Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: Jude Wanniski, Were You Only A ‘Supply-Sider’?
I don’t think I will ever forget April 23, 1997. That is the day that I met Jude Wanniski in person. The nature of our meeting that day pretty much captures the essence of our relationship. I first learned of him when I was serving as general manager of Wu-Tang Clan along with my partner Mook, who was president of the management company. In fact, it was in the Staten Island offices of Wu-Tang Management, in early April, that I first read the writing of Mr. Wanniski. That communication was an e-mailed letter to the editor of the New York Post, which was published in the newspaper. In between work for the Clan I sat down with the newspaper in amazement of what I was reading. This man, Jude Wanniski, was publicly responding to how former New York mayor Ed Koch was characterizing his relationship with Minister Louis Farrakhan. For years I had grown accustomed to weak, timid and half-baked defenses, apologies, and explanations provided by those – White and Black - who dared to interact with Minister Farrakhan. But this was different. Jude Wanniski was unapologetic, rational, and defiant in defending himself and his new acquaintance and association with Minister Farrakhan. The e-mail signature included the home base of the author, “Morristown, New Jersey.” This is a strange White man I thought. What is going on?
My mind far away from Hip-Hop-related business for the most popular rap group in the world, I called information and was pleasantly surprised to obtain Jude Wanniski’s residential phone number. I called and left a voice message informing him of my interest in meeting him and conducting an interview of him for The Final Call newspaper. Still in Staten Island, I called a Sister and asked her to grab a copy of Mr. Wanniski’s book, The Way The World Works, from the Barnes and Noble on 66th and Broadway in Manhattan, so that I could read the critically-acclaimed book as soon as possible. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a return phone call a couple of days later - a voice message from Jude Wanniski himself, indicating that he would love to meet me when he returned from a business trip in Chicago, Illinois. We eventually spoke briefly and arranged the meeting.
Still not quite sure what to expect when I arrived at the offices of Jude’s economic consulting firm, Polyconomics, Inc. – a cozy and roomy multi-floor house on Maple Avenue in Morristown – I was greeted by a member of the Polyconomics, Inc. staff and taken upstairs to meet with the company’s president, Mr. Wanniski. Entering his office, I shook hands with the six foot something gentleman, and I was seated at a table across from his desk and computer, which I was later to learn was a location which often found this man practically glued, answering e-mails from his website viewers, political leaders, and Wall St. financiers.
“I’m radioactive now!” Jude told me, with comfortable excitement. Telling me of how his embrace of Minister Louis Farrakhan was being received by the media, political leaders and the nearly 300 paying clients of his subscription analysis service - which consisted of communications, written several times a week, by either Jude or one of his staff analysts, on domestic and global issues, trends or developments; regular “Recommended Readings”, an interesting compilation of political, cultural and business articles which in any way supported Jude’s analysis. This diverse reading packet was plucked together and edited with care and wit by Peter Signorelli, Mr. Wanniski’s brilliant friend and partner (Mr. Signorelli, battling illness, sadly passed away the night before Jude’s funeral). Higher-end clients received direct access and communication with the company’s president himself.
After his secretary, Barbara, served me with coffee, Jude made sure that I had before me a folder full of such communications. At the top of the file was, “Dinner With Farrakhan,” a multi-page writing which lucidly chronicled Jude’s long-standing desire and angling to meet the Nation Of Islam leader; explained why; and gave an account of their first dinner together, at the home of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in Chicago - The Palace - where Minister Farrakhan currently resides. In riveting fashion, which was his custom, Jude explained, in this writing, how the dinner discussion was rather uneventful and he feared he would be dismissed, until the conversation suddenly livened when it turned to Karl Marx and a variety of other topics. According to Mr. Wanniski, the meal and discussion ended with Minister Farrakhan, and his wife Mother Khadijah, accepting an invitation to join Jude and his clients, at the annual private Polyconomics conference in plush Boca Raton, Florida. It is that invitation, and Minister Farrakhan’s impressive attendance, which columnist Bob Novak would subsequently write a column about, suggesting a potential relationship between Minister Farrakhan and the Republican Party, that had so many in a tizzy or frenzy. It was that scenario which would set Mayor Ed Koch, many Polyconomics clients, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and countless others off, unsettled by Jude Wanniski’s supposed "legitimizing of Louis Farrakhan". Others, such as Jack Kemp, Armstrong Williams, and an influential minority of Jude’s powerful clients supported Mr. Wanniski’s ambitious initiative. All - pro or con - were at the very least, intrigued by this most unlikely of events.
"Minister Farrakhan was there, Cedric, eating ice cream as we explained dynamic scoring to him. And he picked it up quicker than anyone else I have explained it to, who has no background in this." The Minister, Jude would tell me, received the most sustained applause in the history of Polyconomics client conferences, when he spoke during the three-day gathering in the winter of 1997 (an unofficial honor that he would later share with Lindsey Graham in 1999). "My clients could not believe how reasonable and rational he was, because of what they had heard about him," he emphasized.
