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Corruption in American Education Is Empowering Communist China—Heritage President Kevin Roberts

“Our policymakers, our school board officials, our superintendents, and our governors have the future of those kids in their hands. And they abuse that,” says Kevin Roberts, president of the Heritage Foundation, a top conservative American think tank.

After months of missed schooling during this pandemic, American children are woefully behind. And public schools are pouring resources into teaching kids about race and gender, instead of excellence in basic subjects like reading and writing, he says.

In this episode, we look at how Roberts is shifting Heritage’s focus. We discuss education reform, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and how the Chinese Communist Party has subverted the American system.

“We need to wake up and recognize this threat has been in our backyard—literally—because of our own freedom … We have to confront this great threat or all of the other policies we’re working on could be for naught.”

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Jan Jekielek: Kevin Roberts, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Mr. Kevin Roberts: Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, and it’s really high time. I’ve been wanting to do it since you were one of the headliners  that are defending the constitution event, which was just about a year ago now.

Mr. Roberts: Well, it seems longer than that.

Mr. Jekielek: A lot has happened. And frankly, you were in a different job. I didn’t even realize that you  would be moving to D.C.

Mr. Roberts: I didn’t either for the record.

Mr. Jekielek: No. So, why don’t we actually start here? Okay? As you suggested here, a lot has happened in  the last year, a lot of it fits in with a bit of your life trajectory. So, I want to give our viewers a sense of where you’re coming from. Who is Kevin Roberts?

Mr. Roberts: Well, two important aspects there. The first is, and I guess this is what most people would know about me publicly, which is that, as a historian of early America and someone who has been in academia, a professor, I care deeply about this country’s story and about getting it right. Part of that first aspect about me Jan is that I’m also a son of the Cold War. 

Growing up in the 1980s, I was literally afraid that the Soviet Union would invade the United States. Perhaps it’s from watching the movie “Red Dawn,” some of that might have been overwrought. But, I think you can relate as well, as men of the west, to understand that real fear. And so, there’s a, you might call it, academic or intellectual understanding of what’s at stake, which comes from my understanding of the political philosophy that went into the founding of the country.

But the second thing that people may not know, and they have no reason to really, is, they see the president of the Heritage Foundation, they see a guy who is a historian, and they don’t realize that I grew up in a working class family in South Louisiana. And, the way I see the world is black and white. There’s good and there’s evil. And there’s nothing in between. Good people are capable of making incorrect decisions. I certainly make incorrect decisions, hopefully not evil ones. People who are beset with evil, we can hope, and I would argue, pray that they can become good.

But the point about that is, that even though I’m in Washington D.C., and leading what many people say is the world’s leading conservative think tank, and even though I am an academic, I’m a regular guy first. I hunt, and fish, and spend as much time outside the nation’s capital as I can, for one reason in particular. And that’s to stay real, as my kids like to say. And I think that gives me both a certain concrete understanding of what’s at stake, because of the centralized power in the country. But it also gives me a deep passion for making sure that when we’re talking about policy and heavy things, that we’re doing so in a way that reflects the way real people talk about them. I think we need more of that in the United States.

Mr. Jekielek: You were at Wyoming Catholic College before you headed up to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and you made some pretty big decisions. I guess this was in the mid 2010s.

Mr. Roberts: That’s right.

Mr. Jekielek: You decided, “No federal funding for my college.” And, you got a lot of criticism for that. And so, tell me about that. Why did you need to do that?

Mr. Roberts: Yes, criticism follows courage, as I have found. Well, Wyoming Catholic College at that point was the newest college of faith of any stripe in the country. And therefore, we were coming up on this status for accreditation that allowed us to be eligible for the first time for federal student loans and grants. And trust me, we could have used the money. 

We were in the middle of this fight with the Obama administration over the contraceptive mandate for Obamacare. And as I tell non-Catholic friends, you don’t have to agree with Catholic theology on that. But, if an administration can violate that sacred understanding we have of the human person and of the family, then they’re going to violate anything else, right? And, we were co-plaintiffs with Little Sisters of the Poor, as you know, we eventually won that case, but we’re in the middle of that case. And that was really the context, in which, I, and my board, and our faculty decided, “It’s a really bad idea.”

