Vivek Ramaswamy: Biotech billionaire; Republican presidential nomination hopeful; truth list maker. CNN reports that his fans say he is “quick and assertive,” but writing for yahoo!news, conservative pundit Matt Lewis calls him “pompous and oleaginous.” In the Republican candidates’ debate, Mike Pence called him a “rookie,” while Nikki Haley told him, “You have no foreign policy experience and it shows.”
All of these characterizations may be true. Even so, Ramaswamy is offering something that no other Republican candidate has in this election cycle—a plain summation of foundational beliefs. In his final moment at the debate on August 23, Ramaswamy used his time to state “Ten Truths;” ten premises he’s offering to voters on the campaign trail that signal: “Vote for me, and my policies will build on these propositions.” On his website, he sells TRUTH caps and T-shirts.
Ramaswamy is not my candidate. It’s hard for me to ignore some of his proposals—including on Ukraine, Taiwan, and Edward Snowden. I’ve noticed that he’s had to backtrack some of his unscripted comments to journalists.
Nevertheless, it is equally hard to deny that his Ten Truths offer a compact statement of views that resonate with many American voters, whether they agree or disagree. The upside to Ramaswamy’s list is clarity and a statement of beliefs widely held by Americans; the downside is the risk of more polarization. In either case, those who oppose Ramaswamy’s candidacy by disparaging his Ten Truths should be cautious about that tactic.
It’s worthwhile to examine each premise of his Ten Truths and to ask a single question: How does it match the opinions of American voters? Here’s the list:
1. God is real.
For centuries, this proposition united the great majority of Americans, even as the nation moved from a predominantly New England-style Puritanism to a theologically varied landscape of churches, mega-churches, meeting houses, temples, synagogues, and mosques. It’s also true that over the many years, skeptics and nonbelievers have expressed their contrasting views. And while there are pushbacks against “civil religion” and the nonsectarian manifestations of religious belief such as the “In God We Trust” printed on America currency, or even against chaplains in the armed forces, Americans have still elected men like Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush who wear their religion on their sleeves.
Recent survey data by PRRI point to a weakening of American religious participation in this century. Among young people, there are many more openly professing no religion, the “nones.” But Gallup reported in 2022 that 81 percent of Americans believe in God. Despite the many breakdowns and nuances in the data, the upshot is that a large majority of Americans still agree with Ramaswamy’s generalized first truth.
2. There are two genders.
This is a rejoinder to new thinking on gender fluidity and the rising number of young people undergoing hormone therapies and transgender surgery.
It’s often remarked that while changing American attitudes on race and civil rights required decades, acceptance and legalization of gay marriage happened rapidly. Only in the past few years have transgender issues surged to the forefront of public debate. In some states and school districts, trans advocacy has rapidly become public policy.
But what do the American people actually think? In a flurry of polls and surveys, here’s a finding to notice. The number of Americans who responded to Pew “saying that a person is a man or a woman is determined by sex assigned at birth” is rising. It was 54 percent in a 2017 survey. In 2022, 60 percent said gender is “assigned at birth.”
This year Gallup added that “a larger majority of Americans now (69%) than in 2021 (62%) say transgender athletes should only be allowed to compete on sports teams that conform with their birth gender. Likewise, fewer endorse transgender athletes being able to play on teams that match their current gender identity, 26%, down from 34%.”
Again, this second truth is held by a majority of Americans.
3. Fossil fuels are necessary for human flourishing.
A comprehensive survey by Pew published just this June showed that the public has mixed opinions on the transition away from fossil fuels to renewables. It reported that “67 percent of Americans say the U.S. should prioritize developing alternative energy sources.” But 68 percent say that the United States should “use a mix of fossil fuels and renewables,” while 35 percent say “the U.S. should never stop using fossil fuels.”
It may be that powerful interest groups are promoting doubt about renewables. On the other hand, advocates of transition envision a rosy, clean future with scant regard for economic realities. As long ago as 2016, Ted Nordhaus, writing in Foreign Affairs, cautioned against visions of “utopian futures.” He surmised, “The present is complicated and consequential. The future, by contrast, is shining, weightless, and perfectly optimized: a place where trade-offs are unnecessary and constraints can be assumed away.” Many voters—especially those tens of millions who make their livelihoods in the oil, gas, coal, energy, and automotive industries, for starters—may be reasonably skeptical about that “shining” future. They may conclude that Ramaswamy’s proposition is more true than the dreams of a new world a-coming.
4. Reverse racism is racism.
Ibram X. Kendi argues: “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” In contrast, Chief Justice John Roberts says, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
On this hot button issue, we can sidestep asking whether Ramaswamy’s premise, no matter how fearless, is itself racist or only clueless. We only need ask: “What do Americans think?”