Obviously, Mr. Wanniski would know of my interest in his relationship with Minister Farrakhan and he certainly did not seem to be holding back in providing me with his rationale for the relationship. I listened. And I listened, as he elaborated.
"See, Minister Farrakhan is frightening to Whites, and I would surmise Blacks as well because he emphasizes the masculinity of Black America which has been crushed since slavery. Dr. Martin Luther King represented the feminine side and that is what has been permitted and what most White folks are now comfortable with. That is why, on the margin, Minister Farrakhan is so important. He represents an important new chapter in America’s racial divide. And that is why I told my clients the Million Man March was so significant."
Sure enough, Jude had provided me with a copy of a communication he had written to his clients prior to the Million Man March in October of 1995 that explained his Min. Farrakhan-Dr. Martin Luther King thesis in greater detail, and which did appear to go out on a limb by crowning the Million Man March a success before it had taken place.
Over coffee at his conference table, I asked Jude did he think that Minister Farrakhan should lead Blacks into the Republican Party. "No, I have told Minister Farrakhan that he should not join the Republican Party. The Republican Party has to make that outreach by acknowledging Farrakhan as a Black leader selected by Black people. That is why I have been telling Jack Kemp that he should take the lead in that. He is the only Republican that Black people actually like."
This initial reference to Jack Kemp was one of many more to come, as it was Jack Kemp more than any other politician who had been influenced by Jude’s worldview (I would later privately think of Jude’s advisory-counselor relationship with Jack Kemp in the light of the relationship between the great political philosopher Aristotle and his political client Alexander The Great. It is also a relationship that has similarities with that of Dick Morris and a younger and older Bill Clinton; and that between William Kristol and Dan Quayle.) Jack Kemp, it seemed, from what I observed in my years of knowing Jude, was the source of his greatest political excitement and disappointment. He thought Mr. Kemp was talented and his most important pupil, but never bold enough to sustain the "revolution."
"Colin Powell receives my stuff. I am writing my clients telling them that if Powell and Jack would team up, the Republicans would win and get at least 25% of the Black vote, which is what they would need to win," Jude offered. "Colin Powell as president and Jack Kemp as his running mate?" I inquired. "No, Colin Powell as Jack’s running mate," the sixty-something year old White man said.
For the next couple of hours, Jude Wanniski and I would discuss the FBI’s COINTELPRO program and how it affects Blacks’ view of politics, media and government (“See Minister Farrakhan thinks that some Fortune 500 executive picks up the telephone and calls an editor of a newspaper and says ‘I want you to write this tomorrow,’ and I am explaining to him that it does not work that way. I am one of a few people that can influence the Wall St. Journal editorial page with my ideas, flowing through the journalists that listen to me.”); his unique explanation for how and why the stock market crashed in 1929 (Jude argues persuasively if not uniquely that the political build-up and passage of the Smoot-Hawley tariff and not the Federal Reserve caused the stock market to crash); the little known importance of the Rand Corporation’s Albert Wohlstetter (who Jude explained was the real intellectual influence on Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, both of whom Jude described humorously, but soberly, as ‘the forces of darkness’. Yes, back in 1997 Jude was warning publicly against the dangers of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz); the capital gains tax; the Middle East Peace Process; and how the Wu-Tang Clan should invest their money ("I wouldn’t be able to handle their money but I can introduce them to the best money managers in the world, who happen to be my clients," Jude proposed).
Jude autographed my copy of The Way The World Works, and after receiving a tour of his office which included sitting down with all of the members of his gracious staff, I shook hands with the high priest of ‘supply-side economics’ but left only after Jude directed my attention to an enormous photo of Minister Farrakhan, on the wall in the hallway, with the Muslim leader, in a handsome green uniform and a beautiful fez on.
There was no doubt that this was the strange White man I had anticipated, but little did I know that the meeting I just left would be typical of our interaction which would grow into running conversation-argument, and friendship.
"You can’t be serious." I gently told a well-meaning White gentleman over Starbuck’s coffee in Washington D.C. last month who was fishing for information regarding Jude Wanniski’s relationship with Nobel Prize Economist, Robert Mundell and the latter’s influence on the economic platform of a candidate in an upcoming election in Germany. This writer, knowing of my relationship with Jude had contacted me by phone a couple of weeks prior and had e-mailed me regarding the matter. Not wishing to participate in a clandestine dialogue, as I suspected this individual was framing our communication to his colleagues, I suggested that we meet and talk somewhere in public. He agreed and we did.
