Students and faculty came prepared with questions to a talk by Larry Lindsey ’73, H’93 on Wednesday night, challenging him on issues ranging from climate change to racism while President Clayton Rose moderated. Lindsey is an economist who served in the White House as director of the National Economic Council under President George W. Bush.
“Larry is an amazingly accomplished public servant, government figure, economist and someone who has not only a Bowdoin degree but an honorary degree, so having someone come back and share his experiences in government and insights into the economic and political world that we’re in today, given how thoughtful he is, how experienced he is and how plugged-in he is [is a great opportunity],” Rose said in an interview with the Orient prior to the talk.
At the event, Rose also noted that Lindsey’s talk was an opportunity for students to hear from “someone who may have a different point of view or a different perspective.”
However, many students and faculty expressed frustration with some of Lindsey’s ideology and scholarly work.
“I think it is very important that we bring serious conservative thinkers to campus,” said Associate Professor of Classics Robert Sobak. “What we want to be doing here is to be generative of new ideas through the tension between arguments of due weight. Unfortunately, I think that what we saw last night was someone … who has a very narrowed domain of expertise—that is in economics and tax policy—step well outside his lane such that he revealed more breadth of ignorance than any depth of knowledge.”
Assistant Professor of History Meghan Roberts read Lindsey’s most recent book, “Conspiracies of the Ruling Class: How to Break Their Grip Forever.” Roberts found that the main targets of the book are educated bureaucrats, who Lindsey believes constitute our society’s ruling class and use issues like climate change and global warming to exercise their control.
Roberts criticized Lindsey’s failure to provide evidence in the book, referring to a passage in which Lindsey asserts that global warming and racism are “manufactured issues” that have been “made up as a fig leaf to cover up a power grab by those experts.”
“It seems to me like there is, in fact, an extraordinary burden of proof that should go into making a claim like that,” said Roberts. “And yet [the paragraph containing these assertions] does not have a single footnote.”
During the audience Q&A period of the talk, Roberts quoted from this passage and asked Lindsey to further elaborate on his claim that racism and global warming are “manufactured issues.”
Lindsey initially responded that “in the real world out there, most people spend their lives not thinking about the particular traits of the other person,” an answer which received pushback from Rose, who pressed him to answer how this meant racism was a “manufactured issue.”
In response, Lindsey discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that people were quick to jump to conclusions on issues like police brutality rather than waiting for facts.
“We both agree that we want a colorblind society, the question is how to achieve it,” he said. “I mean, here we’re going to get into real politically incorrect territory … if you look, for example, at the Black Lives Matter [movement]. I think, actually, I believe all lives matter. [There are] particular cases that, when they were litigated, there were a lot of politicians out there who were prejudging cases and often turned out to be wrong. Why would a politician be prejudging cases? There’s a lot of posturing going on.”
“I thought that the community members and students were really awesome because I felt like Larry Lindsey was not always answering the questions adequately, and they kept pushing back on him and asking for more,” said Aliya Jessa ’19. “I thought that his assertion that racism and global warming are manufactured was reactionary and false.”
“I thought that his assumption that everybody wants a colorblind society was problematic,” said Alexa Gray ’19. “[He] thinks that programs helping people who are systematically disadvantaged and who our institutions are leaving behind is not a good thing which…is highly problematic.”
Nina Alvarado-Silverman ’19 was troubled by Lindsey’s usage of the phrase “all lives matter,” but was encouraged by the way in which President Rose responded to Lindsey during the portion of the talk in which race was discussed.
“I think that as a moderator [President Rose] really had [an opportunity to] cop-out … and could have not said anything when race came up,” said Alvarado-Silverman. “That he did [respond] and [that] he did it in a respectful way … he did show that we don’t accept racism on campus.”
Emlyn Knox ’19 was frustrated because she felt Lindsey was using unnecessarily complicated language during the portion of the discussion that dealt with economics.
“One of the reasons I do sometimes go see conservative speakers is that I think they can explain things in a way that a lot of the media I consume doesn’t explain to me,” Knox said. “It was frustrating to me that he didn’t take advantage of that opportunity to explain [his point of view] to people who probably don’t read the newspapers he writes in or don’t engage with the sources he uses.”
Sobak shared Knox’s view that the event was a missed opportunity for Bowdoin students to engage with Lindsey’s opinion on economic issues.
“I think we actually could have learned something had we been able to be treated to Dr. Lindsey’s thinking about [President Trump’s tax bill], in the context of being really seriously engaged with two to three faculty from the department of economics here,” Sobak said. “That shows not only that we’re taking these ideas seriously, but also that the students, who have a relationship with these faculty, are given a chance to see how their faculty interact with outside experts.”