Knowing that, Barack Obama’s the president of the United States, considering this is before Donald Trump came down the escalator that we thought Hillary Clinton was going to succeed Obama, that we would be in business, so to speak, with Obama’s or Clinton’s U.S. Department of Education. And we said, “Well, we would love to have this money. It would represent 20 percent of our annual budget. You’re looking at the guy who had to travel around the country coast to coast raising money.” It was the right decision. 

Of course, as we would argue at that college, and I realize to this day, the Lord blessed that decision, because while we continue to have to hustle, and the college has done really well since then, what it did for our students, and for our supporters, and I think for people around the country was say, “This little college that no one knew about decided to stand up against Leviathan.”

And, even though a lot of criticism came my way from bureaucrats, from media types, from “The New York Times,” which derisively called us cowboy Catholics, we took that as great encouragement that we were doing the right thing. And, since then, since I’ve come into public policy full-time, that’s really stuck with me that you make the right decision because it’s the right thing to do. You don’t make it because it’s popular. And I think, if we can get back in America to more of our policy makers having that courage, which is just simplistic, it’s really good, it’s an easy thing to do, then I think this country will be better off.

Mr. Jekielek: But you were homeschooled, right? Do I have that right?

Mr. Roberts: I wasn’t homeschooled, but my wife and I homeschool our four kids. And so, even though our oldest three children attended for their first years, the school that we started in Louisiana, once we moved to Wyoming, we started homeschooling and we have homeschooled for a decade. And as I like to say, we have a successful college student. The other younger siblings are doing well. If nothing else, we haven’t messed them up.

Mr. Jekielek: Why? Why did you choose that? 

Mr. Roberts: Well, I’m an educator. My wife’s a smart gal. And, we realized that when we moved to Wyoming, there weren’t good options. I’m not trying to be ugly by saying that. I’m a fifth generation teacher.  I’ve never attended anything but a public school. So I’m very grateful for what I was taught in terms of the hard skills of education. I’m also grateful as I think about the public schools I attended in Southern Louisiana, that all of my teachers transmitted American values as a very now misunderstood part of education. They did that for us in the 1980s and 90s. 

But the problem, Jan, is we moved to Wyoming and the public schools weren’t an option. Even in red state Wyoming, because I happen to know, based on what I do, that the education was poor, there was not this transmission of American values to the next generation. And the private schools weren’t great.

And so, we decided that we would start homeschooling. And, it has been a great blessing for our family in terms of the education, almost all the credit goes to my wife, because she’s the one in the trenches, right? And we have the ability to do that because we’re willing to make the financial sacrifices to be a one salary family. And also, know that from those sacrifices come many blessings, which is, I travel around the country.  My kids are often able to come with me. My son knows Washington D.C. well, even though we’re new arrivals, because he’s often on the road with me.

So, I would encourage people to contemplate homeschooling. But also with this caveat. I believe as a very proud American, we need to continue to have public schools that teach excellence for every child, regardless of their walk of life. It’s one of the most noble things about America, among many noble things. And the second is, we’ve got a lot to do to get back to that point. So even those of us who are homeschooling have a vested interest in terms of our civic responsibility and making sure that our public schools are a lot better.

Mr. Jekielek: So what do you mean exactly when you say American values? Because, there’s a lot of debate  about that at the moment.

Mr. Roberts: Sure. Well, it starts with a broad context and I promise that I won’t go all academic on you, that there is truth, capital T, truth, singular. Not multiple truths, as so many members of the U.S. Senate, left of center like to say. There are facts. And, part of that objective truth, part of the facts about America are  that this country was founded with a very noble objective. And, someone of any faith, someone from any ethnic background, anyone from any economic background can come to America and know that… 

Now, especially when we think about our law and the progress we’ve made, they are guaranteed equal opportunity. And that equal opportunity comes from an understanding of natural law, which is that, each one of us, regardless of our differences in skin color, differences in religion, differences in being rich or poor, we’re the same. We’re equal as I understand it in God’s eyes.

