1995: The year in ideas — with Robert Bork (1995) | THINK TANK
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1995: The year in ideas — with Robert Bork (1995) | THINK TANK

Ben Wattenberg: Hello, I’m Ben Wattenberg.
As the late historian Richard Weaver once wrote in his book, “Ideas Have Consequences,”
ideas have consequences. After much deliberation, the editorial board of “Think Tank” has
decided that the most consequential ideas of 1995 — the envelope, please — were
shame, the anxious class, devolution, and the new thinking of race. Joining us to sort through these four ideas
are Judge Robert Bork of the American Enterprise Institute and author of the forthcoming book,
“Slouching Toward Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline”; Jodie Allen, editor
of The Washington Post Outlook section, which makes her one of America’s prominent intellectual
trend spotters; James Pinkerton, lecturer in political management at George Washington
University and author of “What Comes Next? The End of Big Government and the New Paradigm
Ahead”; and Yvonne Scruggs, director of the Urban Policy Institute at the Joint Center
for Political and Economic Studies. The topic before this house: 1995, the year
in ideas. This week on “Think Tank.” What were the most significant ideas in 1995?
First, shame made a big comeback this year, and some say not a minute too soon. This idea
was stressed repeatedly by prominent political scientists and historians like James Q. Wilson
and Gertrude Himmelfarb. Presidential candidate Robert Dole put some specifics to it. Robert Dole [from videotape]: The mainstreaming
of deviancy must come to an end, but it will only stop when the leaders of the entertainment
industry recognize and shoulder their responsibility. Those who cultivate moral confusion for profit
should understand this: We will name their names and shame them as they deserve to be
shamed. Ben Wattenberg: Bob Bork, you are writing
a book called “Slouching Toward Gomorrah.” That relates to this concept of shame, I assume. Robert Bork: It relates to the concept of
a civilization or a culture sliding downhill, and I think all the talk this year about shame,
about stigma, about the comeback that Satan is making is a recognition that something
has gone badly wrong. Of course, to recognize that something has gone badly wrong is not
the same as to rectify it. So whether the talk about shame will in fact have any reforming
effect or not, I don’t know. Probably the most significant thing is the possibility
that we are witnessing a religious reawakening in this country, and if so, that may bring
the concept of shame and right and wrong back more strongly. Ben Wattenberg: What about this idea that
Sen. Dole mentioned in the clip of naming names, of shaming names? Is that a good idea? Robert Bork: Oh, I think it’s an excellent
idea. Whether it would be enough, I don’t know. You have a large part of the public
which is — likes the products that are being put out, the debased products that are being
put out. Ben Wattenberg: Some people I know smoke cigarettes,
for example. Is that — should we shame the cigarette manufacturers — and Judge Bork
is one of them. Robert Bork: Sure. I quit 18 days ago, so
— Ben Wattenberg: Did you quit 18 days — Robert Bork: Yes, so go ahead and shame me.
[Laughter.] Ben Wattenberg: That’s really good news.
I congratulate you. Yes? James Pinkerton: Audiences are picking up
on this, too, I think. Some of the movies coming out of the same Hollywood that Dole
denounces show that the public is making some judgments on some of these things, about good
and evil, for example. “The Scarlet Letter” came out and they put a dumbed-down Hollywood
happy ending on Hawthorne’s great novel of guilt and repentance, and that was a bomb.
