 16 for joe biden. the last time the only group that does this there are other issueses -- part of the problems
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the lack of public outreach. there are some exceptions but they remain largely exceptions. this is a vote that republicans largely concede to the democratic party. republicans typically do not go into these neighborhoods. you have to go get this vote and what that enables the democrats to do is to paint of the republican opponent is a monster and then there's no pushback so i think if republicans want more black support, they have to make more of an effort to go ask for it.
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you have a chance to get such exposure in the community, and you are rejecting it? >> i wouldn't go through the civil rights establishment to get to -- those in the naacp conference are probably lost to the party. >> i go around them, to the community centers. >> i hear you and i agree with you. my thought was at the very least, segments of your talk will be played on black radio. i mean,, i agree not to rely on the naacp.
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which is a lost group i think. anyway, it doesn't matter. we agree it would be great if they showed up. did donald trump try this at least by saying what do you have to lose? >> although there was truth to thatat will it happen again in 2022 when the violent crime will be directly at blacks by blacks and will blacks still vote democrat in their cities given the defunding the police crowd? >> i think it is going to depend
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on whether the republican nominee goes and looks for these. that is what it is going to come down to. is the republican nominee going to go into the communities and ask for the vote. i think the story is how well things were going in terms of employment and poverty and income and growth. they were doing so tremendously in the pre- covid economy. so many were policies that were there in the countries. they ought to remind people of that in person in the communities. i think that it's important to show up. >> black republican regarded
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mainstream black life. >> very much still in oddity. that is despite the fact they have quite conservative views. but the republican label is still obtained. >> so that has been ineffective. you mentionedf the issue. it's not true for my sons and my wife, but anyway, i say i have a great lion i think you would
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love. i said why don't you preach what you practice. he's argued for years that one way for the republican party, one and rode that they would have that they took advantage of his education and given what has taken place and how the teachers unions have behaved and they are more interested in leveraging the crisis for the benefit of members.
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remember what the unions put you through do you want to continue to support this much control overha the schools and by extension i think that is a message that republicans would be wise to run on both in the midterm and in the next presidential elections. i like your analysis of the white progressive and leftist this comes from in my opinion some pathological guilt. i see it as more nefarious as in
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many cases just using blacks as a vehicle to power like the communists and the soviet union used workers. they didn't really care about workers. they used them to gain power. they've given up in particular on black kids. i am very disturbed by this movement against testing. all the test is doing is showing where the kid is. if you want to help someone they need to know where they are not where you hope they are, they
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need to know where they actually are. you tell them what they need to year and when you want to help yourself you tell them what they want to hear and i think your analysis is right. the progressives were more interested in helping themselves. the other problem is they have really decided that these kids will never measure up. that blacks in general will never measure up. this whole effort to decriminalize things and make things that are illegal to accommodate disparities to me says they have no agency we must
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eliminate the standards again ignoring the entire black history pre- 1950s so it is very disturbing to me. so that is where we are today. >> i agree with you. they've come out with blind auditions for the harmonic. they want musicians chosen on the basis of, quote, gender and race and not who plays best behind the curtain. so all it does is a shavings the achievement. are you great or do they choose you for your color?
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you do magnificent work. your biography is extremely significant about one of the greatest thinkers as i said in the 20th and the 21st century so thank you for all your work. keep writing and lecturing and i look forward to being with you again.
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>> landmark cases explores the stories and constitutional drama behind significant supreme court decisions. sunday at 9:45 eastern a landmark case. arrested for suspicion of kidnapping and rape and signed a
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written confession the supreme court ruled that the confession was inadmissible because he wasn't notified before being questioned of his fifth and sixth amendment rights of self-incrimination and rights to right toan attorney. watch landmark cases on c-span, online on or listen on the c-span radio app. ♪♪ ♪♪


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