"What do you make of Jude’s sudden outreach to the Black community?" my friendly interrogator asked. I asked for more information and the writer told me that he thought it was peculiar that Jude had decided to make a connection with Minister Farrakhan and cared as much as he appeared, about Black America. This gentleman insinuated that because Jude’s first book had been funded by the Smith-Richardson Foundation and because Robert Mundell had a relationship with a particular bank in Italy, it might be possible that Jude, Mr. Mundell and a few other figures were being used as part of a conspiracy to take over the world –Europe at the moment - with a special historical target of Black America. He presented what I thought was a very convoluted argument that mentioned the Ford Foundation and the American Right. I believe in conspiracy but this theory’s logic was so twisted I had to pause.
While not denying that such a conspiracy, regardless to persons, exists, I laughed telling this individual, "It is obvious you don’t know Jude and have not followed him very closely." I continued, "Jude is an egomaniac. He honestly believes he is the smartest man in the world and I have never known him to defer to anyone for any extended period of time." After explaining the audacious nature of the man, and the personality traits that made Jude the worst possible candidate to serve as an agent of another, I told this person that perhaps their own intense adherence to ideology was affecting the quality of their research. "Do you know how much business Jude (still a personally wealthy man) has lost as a result of his relationship with Minister Farrakhan and his stance against the neoconservatives and his willingness to dare to criticize Israel?" The reporter acknowledged that he did not know the details of this and that he appreciated me sharing this with him. I explained that Jude traces his concern for Black people back to a time well before his public career as we know it began. I gave the anecdote that Jude has written and spoken about – his young defense of the Black Panthers in his school newspaper and his consistent thoughts on how to bridge America’s racial divide. "Don’t lose sight of the human factor and the temperament of people and how that affects things, when you try to connect the dots. Get the facts, weigh them properly, find causation and correlation, and then interpret them properly. Don’t allow your ideology to blind you to certain pieces of information," I stressed. This writer and I then had a great conversation about how the world works, the powers that dominate certain spheres of influence, and how certain entities, interests and persons alternate in cooperation and competition with one another in their quest to control and profit. I concluded that part of our conversation by encouraging this writer to pose their questions and present their suspicions directly to Jude. I guaranteed that Jude would answer them directly. This person said he would contact Jude. I hope he did.
If I had it handy I would have provided this person with Robert Novak’s description of Jude in his glowing endorsement of the most recent edition of The Way The World Works:
"Nobody else, I believe has accomplished what Jude Wanniski has without institutional sponsorship, without formal political or financial power, and with merely will and brainpower...he has not only described but also changed the way the world works. If the doors of power are locked, his ideas have penetrated nevertheless."
In my own estimation, Jude’s backer or Backer, was a power higher than a private foundation, government agency or political institution.
I thought of that recent discussion as I read recent articles on Jude since he died. Invariably the term, ‘supply-side economics’ appears in what is written. He is identified as either "The Tom Paine" of supply-side economics or its founder or father. I respectfully disagree, or at least advocate for qualification of such descriptions. Although Jude never ever shied away from the relationship or association I failed to see kinship between him and the vast majority of those who claimed to be his followers or disciples or those who advertise themselves as ‘supply-siders.’ To the average person who has regularly followed newspapers over the past 25 years, supply-side economics is ‘Reagan-nomics’ or ‘Voodoo economics’ or the ‘trickle-down theory.’ In American politics, supply-side economics is usually summed up as tax cuts that stimulate economic growth, at best, and irresponsible economic policy that benefits the wealthy and hurts the poor at worst. In the time that I spent with Jude Wanniski in person; in hundreds of e-mails; in discussion with him over the telephone; and studying and analyzing his writings; I always felt that what he presented to the world was virtually never properly represented in public. Jude never bifurcated or divided his thesis and worldview. His construct, from my study, was one-third monetary policy, one-third fiscal policy, and one-third cultural/electoral dynamics. And although his lovely and brilliant wife Patricia once told me that she thought the political-electoral aspect of the thesis was more "hobby" than rigid science, Jude, in my presence, never relinquished his allegiance to the holistic picture he provided in, ‘The Way The World Works.’ Yet, those who work in the name of ‘supply-side economics’ or against it, persist in reducing the worldview to one idea - lowering taxes. They are simply uninformed or, maybe, just lazy. Jude, the purist, spanked such thinking in public and private, but Jude, the leader and captain of ‘his team’, never publicly denied access and claims to ‘supply-side economics,’ even to those he was at variance with. Jude never deviated from his explanation that what is called ‘supply-side economics’ was the economics of production, constructed principally when he independently synthesized the ideas of two men, Arthur Laffer and Robert Mundell. He told me and others that the first supply-sider was Leon Walrus. And when I challenged that assertion in 1998 - in the middle of a conversation over cranberry juice where Jude gleefully informed me he had dated Dianne Sawyer - telling him that my study of Islamic economics had shown me that the great Muslim historiographer Ibn Khaldun was the earliest ‘supply-sider’, Jude agreed, marveling at my suggestion and recalling a fact that I was unaware of – that Ronald Reagan, himself had indeed quoted Ibn Khaldun in speeches. He would later publicly thank me for persuading him to read Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah.
