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By RB Scott 

In April Thomas Sowell, a respected conservative scholar, wrote an insidious column undercutting Barack Obama and attacking preemptively the presumptive stupidity and gullibility of an American electorate that would elect him President simply to make a little history. ( umnists/ThomasSowell/2008/0 4/29/an_old_newness )  

This would not be particularly noteworthy were Sowell not an African American, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a “conservative think tank” located on the campus of Stanford University, one of the nation’s leading research universities.  Over the years, Hoover salved the wounds and offered succor to some deeply troubled (and in trouble too) conservatives, among them former House Speaker Newt Gingrich,  and the architect of the U.S. disaster in Iraq, who Germany has indicted for war crimes, the former   Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Like them, Sowell seems to be exceedingly bright: Howard-to-Harvard, A.B.; MA from Columbia, Ph.D. from Chicago, a full three degrees above the G.E.D. he earned in the Marine Corps after quitting high school and fleeing North Carolina at age 17.  Although a self-described “libertarian,” like the zealous conservatives who surround him Sowell unhesitatingly massages information to suit his purposes.  His transparently partisan “think pieces” are routinely fraught with half-truths and re-heated reporting. Critics might say that some essays cast him as a bit of an “Uncle Tom,” never mind the term itself is often recklessly misapplied and as last week as, Sowell would say, “affirmative action” is.

Now that Barack Obama is the Democratic candidate for President, the odds-on favorite win election in November, Sowell is becoming the darling of the far right, the black man it will use to demonstrate that its attacks on Obama are not racially motivated, no matter how flimsy and loaded with misleadling glittering bling bling they are. Roughly half of the columns Sowell has written since June sought to undermine Obama’s candidacy. Expect Sowell to continue to compose inelegant variations on a common theme, a veritable black-on-black attack on Barack  through November and beyond.Sowell flatly refused to clarify, or respond to questions on what he wrote about Obama in April (and regularly ever since).  He even rebuffed offers to comment/react to specific sections in this piece. “I very seldom give interviews and see no reason to make an exception in this case, especially since my views on this and other issues are readily available in m writings,” the academic columnist wrote in a private e-mail to me.

So be it. Sowell’s record does speak loudly and clearly enough on its own.


In the April column, Sowell outrageously and cynically asserted that achieving an historical first — electing the first black president – was behind Obama’s surging popularity.  Making history will not propel Obama into office.  Many experts worry that Obama’s half “blackness” may yet deny him entry into the house known for its whiteness.   To some, Obama is just not “white enough,” never mind that he was raised amongst Caucasians, by Caucasians.  

To others he is not “black enough.” Just the other day, Jesse Jackson threatened to “cut his nuts off” because something he said had sounded just too white: Obama insisted that that black men start taking responsibility for their families and communities (Sowell should have been cheering him on instead of carping).

At this point in its history, the nation would sooner vote my shaggy dog into office than endure an extra day of George Bush and Dick Cheney.  Therein lies a formidable challenge for the GOP. Americans seem to think that John McCain The Third reminds them way too much of George Bush The Second. They think he’s kind of thick and bumbling and about to turn appendages-up in his tracks. They think him cruel and disloyal for abandoning his badly injured former wife after she faithfully put her own life on hold for six years while he was prisoner of war in the “Hanoi Hilton.”  

Sowell knows as well as anyone that McCain’s choice of a running mate may likely determine whether he has a snowball’s chance in Phoenix of getting elected.  Picking Mitt Romney may be his only hope, but, then, I am slightly partisan: Mitt and I emerged from the same gene pool, more or less.


Like many conservative fear mongers Sowell likes to roll out the candidate’s full name whenever possible: Barack Hussein Obama. He shamelessly uses  the middle name as a pejorative.  I may change my mind on this deduction when polemicists give equal attention to John Sidney McCain, III. (I’ll bet you didn’t even know that McCain’s middle name was Sidney or even that he is knockoff of two previous generations: John McCain Knock-Knock- Knockoff.).

Sowell’s column claimed that Obama is “arrogant, foolishly clever and ultimately dangerous” – not well suited to handle terrorists armed with nuclear weapons.  Of course he offers not a shred of evidence to support his accusations.  

Would you take my word for it if I said Old Knock-Knock-Knockoff is thicker than the stack of plywood? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d insist I tell you he graduated at or near the bottom of his class at Annapolis, an appointment he won in part because his daddy (the erstwhile Old Knockoff) and granddaddy (the original Old Knock) were admirals and Annapolis midshipmen themselves.  

You would rightly demand additional examples of his junkyard dog meanness, which he put on public display as he reacted to his Republican neighbor’s, New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, spending recommendations :  “Only an Asshole would put together a budget like this.”  McCain snarled.  Domenici noted that in all his years in the Senate, through many heated debates, no one had ever called him that. McCain’s rejoinder: “I wouldn’t call you an asshole unless you really were an asshole.”


Sowell worries that Americans may vote emotionally and make a foolish decision.  He forgets that Americans went emo over Bill Clinton in 2000 and, abetted by an activist Supreme Court, made a very over wrought decision, as it turned out. Most of us have survived so far, if barely.

