Feb. 6, 2007
BOOK REVIEW: Herman Badillo’s ‘One Nation, One Standard’ Pulls No Punches in Attack on Nation’s Touchy, Feely Multiculturalism, Lax Educational Standards
Reviewed By David M. Kinchen
Huntington News Network Book Critic
Hinton, WV (HNN) – Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, New York City’s City College was known as the “Harvard of the Poor,” relates Herman Badillo (City College, Class of 1951) in his outstanding new book “One Nation, One Standard,” (Sentinel, a Penguin USA imprint, 240 pages, $23.95).
Born in 1929 in Puerto Rico, Badillo came to the mainland without a word of English at his command. He was a product of what he calls the Hispanic “500-year Siesta,” a fact of life that has prevented Latin American nations – with the exception of manufacturing powerhouse Brazil – from achieving their potential. It could be called the reverse of German sociologist Max Weber’s famous “Protestant Ethic” discussed just over 100 years ago in his famous treatise “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”
Thanks to growing up in non-Hispanic neighborhoods like Burbank, CA and parts of New York City, Badillo became fluent in English – without the crippling effects of bilingual education – which as a liberal Democrat he once embraced.
Badillo could say – like Ronald Reagan – that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party – it left him. In the wake of his work with Rudy Giuiliani’s successful mayoral campaign in 1993, where he contributed the campaign slogan “One City, One Standard,” Badillo changed his registration to Republican, a not unusual situation in the strange world of New York politics – consider the case of current Mayor Mike Bloomberg -- but a rarity among Puerto Ricans.
City College, one of the crown jewels of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, and its sister colleges like Hunter College and Queens College, boasts such eminent alumni as polio vaccine inventor Dr. Jonas Salk, civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable and Congressman Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Moynihan – who was a distinguished sociologist – is a particular role model for Badillo, who in the 1960s became the first native of Puerto Rico to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. In his first term as a congressman, Badillo represented a predominantly Greek-American constituency in Astoria, Queens, and he praises the Greek community for preserving their culture while at the same time “participating fully in the life of New York City” as Americans.
Badillo, who went on to become both a CPA and an attorney after graduating from City College, states that City College and CUNY in general once had higher admission standards than Harvard – and the quality of its graduates was living proof.
All this changed beginning in 1969, when radical black and Hispanic students took over CUNY headquarters and demanded “open admissions” to CUNY. Badillo relates in this memoir that is also a call for higher standards in education and political discourse that the caving into the demands of the radicals destroyed the reputation of the CUNY system. Only after Badillo and others began working to restore the reputation of the system in the 1990s did the CUNY system recover from this decline.
Badillo confirms many of my suspicions that higher education has declined since he – and I, who graduated 10 years after he did, in 1961 – attended college. Much of this is due to grade inflation, but lower admission standards and various forms of affirmative action that were supposed to help under-served minorities have had the opposite effect by depriving many poorly educated blacks and Hispanics of a meaningful and valid college degree.
Badillo points to other American groups that have faced discrimination (Pages 27-28) -- including Jews and Asians – and how their dedication to education – and especially their parents’ faith in study and learning – made these groups achieve the highest levels in America.
“The primary determinant of any immigrant group’s success or failure in America is its attitude toward education,” Badillo writes. “American Jews and Asian immigrants have succeeded because both of those cultures place an enormously high value on intellect, educational diligence, and hard work.”
He might have added black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, including retired Army General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. It’s a truism that blacks from Jamaica and other English-speaking Caribbean nations place a tremendous premium on “educational diligence” and hard work.
On pages 28 and 29, Badillo writes that even in the “dysfunctional” school system of New York City, Asian kids are the achievers of today: “Gotham’s elite high schools – such as Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science – have substantial Asian populations.”
Kudos to Badillo for bringing this to light in this outstanding book, which bears the intriguing subtitle of “An Ex-Liberal on How Hispanics Can Succeed Just Like Other Immigrant Groups”: It’s something I noticed from my 16 years in California, a state with an abysmal history of discrimination toward Asians, including those from China and Japan.
Despite this history, Asians are the highest achievers in the Golden State -- a state that has the economy of a major nation. Silicon Valley without Asians – including many from India -- would be a shadow of its impressive presence today.
Hispanics who buy into the value of education are also achieving much throughout California and the Southwest. One of the most impressive speeches I’ve heard in five decades of journalism was at a 2004 seminar in Houston, where I heard former Clinton cabinet member – and former San Antonio mayor -- Henry Cisneros speak on housing for lower income groups. For another take on Cisneros, read (Page 168) Badillo’s account of President Bill Clinton’s use of then Housing and Urban Development Secretary Cisneros to aid in the failed re-election of NYC Mayor David Dinkins in 1993.
I’d like to see Badillo elected President of the U.S., although I have a feeling he’s backing Rudy Giuliani. At another 2004 journalism seminar, this time in the late fall in New York City, I listened to Giuliani address a standing-room only audience of urban planners and developers. I must say I was impressed with his eloquence.
Speaking of Giuliani – who contributed the foreward to this book – here’s the assessment of “America’s Mayor” of Badillo’s book: “The greatest lesson of Herman Badillo’s story is that the genius of American life — the upward ladder of opportunity that American freedom at its best provides — is better at solving most any problem than any government program.” Wise words, indeed!
I recommend “One Nation, One Standard” to all those who believe that politicians can recognize the error of their ways and return to the straight and narrow path of righteousness.
About the Author: Herman Badillo is a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute. He is, in addition to being a former congressman, a former deputy mayor of New York City; a former borough president of the Bronx and chairman of the board of the City University of New York.
Publisher’s web site: www.penguin.com