I can count on one hand the number of individuals that I have met, read, or observed, other than those who worked for Polyconomics, Inc. that I would consider true ‘supply-siders.’ The best ‘supply-siders’ in my view, are those who not only maintain the whole picture of what Jude taught, but also those who use it in the marketplace to make money. The man I encountered who was the most articulate and impressive in the latter category was Mr. Stephen Shipman, Executive Vice President, Director of Research, and Portfolio Manager of Bjurman, Barry & Associates. Anyone seeking an authentic and practical picture of ‘the model’ should speak to Mr. Shipman, in my view. He was, and is, one of Jude's very best students, although he never received the press and adulation that went to others.
"Cedric you have to read, ‘Nixon’s Economy’ by Allen J. Matusow, it is the best rendering of the economic policy of President Richard Nixon that I have ever read and it answers some questions that I have had and not been able to answer," Jude told me in the summer of 1998. I was in California, at the time, consulting on a music project with the Dream Works record label and was staying in Hollywood for a month. The project was not going very well and I found myself with plenty of time on my hands and would often spend it in the Barnes and Noble in the Beverly Center reading books on politics and economics. I added ‘Nixon’s Economy’ to my list and was able to read the majority of it before I left the West Coast. The book was excellent and I still glance at it from time to time. In that same conversation I recommended that Jude read Andrew Young’s A Way Out Of No Way, in it Mr. Young, I told Jude, gives the strongest argument for a gold standard that I have read any Black political leader make. Jude thanked me for the pick and got excited and informed me that he talked to Andrew Young in 1992 in Barcelona about these things. The implication was clear: Jude wanted me to know that he had influenced Andy Young with this insight. I smiled to myself not wanting to tell Jude that Andy Young’s observations were first made in the early 70s almost 20 years before Jude’s discussion with him. But who knows, Andy Young’s book came out in the 1990s, maybe Jude had somehow made the subject bigger in his mind. I learned to never underestimate Jude even when he overestimated his own importance.
Jude and I constantly recommended books, and articles to one another, in this manner and it was initially from him that I learned the family tree of political publications that represented the American Left, Center and Right. Other than working in Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill or in various think-tanks and media outlets, I honestly don’t know how I would have gained the depth of understanding of political ‘schools of thought’ and the importance of certain journalists that I obtained by following Jude’s recommended readings and visiting his Polyconomics’ website, to read his “Memo On The Margin” which was usually a love note or public flogging of an individual Jude was wooing or at intellectual variance with. I also benefited greatly from my enrollment in his Supply-Side University (SSU) and my participation in the Polyconomics.com “Talk Shop” which was the chat forum home of Jude’s mostly White web viewers who were a highly intelligent collection of college students, journalists, financial professionals and academics. If you could hold your own in there you stood a good chance of making it elsewhere. I remember one particular humorous moment in 1998 when Jude, in full defense mode of Minister Farrakhan, was getting attacked in ‘Talk Shop’ by a skeptical audience. He called me up, having already identified me as ‘Minister Farrakhan’s able surrogate’ and said, “I need your help,” a request he rarely made. I honestly lamented that I was in D.C. at the time on business, and would not be able to help Jude by adding information that he did not know about Nation Of Islam teachings for another 12 hours. Some of those Talk Shop participants are now regular BlackElectorate.com viewers who from time to time appear in our Dialogue Room. I am grateful for them.
The informal syllabus that Jude provided for me was always supplemented by real-world experience and interaction. He invited me twice to be his guest at the Polyconomics, Inc. annual client gatherings encouraging me (which was not necessary) to ask questions and mingle with the luminaries. Jude essentially waived the several thousand dollar fee for me and his Accounts Payable and Sales Head, Mr. Ron De La Rosa (who was Jude’s earliest sales partner leading the way in promoting Polyconomics’ services) was always gracious and kind in his collection efforts. To the best of my memory I was the only Black male present and I think Jude enjoyed that as much as I did, observing how I frequently became the center of attraction, either proving my grasp of ‘the model’ or because of the probing questions I asked the guest panelists or speakers, that they had to answer.
Enjoying a measure of their social equality and being able to observe wealthy and politically influential Whites discuss the way their world works was very informative and valuable to me, and although I did very little business as others did with one another at those gatherings, I gained ‘business’ because of it, as Jude was really making a kind of ‘investment’ in me. I recall one moment, in the plush hotel that hosted the conference, in Palm Beach, riding down an elevator with Jude, and while getting off, observing Jude mingle with a couple of clients who spotted him immediately. After they were done talking, Jude informed me of the worth of one of those he was speaking to and punctuating his point he said, "In fact, Cedric, everybody here represents or is worth $10 million dollars or more." "Except me," I chimed. To which Jude immediately responded, "Don’t worry Cedric, one day you will be." To that end, Jude introduced me to many of his clients seeking to sell them on me and my entrepreneurial spirit. I am happy to have established two very good relationships in particular as a result of this.