But, another beautiful thing about America is it’s pluralism. So that in our secular civic language, we would talk about our creator. And, therefore being equal in our creator’s eyes, we have through our declaration of independence, our constitution, and the laws that have flowed from them created a society in which for the first time in human history, you and I would be offended if someone said another fellow American doesn’t have the equal opportunity that you and I have. We don’t guarantee outcome, and we shouldn’t. And it’s one of the political debates, policy debates we have now. But it’s those values, which of course then lead us to be very hopeful about the future, that I would put under the rubric of American values.

Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. So, just to go back a little bit to rejecting this funding. You rejected the funding because it would come with strings attached.

Mr. Roberts: That’s right.

Mr. Jekielek: Yes. And so, there’s even a discussion around, for example, these voucher systems, which have been proposed in different states, right? Or, enacted in different states, that these types of vouchers also write a similar model of potential control, even though they’re also being promoted as a solution to the problem with the public schooling, which a lot of people see. What do you think?

Mr. Roberts: Well, I think, any public money should have one string attached, and that’s the accountability string. And so, for the wonderful question that you’ve asked about school choice programs, I’m a big proponent that if we’re going to use public funds to support public schools, or to give to students and their families to leave the public school that they’re zoned in and go to a private school or to homeschool that, that string of accountability is making sure that they’ve used the funds for their purported purpose. And, very simple, not very long, not very onerous achievement testing should do that. 

I’m an educator, I’m an ardent conservative, I’m an advocate for disruptive innovation in the public schools in order to save them. And I’m a proponent of one or two days of achievement testing at the end of each school year, because I can tell you, having been a college president, the founder of a school, fifth generation educator as I’ve mentioned, I want to know how my students are doing.

We’ve gotten a little excessive, even right of center, especially during the presidency of George W. Bush, and expanding that one string of achievement testing to be in multiple days, if not a couple of weeks of testing, we have to be careful enough to do that. But I want to also make a quick point of contrast, if I may. 

The strings we were worried about at Wyoming Catholic College were strings that would’ve violated religious liberty. Those strings attached to that money would’ve made it impossible for us to practice the particular faith that we did. Those are the strings that I think my friends on the political right are concerned about. And we need to make sure in terms of public policy that we’re only focused on transparency and accountability, not telling someone how to live their lives.

Mr. Jekielek: The thing is though, those strings could be attached, right?

Mr. Roberts: That’s right.

Mr. Jekielek: You have a system like that in place-

Mr. Roberts: That’s why it’s important for conservative elected officials to wield the power that has been instilled in them by the will of the people and to stop being so cowardly.

Mr. Jekielek: … I think you’re on record saying that people’s response to COVID mandates, masking, vaccine mandates, precipitated something huge in education. Why don’t you tell me about that?

Mr. Roberts: Yes, great question. I’m on the record one or 200 times about that, I think. This is what I see. Perhaps it’s as an educator, a little bit as a policy leader, but more than anything else, just a dad, looking at the world through my lens of common sense. And, what I saw from people, I was sitting in the pews with the  church whose kids were in public schools, neighbors, as my wife and I were walking through our neighborhood back in Texas, was just angst. I mean, tremendous frustration. You could see it on our fellow Americans’ faces. And it was about their kids having to be thrust into a homeschooling environment they didn’t choose.

And, what they would tell me and my wife and my colleagues at work was, “Kevin. We didn’t choose this, but now we’re really paying attention.” This is the key point, Jan. “We’re paying attention to the Zoom classes that they’re doing. We’re diving into the curriculum that we knew existed, but we’ve never really been that involved in the lesson plans because…” 

They’re speaking about their kids. “Our kids are good students. So we have no reason to get in that level of detail.” And what they unearthed was evil. What they unearthed was, what I have argued is, a cabal among the U.S. Department of Education, most curriculum vendors, and many state departments of education, where there are these approved curricula, and those approved curricula for the most part have been written by academics who are not just left of center. We’re not talking about mainstream liberals who would enjoy being part of this conversation, but very radical leftist, if not socialists.

