Commentary Magazine


A Reply from the Ripon Society

To the Editor:

Though there is much that begs for criticism in Andrew Hacker’s article (“Is There a New Republican Majority?,” November 1969), I want to confine myself here to two points that touch on the Ripon Society.

1) COMMENTARY should acknowledge the factual error of statements by Mr. Hacker which are damaging to the Ripon Society. He writes: “Though the Society sends its releases to a large mailing list, it seems to carry on without meetings or members. I have reason to believe that Nelson Rockefeller mails them a five-figure check every so often, an amount sufficient for his and their purposes. The Lessons of Victory, put together by 17 young men on the Ripon payroll. . . .” etc.

Each one of these statements is in error. The facts are these. Though the Ripon Society and Dial Press publishers did send a free press release on The Lessons of Victory to a list of eminent American political scientists (Andrew Hacker included), the Society’s normal mailing list is made up of some 2700 paid subscribers to its monthly magazine, the Ripon Forum (Mr. Hacker not yet included). Several hundred of these subscribers also pay dues to chapters in eleven cities: Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, Dallas, Hartford, Los Angeles, New Haven, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Prospective chapters in a number of other cities know that before chartering a new group the Ripon Society insists that it present a well-researched position paper on an issue of public policy, that it show some potential for raising funds locally, and that it include political activists among its members. Chapters do indeed hold meetings, work for candidates, participate in local civic and urban development activities, and even write books.

The Lessons of Victory, edited by Ripon’s former research director, Robert D. Behn, is an example of such a book, the Society’s seventh in the six years of its existence. Its seventeen principal authors were not on a “payroll”; they worked gratis and used as raw data local political reports and clippings contributed by more than 100 Ripon correspondents around the country. These correspondents are among the Society’s more than 500 National Associate Members, who, though they do not live in cities with a Ripon chapter, pay additional dues to the national office in Cambridge so that their resumés can be kept on tap for volunteer work.

Because most of the Society’s work is done by committed and enthusiastic young people, its budget has never had to be large. It publishes a frank statement of its financial condition annually. Two-thirds of its income is derived from its publications, contract research for officeholders, and small contributions of $100 or less. The remainder is made up of contributions from some one hundred men, including members of Mr. Nixon’s cabinet, who support the Society despite their occasional disagreements with it. Support of Ripon demands some tolerance for criticism of oneself, for controversial young ideas, and some willingness to cast one’s bread upon the waters. Nelson Rockefeller and the various intermediaries who distribute political contributions in his interests have not consistently been in this frame of mind, and hence they have not been a mainstay of the Ripon Society over the years.

The Society has never received a “five-figure” contribution (unless one includes the cents after the decimal point) from anyone, and indeed it has taken some care to make certain that its sources of funding are widely enough spread to assure its intellectual and political independence. This has enabled it to issue lengthy critiques of China, Vietnam, and ABM policy; to pioneer a decentralizing strategy for government; and to provide critical commentary of party affairs. The canard about Rockefeller support, as well as that about Ripon’s affluence and absence of membership, has been committed to print in a number of right-wing publications, which have been anxious to discredit Ripon’s steady growth within the Republican party. COMMENTARY is the first national publication with any claim to intellectual respectability to have repeated this erroneous charge. . . . Mr. Hacker simply has his facts wrong.

I know how difficult it must be for a busy scholar to keep up with the growth of new political groups, especially those which do not proselytize for undergraduate membership in his university, but Mr. Hacker does teach at Cornell, whose library maintains special archives on the Ripon Society, with all public materials and private correspondence since its founding in 1963. And Mr. Hacker himself cites the book (The Republican Establishment, by Stephen Hess and David Broder) which contains the most accurate account of Ripon’s perennial struggle to raise its budget. . . .

2) Mr. Hacker states that “the Ripon-Rockefeller notion that the GOP can gain black votes emerges as political science-fiction: even when the party could find a James Farmer to run under its banner, he got only 27 per cent of the vote in Bedford-Stuyvesant.”