The Polyconomics conferences weren’t all business or political networking. There were plenty of light and funny moments, even in the more serious settings. Like the time Senator Pete Domenici, while sitting on a panel increasingly attracted individuals hovering around him whispering. Finally, an exasperated Mr. Domenici asked me to come up to the dais, all while a speaker was making points at the microphone. I asked him did he need help with something and he said yes. In the middle of a weighty discussion he wanted to know who the great pitcher of the Boston Red Sox had been, for the purpose of a sports debate he was having. Of course I was happy to help with the name Roger Clemens. It was hilarious to see the expression of others who had no idea of what the commotion was and why the Senator and I were laughing. And then, there was the night out at a local Palm Beach restaurant and club. I neither drank nor danced but I was successful in teaching then Congressman, now Senator Lindsey Graham how to nod his head back and forth properly while listening to the Notorious B.I.G.’s "One More Chance". All Senator Graham needed was the Versace shades. "This is how Biggie did it right?" Senator Graham asked me for final confirmation. Perhaps either he or artist Paul Wall are the long-awaited White Southern Hip-Hop icon.
These moments and my involvement enlightened me on a world that most Blacks know nothing about. These types of settings are as much a part of the story of how the world works as any congressional committee, election, editorial or Wall St. business deal.
And these conferences were supplemented by connections that Jude suggested on my behalf. One such memorable one was Jude’s insistence that I speak to Bear Stearns Chief International Economist, David Malpass. Sensing my hesitance, Jude encouraged me with his most effective technique, flattery, telling me of Mr. Malpass, in a manner that will forever link us together in my mind, "He is as much a protégé’ of mine as you are." I was sincerely touched and understood the message Jude was trying to convey to me. I wrote him a nice note about how much I appreciated what he said. And I had a very nice brief meeting with David Malpass in his Manhattan office.
One day in 1999, while walking to have lunch at a restaurant in which one of Jude’s sons, Andrew, worked, I asked Jude a question. "Of all of the leaders that you have met, studied, known or advised who impresses you the most?" I had carefully chosen my words. I did not want to know who Jude liked the most, or who he thought was the ‘best’ or who was the favorite. I just wanted to know who had made the biggest impression. Jude literally stopped walking, looked at the ground, paused for a few seconds and said, "Farrakhan." "Minister Farrakhan impresses me the most. I love him. It is as if God is in the room with us when he and I meet and talk." Jude then quickly mentioned one five-hour conversation he had with Minister Farrakhan. Then we walked a bit and Jude said, "And Nixon. Nixon too, in many ways was impressive."
Many people did not understand what it was that made Jude appreciate Minister Farrakhan as he did. I have read virtually everything I could find, available in the public regarding their relationship. And I have read everything that Jude ever wrote in public about Minister Farrakhan, to the best of my knowledge. I have also heard Minister Farrakhan say a few things about Jude and their relationship. And I have even spent time considering their relationship in the light of my understanding of the scriptures, my reading of both the Bible and Holy Qur’an.
I have seen and read people say that both of them were friends because they were crazy; were anti-Semitic; and seeking to promote conservatism among Black people. The explanations are fallacious and really quite silly. And always uninformed. I respect the minority of those who will just be honest and admit that they did not understand it and leave it at that. Unfortunately most people are not humble enough to say they don’t know or to admit that there are some things that their ideology and narrow interests don’t explain or shed light on.
While there were certainly cultural, political and economic factors to their relationship, I honestly saw their interaction as that of a candid friendship, a friendship of the spirit, as much as two public figures, who are meeting late in their lives and careers can share. A friendship guided by respective missions.
I was in a position to see some things that support this opinion.
An example is November of 1998, when I was privileged to read a 4 page letter that Minister Farrakhan had written to Jude. It was touching. In it Minister Farrakhan expressed how worried he was for Jude’s personal safety – as Jude had been receiving death threats because of their association – and his sorrow over the fact that Jude was losing clients. The letter addressed points over which both men were reasoning with one another. Minister Farrakhan was also addressing a couple of points over which he and Jude were not fully in agreement with one another on. And the Minister even enclosed with his letter a book for Jude to review that dealt with an aspect of the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad that Jude did not fully understand. Jude shared with me his reaction and thoughts to the letter. It was clear to me that the quality of the dialogue between these two men was something that Whites and Blacks should study.