And these mostly apolitical neighbors of mine, mostly apolitical Americans, started asking questions. And then, they decided, “Well, that 14th associate superintendent of their public schools is not answering my questions. So I’m going to go to the school board meeting.” They ask questions, what happened? They are not only ignored. They’re not only shunned by their elected representatives to the school board, they’re called by the attorney general of the United States, domestic terrorists. And so, the American people have decided to do what they’ve always done. Winston Churchill said this about us. My friend, Larry Arn, reminds me of this all the time. You can count on the American people to tell you what’s right.

And so, what the American people have said, “What has happened the last couple of years as a result of overwrought COVID lockdowns, regardless of what one thinks about COVID, the source of the pandemic, masks, vaccines, et cetera, in our schools, has been unjust for our kids. And we demand answers. And it’s our right to have answers provided much more clearly and transparently than has happened.” 

So, I think we’re on the cusp to sum up here. On the golden age of American school reform, as a public school graduate, a very proud proponent of American public education, I cannot be more optimistic or excited about the reforms that are going to come for the sake of the poorest, most disadvantaged American whose opportunity in this country rests upon access to a great education.

Mr. Jekielek: You’re also on record as calling the Parents’ Rights and Education Bill in Florida as the calling card for conservative reform efforts in education. Okay, that’s interesting. So why is it a calling card?

Mr. Roberts: Well, for a couple of reasons, the first is, the substance of that legislation speaks directly to the heart of the exchange we just had. And it is reminding parents, but most of all, reminding their policy makers, their state legislators, their school board representatives, that it is in the parents where real authority resides. We are very fortunate to live in a country where we all believe that we want to provide not just a basic, but an excellent education for every American child and that Parental Bill of Rights, as it’s called in other states as well does, is give parents the tools, not just to ask the questions that you and I were talking about, but to have them answered. 

But the second reason is unique, if perhaps just distinctive on the American right. And it’s a reminder to conservative elected officials, especially conservative governors in red states that the people are tired of them not spending the political capital that the people have invested in them as their governors on education reform.

I am so encouraged that governors who’ve been a little tentative, have been vocal enough about fixing education now because of what’s gone on in Florida. What has gone on recently in Arizona with the expansion of parental rights and educational freedom has really encouraged governors across this land. And, I want to be both an encouraging voice, but also a voice of accountability. I think I can speak on behalf of many American conservatives that, education, school choice, the idea that every dollar we invest in education follow the student to the school of their parents choice, happens. And we expect it to happen not in 20 years, but in the next two years.

Mr. Jekielek: Many students, at many levels of the educational system over the last two years, some have lost half a year, some have lost a year. Some have the last a couple of years. I’ve read examples in certain school boards where something like half of the students are actually not actually attending in some cases. Of course, there’s quite a range of this. In some places, kids went to school as normal. But, this seems like a devastating blow to a whole generation of people. And so, I don’t know… Your thoughts on that and what to do.

Mr. Roberts: I both love and hate the question. Yeah, I love the question because it’s the right question to be asking in a way that’s not political at all, because this is something that transcends republican, democrat, liberal, conservative. I hate the question because it’s so spot on. And, I really answer this question, Jan, as a dad, as a teacher, someone who would be thrilled to be teaching a classroom full of students whose families disagree with the Heritage Foundation, because I love kids, and I love this country so much.

And, I almost get choked up, in fact, I often do, when I think about what we’ve done to this generation of kids. And in states that were utterly shut down for the better part of a year and a half, two years in a few cases, we have completely disadvantaged students who are the least able to handle being so disadvantaged.

I’m going to come back to that in a policy way. But I want to maybe tell a little story that exemplifies that. When I was in eighth grade, because of the oil bust in Louisiana, my family had to move from Louisiana up to the Washington D.C. area. And, I lost two weeks of school. Now, I was given intellectual gifts that made me a good student, but I struggled. I had to get tutoring in algebra because of those two weeks. I wasn’t as strong in algebra as I was in some other subjects.