Meanwhile, movies that really do deal with evil and Satan, like “7” or “Copycat,”
are hits because people really do kind of want to see these issues played out before
them and even see them come to a happy, just conclusion. Yvonne Scruggs: Well, you know, those kinds
of movies always sort of frighten me to death so that I can’t see them, but it’s kind
of difficult not to hear the boom boxes with some of the rap lyrics, which some groups
have really — and I’ve been involved in this — have been really taking off after
the producers, saying that these are kids, that this kind of misogynist talk is not — shouldn’t
be rewarded with contracts and with money and that they ought to be ashamed of themselves
for encouraging this kind of thing. Jodie Allen: And it’s working. I mean, gangsta
rap is not the big hit that it was a year ago. I’m no great authority on this, but
I am told that softer kinds of groups are rising up. And I think Dole was right; you
have to start trying to make people ashamed. It won’t happen all at once. Social norms
change slowly, but they change faster than you think. Now, to be sure, you get the Calvin
Klein, who launched a very cynical ad campaign, and it sold a lot of jeans, I’m afraid. Yvonne Scruggs: Well, that’s because people
complained about the campaign, probably. Jodie Allen: Right, but I think that the — that
while the jeans may have been sold, that the net effect was to raise people’s consciousness
about the terribly trashy kinds of things that we have taken for — come to take for
granted in our public space. James Pinkerton: And there needs to be an
economic theory which covers this, the corollary to the Adam Smith invisible hand, which says
that boycotts and public information and criticism ala Bennett and Lieberman, and so on, has
a valid role to play in shaping the market. Ben Wattenberg: As the professional shame
meister, why don’t you wrap this up now? Robert Bork: I think the possibility of getting
shame back into this society — for example, there should be a stigma on divorce, not just
illegitimacy — I think the possibility of getting shame back as a controlling force
in this society is really going to depend upon a religious revival. I don’t think
— you know, our morality has been associated with religion throughout our history — and
I say this as a rather secularized person — but if you would just observe it, I think
without a religious revival, we’re not going to have — Ben Wattenberg: We had something called the
Great Awakening. When was that? Robert Bork: We had a couple of them. We had
one before the Revolution and one in the early 1800s, as I recall. And there’s a thought
that one is going on now, with the Promise Keepers, Christian Coalition, and the Jewish
group, Toward Tradition. And it may be that one is starting now, but I think that would
be the best hope. Ben Wattenberg: OK. Our second major idea
concerns income stagnation and income inequality. Are the rich getting richer and the poor getting
poorer? Have wages stopped going up? Liberal economists like Robert Cutner and Lester Thurow
brought this idea to public prominence. A recent book, “The Winner-Take-All Society,”
put an exclamation point on the idea. Labor Secretary Robert Reich made the case. Robert Reich [from videotape]: Now, for a
decade and a half, ordinary families have been working harder and getting less, puzzled
that somehow they have been disinherited from the American dream. Our middle class, as I
have noted and as I noted on Labor Day, has become an anxious class. Ben Wattenberg: Jodie Allen, the anxious class
and their relationship to the winner-take-all society? Jodie Allen: Well, no doubt, as Reich points
out, many Americans are anxious. We’ve had three million job layoffs in the last seven
years and a new spurt just now. But it’s not the anxious Americans that my authors
Robert Frank and Philip Cook, two economists from Cornell and Duke, are worried — are
concerned about. They’re concerned about the overly optimistic young Americans who
are crowding into what they call winner-take-all segments of the society. These are not just
the traditional sectors of arts and entertainment and sports, where relatively small differences
in performance produce enormous differences in compensation. They point out that this
phenomenon has spread as a result of mass technology, global communication, to a whole
bunch of other areas of the economy — law, medicine, even accounting and sales. Ben Wattenberg: We have here at least two
market-oriented philosophers, Judge Bork and Mr. Pinkerton here, who I assume one of you
would like to take on that notion. Robert Bork: Well, I don’t understand the
worry about inequality. I can understand the worry about people who are having trouble
getting by, but that is independent of how much somebody else is making. You know, the
fact that I don’t have a yacht is not due to the fact that somebody else has one. Jodie Allen: They’re not worried about it
per se, either. They’re making a productivity argument. No matter which data you look at,
some 20 to 40 percent of the people have gotten all the gains, and the rest of have stagnated
or lost income. Now, the authors recognize that a certain amount of income inequality
is essential to promote investment and productivity. They’re not Luddites, and they’re not
— they are economists. But they say there are diminishing returns here, and they argue
sector by sector, quite carefully, that we have distorted our patterns of investment
as a result of this winner-take-all economy. James Pinkerton: I think these guys make an
interesting argument, and in many ways it’s persuasive. I mean, intuitively, something
is going on in the world economy where people at the top can sell to a global market that’s
now five billion people, and everybody else is left competing for the global market of
five million competitors working, making the same manufacturing, so on and so on. So something
is clearly happening. I think that the better policy prescription still is to focus on how
can we improve education and skills training for people at the bottom end so that they
can get the higher-value-added jobs needed for this. And this is an argument — Ben Wattenberg: But everybody can’t fill
a few finite number of superstar jobs, by definition. Jodie Allen: That’s right. James Pinkerton: That’s right, so therefore
— Jodie Allen: They don’t buy — James Pinkerton: — I mean, these guys want
to work on the inequality part, which is an interesting argument. I think still the heart
of the argument, though, the thing that really grinds the social conscience of Americans,
is when they see, you know, kids coming out of the Newark schools, which spend $12,000
a year per kid and have a 7 percent graduation rate. I mean, the disconnect between the amount
of money we spend on public education and job training and the results we get is so
enormous that I think the most urgent national priority to deal with the symptoms of inequality
is to help people get into the productive work force. Ben Wattenberg: Yvonne Scruggs. Yvonne Scruggs: Yeah, but the notion of the
inequality has ramifications in other ways. You’re talking about the school system,
but a lot of the kids who are not being well educated also are not motivated, and they’re
not motivated because there’s not this middle ground of opportunity that is well publicized,
touted, and presented to them as a career opportunity. Robert Bork: I’m not quite sure what it
has to do with winner-take-all, however. And I don’t see law as a — James Pinkerton: Well, and if there’s — Jodie Allen: No. Actually, you have to look
at the data, and if you look at them, you’ll see that the legal profession has become bimodal.