The two men genuinely liked one another and respected each other but they did not always agree with one another’s worldview or method. They disagreed, but not for the narrow purpose of competing with one another to see who was right. They disagreed for the purpose of finding agreement and being right. As a result, they were able, through lawful dialogue, to educate one another into a greater understanding of the Truth. As I write this I remember Jude’s telling me that he bluntly told Minister Farrakhan that the economics section of his book, Torchlight For America Chapter 5: Rebuilding The Economy was "obsolete." I asked him how the Minister responded and Jude told me that he gave him a big smile and wanted to know more of why Jude felt that way and what he thought was missing. I also recall a conversation with a client of Jude’s from Massachusetts, John Lakian. Mr. Lakian told me that the thing that was most impressive to him about Minister Farrakhan was his ability, at his age, to learn something that was new to him like Jude’s political and economic model. He said he never seemed threatened by this. I learned a lot about Minister Farrakhan’s heart and mind from what I learned of his relationship with Jude.
Another small example of this is a touching act of kindness– a letter that Minister Farrakhan wrote to Jude’s mother who needed to have cataract surgery and was losing her sight but was uncomfortable about it and delaying the procedure. Jude published the letter, on May 23, 2002 with an introduction by his wife, Patricia Koyce Wanniski, on his website. The letter is called, "The Kindness of Minister Farrakhan". Please read it.
Like so many others, Jude and I did not always get along. In fact we argued semi-regularly, via e-mail, phone and in person. I was not deferential enough and frequently resisted and challenged his arguments and their application to Black America. The classic disagreement took place in 1998 over President Clinton’s impeachment. Not only did I not accept Jude’s arguments in support of why President Clinton should be impeached but I also challenged Jude’s frustration over the Black community’s embrace and defense of President Clinton at the time. I used Jude’s own writings about the collective wisdom of the electorate to help him see why Blacks were supporting the President as they were, rejecting the apparent self-righteous spirit of the Republican Party and identifying with an individual arrested and on trial but to no avail. Jude would rather reject his own thesis than capitulate it seemed. One day, while on the phone, as we went back and forth over the issue Jude said, "Cedric you are full of shit. I’m going to have a heart attack." And hung up the phone. He later apologized repeatedly via e-mail. Abrupt ends to phone conversations were a signature of Jude’s but almost always without parting expletives. Usually a quick and sudden "OK,Bye," was all you got. His sign offs were so impromptu and out of synch – unlike his careful and lucid writings - with the conversation, that they were always unnerving if not hilarious. I am sure those that knew him best can relate the most. You never knew when the conversation was going to end but you knew it could come at any moment after Jude went off on an apparent tangent or two. And there you were with the phone in your hand but no conversation. I guess last Monday he gave us the ultimate in that regard.
Then there was our disagreement over the importance of Tiger Woods. I felt that Jude’s writings, ad nauseum, about Tiger Woods were exaggerated and his emphasis on the young man’s impact overstated. Once, in 2000, at dinner at a country club of which Jude was a member, he became very upset when I challenged his view of the Black golfer. "Cedric you have this antipathy toward Tiger Woods!" I asked Jude to explain what he meant and he pretty much repeated what he had been writing in his memos, which was that Tiger Woods was important because he showed the intellectual capacity of a Black person – demonstrating that Blacks could master the sport which had the highest intellectual to physical ratio, the game that required the most “smarts”. I told Jude that I did not discount that but that I actually thought the Williams’ Sisters were more important for a variety of reasons. One, I pointed out, was the fact that there father, on his own, and without formal training, taught his two daughters how to play a sport, tennis, also dominated by Whites, I reminded Jude. And I said, that the image of a responsible Black father raising his two girls into successful women was a more powerful and important image for the Black community than that which Tiger Woods provides. Jude dismissed my points saying that Whites would disregard the Williams’ Sisters accomplishments as just another example of Blacks running around using their physical acumen to chase a ball. I countered that Blacks were proud of Tiger Woods but would never benefit from his image until he self-identified as a Black man rather than a “Cablanasian”. Jude said, “Well, he has to be taught that. He doesn’t know how to do that yet. Cedric, you just don’t understand how important he is, some White people never respected Black intellect until they saw Tiger Woods.” I said, “Well Jude, I just don’t see Blacks getting but so much credit for their mental capacity from Whites due to a sports figure, so what comes after Tiger Woods to ensure that happens?” And Jude said, "Well, Cedric Muhammad comes next. You are the next level."
The truth is Jude and I were both right. It was only that he cared more about what Whites thought while I cared more about what Blacks thought. I was focused on my target market as he was. Both of us, stubborn.