This is a pointless example. Farmer was running against Shirley Chisholm, a black woman with strong local ties in a machine-dominated Democratic district in which Farmer was an “outsider.” In other areas the situation is different. The following Republicans have made significant inroads into the black vote: Spiro T. Agnew (for Governor of Maryland), Winthrop Rockefeller (Arkansas), Howard Baker, Jr. (Tennessee), Charles Percy (Illinois), Jack Dan-forth (Attorney General, Missouri), Linwood Holton (Virginia), John V. Lindsay (New York), Edward Brooke and John Volpe (Massachusetts), George Romney (Michigan), Art Fletcher (Washington State), John Sears (Boston), Marlow Cook (Kentucky), Charles Mathias (Maryland), Arlen Specter (Philadelphia), William Cowger (Louisville), Hugh Scott (Pennsylvania).

Perhaps what Mr. Hacker meant to say is that Republicans cannot hope to win black votes in one-party, machine-dominated localities. If so, this is the identical point made by the Ripon Society in Chapter 7 of The Lessons of Victory. In the immediate future, the Society argued, the GOP would be best advised to solicit the growing number of middle – class Negro votes, instead of trying to break Democratic organizational control of lower-class blacks, who respond to Democratic control over welfare funds and OEO jobs.

But even here we may have been unduly pessimistic. In 1969, three weeks of work by John Marttila, the Republican National Committee’s organizer for urban ghettos, delivered 30 to 40 per cent of the vote in solidly Democratic black precincts to Paul Capra, the twenty-nine-year-old officer of the New Haven chapter of the Ripon Society who was the Republican candidate for Mayor. Capra lost by only 1500 votes, but the lesson of his campaign may be generalized: where blacks are numerous enough to take over Democratic city machines, the older ethnic groups will flee to the Republican party (as in Cleveland). Where whites maintain tight control of machines (as in New Haven, New York, Louisville, and Philadelphia), the black vote may be pried loose by Republican candidates.

On a national level, however, without a Brooke, Lindsay, or Percy on the ticket, it will be some time before a Republican Presidential ticket can match the 39 per cent of the non-white vote that went to Eisenhower-Nixon in 1956 or the 32 per cent for Nixon-Lodge in 1960. But here the question is not one of irreversible voting “trends,” as Kevin Phillips and Andrew Hacker suggest, but of conscious decisions by the national party and its nominee to write off the black vote in 1964 and 1968.

Josiah Lee Auspitz
President, The Ripon Society
Cambridge, Massachusetts

_____________

 

Mr. Hacker writes:

My source concerning Rockefeller money was a Republican officeholder, someone quite sympathetic to the Ripon persuasion and an informant I have always found reliable. If he was wrong, and I was misled, then I should of course retract my remark. Just to make sure, however, I asked the Society for a recent list of their benefactors. (“We do not disclose the names of our contributors.”) Moreover, their “frank statement of financial condition” fails to indicate what proportion of the Ripon budget comes from large donations.

It is certainly true that Ripon stores its records in the Cornell library. What Mr. Auspitz omits to say is that the Society will not permit anyone to peruse these materials unless his name has first been cleared with them. The Cornell archivist asked Mr. Auspitz if I might have access to these files. Permission was refused.

I had also been told that the authors of The Lessons of Victory received payments while writing that book. The Society informs me that only the editor was on a salary, while others received expenses. This seems reasonable.

On the question of substance: I explicitly stated in my article that Ripon-type Republicans have been successful at lower political levels. Many of these candidates do appeal to black voters especially when their Democratic opponents try to capitalize on white anxieties. However my chief focus was on national Republican politics; and here there is every indication that the GOP will continue to nominate candidates like Nixon and Agnew. This being so, not many blacks are likely to vote Republican. I realize that the Ripon Society would prefer a Percy-Brooke ticket. Needless to say, this sentiment is not shared by the regulars who attend Republican conventions.

_____________

 

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