Gallup reported in 2020 that more “detailed statistical analysis” confirms “the social and economic inequities facing Black Americans.” “But when it comes to policies that explicitly take race into account in making hiring and promotion decisions in order to remedy past discrimination and overcome implicit bias, the public demurs.” Gallup’s report cited a 2018 survey by NORC at the University of Chicago: “72% of U.S. adults oppose giving preference to Black Americans in hiring and promotion, including 43% who say they oppose strongly.”
Ramaswamy’s fourth truth, then, reflects what a substantial number of Americans feel.
5. An open border is no border.
“The border” evokes discussion of a tangle of policies— including immigration law; asylum claims; “give me your tired, your poor” sentiments; the wall; border patrolling; “catch and release;” refugees versus economic migrants; numerical limitations; “waiting in line;” labor shortages in the United States; Dreamers; Congressional deadlock; and comprehensive immigration reform.
A 2021 survey by the Cato Institute (a conservative/libertarian think tank that favors expanding legal immigration) reported, however, that “although most people believe immigration is a human right, only a third (33%) want to ‘eliminate all restrictions on immigration’ and allow anyone to move here after the pandemic. Furthermore, only about a third (29%) want to increase immigration from its current levels.”
Ramaswamy’s fifth truth is a majority opinion.
6. Parents determine the education of their children.
In the 1925 case Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the Supreme Court ruled: “The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments of this Union rest excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only.” Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled, “The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”
The ruling protects independent and religious schools, and homeschoolers also rest their right to educate their own children on this case. According to Education Next, 10 percent of U.S. students attend private schools, 9 percent attend district schools of choice, and 6 percent attend charters. (These percentages unhelpfully group parochial and religions schools as “private schools.”) The National Center for Education Statistics adds that in 2019, 2.8 percent of students were homeschooled.
There are many new dissatisfactions over public schooling—the lengthy closure of schools for COVID; the end of “tracking” students into groups; perceived arrogance of teachers’ unions; unpopular access to female rest and locker rooms by biological males who self-identify as women; not to mention unwise comments by some educators and politicians that dismiss and belittle parents. Many parents who want options for their children—and access to public funding to finance them—will welcome Ramaswamy’s premise. The families of the nearly 29 percent of students not in public schools may well be joined by a substantial number of additional parents—think of those who applied for their children to attend charter schools but were not chosen in the municipality’s lottery for the limited number of spaces—who will agree with Ramaswamy’s proposition.
7. The nuclear family is the greatest form of governance known to mankind.
We usually don’t associate “family” with “governance,” but I sense this statement builds on Edmund Burke, who wrote, “to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ, as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country and to mankind.” It implies that well-raised children will become responsible adults and citizens who will assure good “governance.”
A vast social science literature has examined the welfare of children in different family settings. Ramaswamy’s seventh truth parallels the conclusion of Steven Malanga, who addressed “growing up outside the two-parent family—and in particular, growing up without fathers.” He stated that “decades of research tell us that such children are far likelier to fail in school and work and to fall into violence than those raised in two-parent families.” A 2020 report by the Joint Economic Committee’s Republicans cited Princeton’s Sara McLanahan conclusions that “if we were asked to design a system for making sure that children's basic needs were met, we would probably come up with something quite similar to the two-parent ideal.”
Ramaswamy’s statement may be overbold, and the quotient of necessary qualifications to it is high. That said, married couples are likely to agree with this premise, while additional others, coping with different family circumstances, may quite reasonably be thought to wish it were so in their heart of hearts.
8. Capitalism lifts people up from poverty.
I stopped using the word “capitalism” to describe the American economic system years ago; decades of dispute with socialism and communism tarnished the word. I now say “the markets and enterprise economy.” Markets and prices provide signals that improve efficiencies, lower costs, and foster greater productivity. Enterprises, profit and non-profit, are vehicles that channel the risk-taking and entrepreneurship that grow economies, quicken material progress, reduce poverty, and lead to better health and longer lives.
World Bank President Jin Young Kim stated in 2018, “Over the last 25 years, more than a billion people have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty, and the global poverty rate is now lower than it has ever been in recorded history. This is one of the greatest human achievements of our time.” The lengthy 2018 World Bank report, however, never used the word “capitalism.” And a swarm of less measured critics deny that it is capitalism that improves the human condition, rather identifying it as the cause of dehumanization, exploitation, pollution, and zones of continued poverty.
Anyone who visited the “Four Tigers”—Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore—a half century ago, who has recently revisited those societies will testify to their amazing material progress. The growth and prosperity of Chinese cities continue to astonish. Most Americans are not experts in development economics, but they know that the advance of “capitalism” and the retreat of state direction, “license raj,” and cramped trade have prompted the expansion of economic growth and human welfare.