But it was that stubbornness and bull-dog like determination that made Jude such a good seeker of Truth, as he was much more than a writer or journalist. Even his friends-turned-enemies or cold acquaintances were forced to bear witness. Part of the consternation shared by Jude’s former allies over his friendship with Minister Farrakhan was not over the relationship itself but rather the fact that they were so aware of Jude’s brilliance, due diligence, and research. He once told me that was the dilemma that New York Sun president and editor and former Wall St. Journal editor and former owner and president of The Forward newspaper, Mr. Seth Lipsky was having. Jude told me that if anyone asked him who the best reporter was that he knew, Mr. Lipsky would tell them, “Jude Wanniski”. And now, it was this same Jude Wanniski who was making arguments to him that Minister Farrakhan was not anti-Semitic as was widely believed in the American Jewish political establishment, of which Mr. Lipsky was a de facto member. Jude was eventually successful in convincing The Forward to send respected journalist Jeffrey Goldberg to interview Minister Farrakhan. Jude was excited and told me that after the interview was conducted Jeffrey Goldberg called Jude and told him that he was fighting himself because the Minister’s answers to his questions were so good, comparing the quality and worldview of the Black American Muslim leader’s answers on the Middle East, in particular, to those of an Israeli political party. Jude also told me that right at the interview, Nation Of Islam Chief of Staff, Brother Leonard Muhammad told Jeffrey Goldberg that he knew that Mr. Goldberg would never have the interview accurately published nor would he be successful in conveying - unobstructed by editing - what really took place in his meeting with Minister Farrakhan. Sure enough Jude told me that Mr. Goldberg himself was eventually a bit frustrated at how his story was handled and when it was published. And when I purchased the edition of The Forward in which the article was published it was a joke. No one would have ever known that Minister Farrakhan had granted this young respected journalist three hours of his time and fielded his very good questions about American foreign policy, Black-Jewish relations, the source of his tense relationship with the American Jewish community, and the Middle East conflict. But, fortunately, there was Jude, who obtained an audio copy of the entire interview, had it transcribed and published it on his website in three-parts.
Jude was at his very best when he was on the trail of a story, inspired by an insight he had come across or uniquely valued. You can see it in his explanation of what caused the Crash of 1929. And in how he credibly ‘defeated’ Milton Friedman’s monetarism in the 1980s, dissecting then Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker’s monetary policy blunders. An account which one can read in detail in William Greider’s Secrets Of The Federal Reserve. You could see it in his brilliant expose well prior to the Iraq war regarding Saddam Hussein's alleged gassing of the Kurds; that the espionage case against scientist Wen Ho Lee was fallacious; that Alan Greenspan had caused a monetary deflation by not respecting the signals sent by the dramatic fall in the price of gold; that the capital gains tax was a factor in the market fall in March-April of the year 2000; and then, there was Jude’s dogged determination in making the case that there was no chemical or biological warfare capability at the pharmaceutical factory that President Clinton ordered bombed in the Sudan.
Once Jude was on the case there was no one better.
Many of those that knew Jude in the late 70s, the 80s and early 90s and fell out with him in recent years would have the public believe that somehow Jude was not the same. That somehow he became "too smart" for his own good or too ambitious. And although I only knew Jude from 1997 to 2005, I wonder if these individuals really knew Jude any better than I. From what I have learned from Jude and of him, he seemed to be the same man who witnessed Arthur Laffer drawing the famous Laffer Curve for Dick Cheney in the December of 1974 on a cocktail napkin; advised Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole; worked with Congressman Charles Rangel to promote Roger Ferguson as the Federal Reserve’s only Black governor; and who convinced Steve Forbes to run for President. The man I read about and the man I had gotten to know appeared to be one in the same, in spirit, to me. But what appeared to have changed from my vantage point, was the usefulness that those - who had taken what Jude presented and made careers and profits out of it - had for Jude’s courage and intellectual freedom. It is not that anyone of his former disciples, partners and associates ever overcame Jude’s arguments regarding Minister Farrakhan, Saddam Hussein, Wen Ho Lee or the Neo-Conservatives. Just as they never overcame his arguments regarding the gold standard, the wedge model, or the Laffer Curve. The problem was that they did not know how to balance their status quo maintenance of their personal gain and political power with Jude’s continued quest for the Truth, progressive change and desire to establish justice. The individual who reaches a plateau of learning and station will always be uncomfortable with the individual who advocates for higher and higher reaches. Even if that individual has been their benefactor.
In his last years Jude was finding himself more and more in the good graces and favor of American progressives, the Muslim world, and the Democratic Party. It was not that any political realignment had taken place or that Jude had a change of heart. It is just that his search for the truth had brought him out of favor with those in power and the pendulum of favor had shifted to a new group of peers for Jude to stand shoulder to shoulder with. I am confident that the pendulum would have swung back again toward the center and right, and then back again. No one stuck in the confines of ideology and narrow interest could have walked with Jude for long. Even Robert Novak, Jude’s longest and closest political journalist ally lamented over the fact that he too, eventually, could not tolerate Jude’s drive.
And that is why Jude was not really just a Supply-Sider, to me.