The average lawyer, in fact, doesn’t do very well. But at the top, there are these
superstars making enormous — as a result of class-action suits as much as anything.
And they call for tort reform. So I mean they look at it sector by sector. Ben Wattenberg: OK. Our third big idea of
1995 goes under the rubric devolution — that is, the return of certain powers and functions
from the federal government to the states. The idea of reinventing government was boosted
by thinkers like David Osborne, Ted Gaebeler, and James Pinkerton, who is on our panel.
The Republican Congress made devolution a key component of its “Contract with America.”
Republicans are trying to send federal programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and welfare back
to the states. Jim Pinkerton, tell us what it’s all about
and where it’s going. James Pinkerton: Well, everywhere you look,
markets are crushing politics. The budget deal is being driven by Wall Street, and this
is just a reality. Everywhere the markets are coming into play you’re seeing more
diversity, more decentralization. And our politics in the last decade or so have been
a lagging indicator behind this great trend, and it’s inevitable that politics will have
to catch up. And the Republicans in the 104th Congress are beginning that process of devolving
power out of the mainframe to the equivalent of 50 PCs across the country. Yvonne Scruggs: You know, when you start talking
about devolution and about the benefits that you see, I’m reminded of a very old book
that you may even be too young to remember. It’s called “The Cities and the Federal
System,” by Roscoe Martin, where the whole process by which states lost the ability to
manage resources occurred, and that was 60 years ago. And when you look at what’s going
on now in local governments, there are maybe 10, 12 states that are up to the task that
is being assigned to them, and the rest of them are pretty much where they were in the
’30s, when the federal government began taking over. So — Ben Wattenberg: But doesn’t that presuppose
the idea that the federal government is doing a good job? And do you think that? Yvonne Scruggs: Well, I think that there certainly
are many things that have to be improved. Clearly, there’s no — I don’t think
anybody in his right mind would argue otherwise. But the fact of the matter is that without
preparations, like anything else, you cannot just assign a responsibility to someone who’s
not prepared to carry it out, and in most instances, the states really are not. And
they are deceived, too, because they think they’re going to get a lot of money, and
we know, for example, the state of Texas is going to lose two billion dollars. Jodie Allen: Ben, money is key. I think there’s
also a general misconception in the public as to who actually runs the programs right
now. Almost all of the big social programs are run, with the exception of Social Security,
which runs rather well — the rest of them are in fact run by states and localities.
Now they run Medicaid, they run AFDC, they administer food stamps. Now, it’s true that
federal regulations can either improve or impede what they do, and I think it is that
— on that that Jim was focusing. Ben Wattenberg: Do they run Medicare? Jodie Allen: They don’t run Medicare — of
course, that runs rather well, too — but they run Medicaid, they run welfare in all
its particulars. They run food stamps. Yvonne Scruggs: Ninety-three percent of the
federal programs are — federal social service programs are funneled through the states. Jodie Allen: And they’ve always run the
job programs, which have never run very well, either. James Pinkerton: Well, let’s take on — first
of all, Social Security and Medicare prove the point that the federal government, if
left to its own devices for another 10 or 15 years, will bankrupt us all. I mean, you
know — Jodie Allen: But they run them pretty well. Robert Bork: You mean so far. Jodie Allen: They may be too expensive, they
may be too generous, but they — James Pinkerton: Well, they run them pretty
well except for the bankruptcy. I mean, in other words, we have to remember, the money
has to — Ben Wattenberg: But those aren’t the program
managers. Those are your friendly legislators who overspend. I mean, Jodie’s point is
a good one. Given the budgets they are told to manage with, Social Security does a pretty
good job. James Pinkerton: OK. Forgive me — who cares?