Pew again provides relavant data: Positive views of capitalism declined from 2019 to 2022, but 57 percent of Americans still regard capitalism favorably. In the same three years, positive views of socialism also declined—to only 36 percent.
Ramaswamy’s eight truth will speak to many Americans.
9. There are three branches of the U.S. government, not four.
Ramaswamy’s “fourth branch” means the departments and agencies in the executive branch that increasingly govern through regulations and rulings. A certain consciousness about the powers of a “fourth branch,” “the administrative state,” or the “deep state” is now common. How did New London, Connecticut, seize a residential neighborhood’s properties to build a mall (a mall never constructed)? Is a mud puddle a wetland under the Clean Water Act? If Congress has passed a law with ambiguities or unclear provisions, is it proper for administrative agencies to determine its rules?
What’s the state of American public opinion on this issue? A host of challenges to administrative law powers and rulings are reviewed by state and federal courts each year. My take is that the issues have not yet broken out of agencies and courts into active public discussion, so in the realm of opinion this premise is untested. Americans have long been taught about the three branches of government, however, and ordinary popular understandings may resist the idea that unelected agencies are now the decision-making bodies.
10. The U.S. constitution is the strongest guarantor of freedoms in history.
Although this is a familiar and longstanding American assertion, new critical thinking may be eroding it. The original Constitution included the three-fifths clause for instance, so was it truly the strongest guarantor in history? Does providing an equal two votes in the Senate for each state, populous or not, ultimately restrict the progress of rights and democracy? Not to mention how presidents are not chosen by the popular vote. Gallup reports that 61 percent of American voters want to replace the Electoral College with a popular vote system.
A recent survey by yougov.com, however, provides data that shows how highly Americans value the Constitution. The survey confirms how Americans, “strongly” or “somewhat,” support the Bill of Rights—freedom of speech, peaceful assembly, religion, (96 percent); protection from unreasonable search and seizure, (94 percent); protection from self-incrimination and double jeopardy, (92 percent); right to a jury, (94 percent); no excessive bail or cruel or unusual punishment, (91 percent). Even the controversial right to keep and bear arms has 75 percent support. The majority of voters may not have studied Supreme Court opinions, but they have learned about these rights in school—or perhaps on every episode of “Law and Order.”
Again, this tenth truth conforms to most Americans’ understandings.
Friends who work with sophisticated surveys and polls may blanch at my simple take on Ramaswamy’s premises and Americans’ beliefs. But his ten propositions are solidly traditional at a time when agendas of “change” have taken center stage in American discourse. Perhaps Ramaswamy’s Ten Truths correspond to an older demographic, but older citizens still vote, even if their views seem, to their youngers, retrograde. Holding on to old beliefs is no disqualification to vote.
Progressive champions of a revolution in American values may, then, underestimate the attractions of continuity rather than randical change. Many voters are confused and exasperated by polarization. They resent being told their beliefs are part of the problem.
Ramaswamy’s Ten Truths will be contested, and no doubt each will garner its share of outrage. And nasty anonymous online criticism may be easily ratcheted up by the fake social media accounts of America’s authoritarian rivals. But such online tempests may mask a true shared belief between a majority of American voters and Ramaswamy, that other campaigns would do well not to discount. The bottom line? A candidate who states some “truths” or premises of action in simple language, that address voters’ confusions and dismays, and that draw on old American certainties, may well win more votes than pundits think are deserved.
My crystal ball is blurry. It’s difficult to see Ramaswamy surpassing Republican primary voters’ support for former President Donald Trump, but there are a few options open for the billionare political newcomer.
One path is marked by his own Ten Truths. Another follows the direction of TRUTH Social—Trump’s media platform. The upside of a Ten Truths campaign is that Ramaswamy would be signaling that he wants the Republican nomination on his own terms. The downside is that that will not matter to the majority of Republican primary voters who intend to stick with former president Trump come what may. A forceful campaign for the Republican nomination resting on ten premises that have wide appeal could offer a high road to the party’s primary voters, but evidence that they want to take a high road seems slim.
On the other hand, a louder echoing of the former president’s themes might improve Ramaswamy’s chances of peeling away Republicans who like Trump’s policies but who want a younger candidate. The TRUTH Social path also opens up the possibility of Ramaswamy becoming Trump’s running mate. Finally, there’s always a chance that President Trump might not complete a second term.
Whatever one’s view of the future, reckoning with Ramaswamy’s premises or propositions, his Ten Truths, is warranted.
Donald M. Bishop served three decades in the U.S. Foreign Service, speaking on American institutions, values, and elections to hundreds of officials and opinion leaders and thousands of students and faculty in Korea, Bangladesh, Nigeria, China, and other countries.
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