Jude wrote and told me that Minister Farrakhan told him that perhaps he – Jude – was an angel sent to him by Allah(God) to teach him how to speak to White people – a form of special help to him, after years of speaking primarily to Black audiences (If one watches the end of Minister Farrakhan’s World Islamic People’s Leadership speech made in July 1997 in Chicago, they can see and hear Minister Farrakhan openly acknowledge Jude’s attendance at the event and a conversation they had, and subsequently make a reference to the presence of angels). Jude rejected that possibility saying that there was no one way to speak to Black or White people. I don’t think, as a Catholic, Jude fully understand what the Minister meant, consciously, nor was he aware of what the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught of angels or their function as messengers or special human beings. But subconsciously I think he – Jude - knew who he really was.
He frequently, publicly and privately, described himself as a theologian. At times, it appeared to me he felt more comfortable with that term than he did with other political and economic descriptions of the nature of his work. Reportedly, Jude said, "There is a power moving me that I don't quite understand." I never heard him say those exact words but I heard that sentiment in how he would tell me in his latter years that he was increasingly irritable because he felt that time was running out for him to save people and correct mistakes that leaders were making. He also was increasingly frustrated at his inability to work as hard as he used to due to progressive ailments and illness. I remember him telling me once by phone, "Cedric, don’t ever get sick. You don’t want to go through this and have to slow down." His frustration was not due to diminished faculties or intelligence, Jude was as sharp as ever and still worked harder than most, right until his departure. But rather, because he realized that his mission to ‘save’ remained unfulfilled, in his person, with each passing year, he could never be comfortable or at peace. The power that was moving Jude that he did not understand, I think, increasingly made him sad at the worsening condition of the world, as it is written in the book of Ecclisiastes chapter 7, verse 4, "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning..."
Last Saturday at Jude’s funeral in Morristown, New Jersey, Jude’s younger brother, Terry shared with those in attendance more details of something that many of us already knew to a degree. Terry mentioned that Jude’s favorite book was, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. He said that he asked Jude why that was his favorite book, and Jude told him he would have to read it. Terry did and told his brother that he still did not understand why it was his favorite book. Jude asked him to summarize what the book was about. And Terry told him, concluding with the recognition that the story is about a person who wasted his life. And Jude, he said, responded by telling him that is exactly why the book mattered so much to him when he read it at the age of 17. He never wanted to waste his life. And he didn’t. He is one of a handful of people that I know who every time I interacted with them, they were working as if this day was their last. Terry Wanniski, in tears, repeated for all in attendance what his Brother believed and lived by - "Don't waste your life."
Throughout the funeral I kept in my mind the quote accurately attributed to Jude in the New York Times obituary: "I truly believe that I can save people and that the supply-side revolution can save the world from decline, poverty, disease and war." How ironic or even appropriate then, that Jude would leave on the day that Hurricane Katrina wrecked havoc resulting in an increase of so much more of what he wanted to save us all from. He also died on the same day that the Census Bureau reported that the poverty rate rose and the median income of Americans fell, even as the economy grew. I pondered what Jude’s "Memo On The Margin" would have been in response to Katrina and its aftermath of political bungling and arguing, racial tension, and economic devastation and competition. I think I know some of what he would have said. And I know others who knew him and his spirit well, do too.
When his brilliant son, Matthew, read a prayer that asked God to guide and correct leadership and save the world from the things that Jude feared and opposed, I felt his father’s spirit coming through him. How painful but powerful that those who knew Jude the best and relied on his counsel would now have only their value system, his words, example, and memories and whatever higher power they believed in, if at all, to consult as guidance through a rapidly deteriorating world environment. I have even entertained the thought that Jude was taken on the day that Katrina and Census Bureau revealed so much, as a sign that a necessary fall - for some - would be accelerated. Jude’s presence and persistence gave them all a chance, and potentially only prolonged their era of misguidance and false leadership, if they nibbled at the outer regions of his wisdom and sound advice – enough to keep them in power and extend their time but not enough to really solve problems or ‘save’ people.
As Jude’s casket was carried through the aisle and out of the church I was very moved, as I had never imagined that I would see this super man in this way. As I saw his wife Patricia following, grieving, my eyes watered, and when I saw Jude’s mother following in a wheelchair, but reaching out in the aisle to touch and comfort those in attendance, tears rolled down my face, as I was so impressed and touched by the strength of this woman who raised this special human being. And as the music ended and the family exited and then awaited outside, before the internment, to greet those of us who had come to say goodbye to Jude, I found myself the furthest back from the Church entrance, still in the building, but at the end of the line with no one behind me. I turned away from those in front of me and put my head down and wept quietly. I could not hold it in any longer. It was not the flesh and blood that I cried over, it was the beauty and power of the unique spirit of such a special human being that I thanked Allah (God) for the privilege of having known so well.
I know, as usual, you said it so abruptly last Monday. But now, allow me.
Wednesday, September 7, 2005
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