The issue is that — Ben Wattenberg: I do. James Pinkerton: — you’ve created this
giant trust fund in Social Security and Medicare, which of course doesn’t exist; it’s entirely
a notional accounting concept, and the politicians in Washington have felt free to spend actuarially
10 or 20 times what they should be spending on these programs. And now we’re looking
at the entitlement programs consuming 100 percent of the federal budget early in the
next century. This is what happens when you centralize. You create a cookie jar in one
place. This goes back to Plato. Eventually the political system will find a way to loot
it and we’ll all be bankrupt. Ben Wattenberg: Judge Bork. Robert Bork: Also to let — Ben Wattenberg: Former federal judge — [laughter]
— what do you think of this — the federal behemoth? Yvonne Scruggs: Well, you undermined his response
right there. [Laughter.] Robert Bork: The great advantage of devolution,
I would think, is to take the regulations off, a lot of the regulations off these programs
and find out whether certain states can know how to do it. There’ll be a lot of experimentation.
You get Michigan, Wisconsin, and so forth, which are experimenting already. Ben Wattenberg: In welfare reform, basically. Robert Bork: Yeah, and maybe one or two or
three states will come up with programs that are much better than anything the federal
government is directing be done now. And if that’s true, then all states can trend towards
those solutions. Ben Wattenberg: Jim, wasn’t that true before
the great evolution or ascent of power to the federal government? I mean, you had these
50, or at that point 48 laboratories of democracy, and in theory some were better than the other,
and yet the — as Yvonne has pointed out, it was running in such a grungy fashion that
we decided to move it upward in the feeding chain. James Pinkerton: Well, to base our public
policy on what was true in the days when radios and vacuum tubes and Model-Ts and so on — I
mean things have changed so much, I mean we’ve learned so much. The media is so different,
the distribution of power and resources is so different. I mean it’s crazy to keep
saying, well, if we devolve power from Washington in 1995, where the federal government is currently
in the process of bankrupting the nation, to say, well, if we give authority to people
in Texas or California, that will immediately wreck everything, I mean that — we are really
guarding the wrong door of the fortress. Ben Wattenberg: We come now to our fourth
and final idea, the dilemma of race. This idea has attracted great scrutiny from many
leading American intellectuals, ranging from liberals like Cornell West and Andrew Hacker
to conservatives like Charles Murray and Dinesh D’Souza. 1995 was an especially tumultuous
year regarding race in America. The O. J. Simpson trial, the Million Man March, Dinesh
D’Souza’s “End of Racism,” Colin Powell for president — almost, they were all headline
grabbers. And 1995 marked the first time affirmative action was openly challenged on a national
level. Phil Gramm [from videotape]: Our Constitution
guarantees equal justice under law. And as president, by executive order, I will end
quotas, preferences, and set-asides. Ben Wattenberg: Yvonne Scruggs, what happened
in the racial situation in the United States in 1995? Yvonne Scruggs: Well, the short answer to
that is the American public suddenly realized that race and racism, which have been discounted
as a major dynamic in this country, is in fact a major dynamic. You mentioned the O.
J. Simpson trial, which I would hope that — had hoped you wouldn’t mention, but
you did so — [laughter] — and what we’re concerned about — Ben Wattenberg: I mean, I should have mentioned
it, shouldn’t I have? I mean it played a lot of — Yvonne Scruggs: Well, yeah, that’s right.
But the difference in valence of that and the Million Man March is tremendous, and yet
both of these events signaled a real recognition of the intractability of racism and the different
perceptions that Americans have. Ben Wattenberg: You are saying that there
has been a rise in the intensity of race consciousness. Yet at the same time, the big policy thrust
has been toward color-blindness in terms of eliminating or diminishing affirmative action.
Now, can those two things coexist? Yvonne Scruggs: Well, there is a problem with
the latter because anyone who lives in this country who believes that policy is being
implemented or even, at this stage in our evolution as a country, can be implemented
in a color-blind way doesn’t understand the world as I see it and seems to me to be
living in a world different from the one that I live in. Ben Wattenberg: Well, is it appropriate then
to be non-color-blind? Is to pick people for jobs or school on the basis of race, gender,
or ethnicity — Yvonne Scruggs: Yeah, but you see, that’s
to misinterpret what the intention of affirmative action was. I certainly agree that in some
case examples, the implementation has gone well beyond what was intended, but the fundamental
intention of affirmative action was to level the playing field, to provide access where
access has been denied. I think we tend to forget that affirmative action didn’t just
emerge out of some vacuum. It was in response to clear demonstration that people of color
were being unequally treated, had unequal access, and needed to have those things adjusted. Robert Bork: I think that’s not quite right.
