Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm has ignited a statewide debate on race and achievement after suggesting in his new book that culture explains in part why some minority groups outperform others.
His book, “Two Wands, One Nation: An Essay on Race and Community in America” (Fulcrum Publishing, 2006), Mr. Lamm explores how black and Hispanic cultures fall short of Asian and Jewish cultures in fostering ambition and success.
“I ask what factors besides discrimination and racism are important indicators of minority achievement,” Mr. Lamm said in an interview. “I don’t believe that Asians are naturally smart and Hispanics are naturally dumb. I believe that different cultures give different signals and some cultures are giving out stronger performance signals than others.”
Mr. Lamm promoted his thesis in a speech at the Vail Symposium last month, with predictable results. The three-term Democratic governor was vilified among political leaders and in the Denver press, charged with racism and insensitivity to Hispanics and blacks.
Sen. Ken Salazar and former Sen. Gary Hart, Colorado Democrats, have disavowed his comments. Hispanic leader Veronica Barela told the Denver Post that Mr. Lamm was “out of control” and a “hard-core racist.”
The criticism hasn’t come only from Democrats. Colorado Republican Party Chairman Bob Martinez criticized Mr. Lamm for his “racist and bigoted remarks” during an appearance by the former governor at a Republican gathering.
Mr. Lamm gained an unexpected champion Thursday in Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican. In an interview with KOA-AM’s Mike Rosen, the governor waded into the debate by defending Mr. Lamm while blasting his critics for their “knee-jerk” responses.
“I’ve known Dick Lamm for 25 or 30 years and there isn’t a racist bone in his body,” said Mr. Owens, who leaves office in January because of term limits.
Mr. Owens, a white Catholic, said he wished his own children had benefited from the work ethic of Asian and Jewish cultures.
“There are many days … when I wish they’d have more aspects of Jewish and Asian culture,” said Mr. Owens. “I wish they’d get up earlier in the morning, I wish they would work harder and in many respects that’s what we do see out of many of the Asian and the Jewish culture. My kids are all Anglo, they’re Irish, English and they’re wonderful kids and I wish they’d work a little harder sometimes.”
In his slim book — just 80 pages — Mr. Lamm gives readers a hypothetical choice between two magic wands “that have sweeping powers to change society.”
“With one wand you could wipe out all racism and discrimination from the hearts and minds of white America. The other wand you could wave across the ghettos and barrios of America and infuse the inhabitants with Japanese or Jewish values, respect for learning and ambition,” he writes.
Mr. Lamm suggests that society, as well as blacks and Hispanics, would be better off choosing the latter wand.
“A Confucian or Jewish love of learning would gain minorities far more than any affirmative action laws we might pass,” he says in the book.
Never one to steer clear of touchy subjects, Mr. Lamm has broken ranks with fellow Democrats to emerge as a leading critic of illegal immigration and its effects on U.S. culture. He led the drive for a statewide ballot measure to ban services for illegal aliens until the Colorado legislature adopted the proposal last month in a special session.
Mr. Lamm said he gained the impetus for the book after reading an article in a University of Denver in-house publication that blamed minority underperformance on “prejudice, racism and systemic racial oppression.”
Mr. Lamm, who serves as co-director of the university’s Institute for Public Policy Studies, submitted an article in response suggesting that black and Hispanic culture was in part responsible for underachievement, but a vice provost rejected it as “too controversial.”
He dedicates “Two Wands, One Nation” to the University of Denver, saying, “May you come to understand that on a college campus, ‘too controversial’ is not the answer to anything, ever.”