He frets that politicians are particularly obsessed with demographics.  But of course they are. Demographics are what politicians, conservative or liberal, chew on for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Understandably Sowell worries that during times of chaos and extreme danger it is only human nature to focus on quick fixes and seemingly easy solutions. My generation remembers all too well the 1968 conventions and election. It was easy enough to dither over Hubert Humphrey because he seemed – despite his personal record – to represent the status quo in Vietnam.  Believe it or not, some of the people who would have voted for Bobby Kennedy or Gene McCarthy, stumbled into the both and voted for the quick fix, the obvious if disingenuous agent of change, Richard Nixon  who carried the popular vote just  7/10ths of a percent, his “mandate” (along with a substantial electoral college victory) to promptly turn Vietnam into an even messier quagmire and take the nation to the brink of a constitutional catastrophe.


Of course Sowell warns gratuitously that the judicial appointments from a President Obama would lead to more “activist” courts.  News alert. Ours is a nation of checks and balances. The constitution commands the Supreme Court to interpret the law.  In so doing, The Court regularly makes social policy. Remember, if the court were not an activist court, Al Gore would not have needed to become a Nobel Prize-winning (if tediously pious and somewhat hypocritical) environmentalist.

Sowell recklessly attempts to tie high personal income taxes, flawed economic policies, welfare, poverty, tolerance of crime and criminals, and race riots of the `60s to Obama’s permissive liberal political forefathers.  The fact is, most of Obama economic policies seem derived directly from the bipartisan, Concord Coalition, whose aim is to create socially conscious, fiscally responsible public policy. Mitt Romney was an early member, along with other pragmatic politicians from both parties. Incidentally, it is possible that former Senator Bill Bradley, another early member of the coalition, will become Obama’s running mate.  

Obama’s tax policies actually reduce taxes for those earning less than $180,000 a year.  If you make more than that, you will survive just fine, trust me, even if Obama’s plan will give you ample reasons to gripe if you must. It would be more productive if you considered it a reasonable cost of doing business in a relatively stable environment. If you earn less, you have every reason to absolutely love Obama’s tax plans.


How Sowell could, with a straight face and a clear conscience, link the race riots of the 1960s in Newark, Los Angeles, New Haven, and Detroit to Kennedy and Johnson administration policies is a mystery. If blame belongs to any set of governmental polices or practices, how about the Jim Crow laws and practices that had restricted the forward progress of black citizens since The Civil War. Sowell himself was so segregated from white society in North Carolina that he said he once believed it impossible that humans could have yellow hair.  

Confoundingly – confounding because the Hoover Institution’s claims its vast archive houses primary source documents on the “root causes” of World War I and World War II – Sowell argues that Obama’s willingness to meet face-to-face with other heads of state is a relic from the 1930s, a naïve tactic that led to World War II.  Wait just a minute.  Roosevelt never negotiated directly with Hitler or Mussolini.  Sowell’s misleading insinuation (was he deliberately vague?) must be to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s misbegotten efforts to appease The Third Reich.  If so, “appeasement”–not face-to-face meetings — is the big no-no.

Getting heads of state together to talk about tough issues often produces breakthrough results.  Remember Reagan with Gorbachev; or, Nixon and Mao Tse-tung in China.  What scholar of international relations can forget how President Jimmy Carter smuggled Egypt’s President and Israel’s Prime Minister into Camp David for 12 days of secret talks that led to peace in the Middle East, however short-lived?  And just this week Washington took the first steps toward resuming normal relations with Iran.


Profiles of the Hoover Institution – a conservative “think tank” — note that while it is located on the campus of Stanford University that the two are not officially affiliated. I am beginning to understand why Stanford may appreciate the distance and may want to widen it before this election season is over.

Two years ago John Bunzell, another Hoover fellow and the former president of San Jose State University, wrote an op-ed piece for the Boston Globe that carelessly whittled away at Mitt Romney and Mormonism. The premise for his “think piece” was a quote made by a Mormon, a California attorney, to a Los Angeles Times reporter. The op-ed did not note that the quote was nine years old nor that Bunzell had not attempted to verify its accuracy let alone its currency.  In the meantime the Mormon attorney had moved to Utah and publicly acknowledged that the controversy he had once spoken about had been satisfactorily resolved.  

Like Bunzell, it appears Sowell never interviewed any primary sources or bothered to have an assistant rigorously fact-check and update his research.  Despite its arms-length affiliation with a prestigious research university, have the academic standards at the Hoover Institution have been so corrupted by partisanship that it now indulges well-credentialed scholars and Fellows, like Sowell and Bunzell, even when they make things up?    

Apparently the current victim of fraudulent, made-up claims himself, Sowell recently wrote   “Making something up is a confession of both intellectual and moral bankruptcy.” Well said!  Enough said!

R.B. Scott, a Boston-based journalist who previously wrote for Time, Life, and People, commented extensively on the campaign of presidential candidate W. Mitt Romney.

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