I’m sure there was discrimination, but this actually came out of the — affirmative action
I think actually came out of a government agency, which devised a way to get around
the law, which said there shall be no distinction on the basis of race. Yvonne Scruggs: Yeah, I mean that’s a narrow
interpretation. If you forget that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act
of 1965 were the fundamental grounding for affirmative action, then I don’t know what
— Robert Bork: No, they weren’t. I don’t
think so. That’s why I disagree with you. I think they were a statement of nondiscrimination. Yvonne Scruggs: But affirmative action is
an implementation of the fundamental principle that all Americans ought to have equal access
to the benefits of the society, and it has been clearly established that all Americans
did not — and particularly African Americans did not. James Pinkerton: Hold on. Hold on a second.
Hubert Humphrey stood on the floor of the Senate in 1964 and said, “I’ll eat the
pages of this legislation if anybody tells me that the 1964 Civil Rights Act will ever
lead to quotas and categories.” And of course it did. If we are not a color-blind society
and if we have never been a color-blind society, it is all the more imperative that we start
to become one because, look around from Bosnia to Quebec. We’re seeing what happens when
multiculturalism runs rampant, and it’s a catastrophe, and it will be the end of this
civilization. Ben Wattenberg: Let me just — we are running
out of time. Let me go around the room once, starting with Bob Bork, and ask for a final
thought as to whether or not you discern a relationship between our four ideas. Robert Bork: At least three out of four I
think relate to a feeling we have that our society is fracturing. It’s fracturing along
racial lines; it’s fracturing to some extent along gender lines; it’s fracturing to another
extent along this question of income distribution and class warfare, which we hear about. It’s
fracturing along moral lines, about sense of right and wrong. I think maybe devolution
fits in there, I’m not sure, but I think the other three topics — Ben Wattenberg: Fracturing between federal
and state. Robert Bork: Well, that’s called federalism. Ben Wattenberg: Right, that’s called federalism.
All right, the fractured society. Jodie, do you have a — Jodie Allen: I think the common theme is the
importance of social norms and the building of community values, both as they apply to
controlling extremism in the racial context, in building support for programs at the local
level that actually do meet the community values and try to operate in a reasonably
efficient fashion, in driving out shameful behavior, and also in controlling markets.
One of the big themes of “The Winner-Take-All Society” is what has broken down is a bunch
of norms that used to be actually more efficient. Ben Wattenberg: Jim. James Pinkerton: Fifty years ago, an economist
who, lamentably, can never be on “Think Tank,” the late Joseph Schumpeter — Ben Wattenberg: Not my fault he’s not on
our show. He’s the late, right. OK, go ahead. Right. [Laughter.] James Pinkerton: — coined the phrase “creative
destruction,” that capitalism, the markets create and destroy at the same time, and this
requires us all to think about some new social covenant, contract, whatever, to help us deal
with the fact that the economic money wheel is revolving so much faster than it used to. Ben Wattenberg: OK. Yvonne. Yvonne Scruggs: I see this whole anxiety issue
as being maybe at the core of these other arguments. For example, if everyone were not
feeling so threatened and insecure, I wonder to what extent — particularly middle-class
people, who are not the winner-take-all — I wonder to what extent we might as a country
be able to integrate each other in an acceptable construct that would not make race an issue,
would not make income an issue, would in fact see an opportunity for improving government
by involving the local level rather than the federal. But we’re all so threatened. Ben Wattenberg: OK. Thank you, Yvonne Scruggs,
Jodie Allen, Jim Pinkerton, and Robert Bork. And thank you. Please send your comments and
questions to New River Media, 1150 17th Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20036. We can also be
reached on the World Wide Web at www.thinktank.com or via emailat [email protected] For “Think Tank,” I’m Ben Wattenberg. Announcer: This has been a production of BJW
Inc., in association with New River Media, which are solely responsible for its content.


  • badassdahn

    And we thought rap music was bad in 1995. Rest in peace Tupac Amaru Shakur I don’t you could see the garbage our children listen to these days. Hell is only a mile away at this point.

  • David Gaugamela

    Does anyone know why Mr. Bork did not return to the D.C. Court of Appeals In 1987 after the Senate Democrats vituperative rejection? Why didn’t he return to the bench? Did he actually prefer to work at a think tank than as a judge?

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