And, I was thinking about that story, which is now decades ago and realized, “Gosh, if I had to do that in algebra, and I was a good attentive student, because that was the expectation in my family. I’ve had students at the college level, at the middle school level, at the high school level, who are perfectly smart kids, but they have to have the routine and the accountability that comes from being in their classroom. Our policy makers, our school board officials, our superintendents, our governors have the future of those kids in their hands. And they abuse that.” I don’t mean that to be melodramatic. I don’t get engaged in hyperbole. I mean that from the standpoint of a teacher. And it is an affront to what we agree to do morally in this country, which is to provide an excellent education for every single student. We violated that. I think it’s the worst aspect of American trust that we could violate.

And therefore, what do we do from an educational point of view? There will be repercussions for millions of American kids many years into their educational careers, because I know from my work, from the research that I’ve done, that there are a few swaths of American grade levels, fourth, fifth grade, seventh, eighth grade, that when you have that gap, and I’m sorry this sounds so pessimistic, you never close it. 

So, we’re going to have American kids who can’t read and write to the level they otherwise would have, and they certainly won’t be able to do math and some science to the level they would have. And when you think about some of the challenges we’re facing, vis-a-vis China, in particular, those are precisely the subjects that we can least afford as a people to have a generation of Americans who through no fault of their own, have a very weak basis there. It worries me deeply, both from an educational and a societal point of view.

Mr. Jekielek: It feels like a double whammy, almost. Right? On the one hand, there’s this gap that you just outlined. On the other hand, some of what the kids are being taught is ideology and not traditional core education as we’ve been discussing. So, I don’t have the faculties to fully grasp what the ramifications of that are, but it feels like something almost overwhelming.

Mr. Roberts: It is overwhelming. And, since we’ve swerved into reality, and perhaps even a little bit of pessimism, although knowing you well enough, we’ll talk about some solutions. I will follow your lead and say, it’s a triple whammy. The first is the obvious, which is that kids weren’t in school for the better part of two years. The second is, the utter truth of what you diagnosed, which is that, an increasing percentage of time in American classrooms in the last 20 years has been spent on ideology, not on educational subjects. 

The third whammy is stepping back and looking at the aggregate. If you follow every year as I do the achievement of American students, and it’s measured by a wonderful third-party, in addition to the U.S. Department of Education, it is objectively true. So it is undeniable, zero percent that someone can disagree with this, that since 1990, and especially since 2000 and 2010, the achievement of American students in every subject, relative to their peers, kids of the same age, in every other part of the world has declined.

There was a time when you and I were growing up, when regardless of where someone was, other parts of the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, they would talk about American schools and they would say, “What an amazing noble achievement that this very diverse, very pluralistic people have among the best schools in the country.” And what’s happened since then is we’re not even close to that. So, we have aggravated that long running trend by inserting this ideology. Let’s just say, for argument’s sake, Jan, you said, “Kevin, well, what if it were ideology that’s aligned with your own personal thinking?” I would find it just as important, because that’s not what we need to be doing in schools. We need to be teaching kids how to read and write.

But then, we aggravate that further by not even having the kids in school. I guess the silver lining as my wife likes to observe is that at least they weren’t getting all of that ideology. And, that’s how I would conclude this response on an optimistic note, which is, more parents recognizing… And these are people who are not political, they’re not dumb, they’re just not political. They’re smart enough to know, and don’t worry about politics so much. They’re realizing, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been buying hook, line and sinker all the marketing from my local public school district about how great they are. And they aren’t. They’re awful. And you know what? They’re not well intentioned when it comes to the future of my kids.” And so, I think the objective here for those of us who spend time on policy and politics, and who know a thing or two about education, is to harness that well intentioned frustration that American parents have about this situation and turn that into education reform that reclaims American public schools to the point that all of us across the political spectrum could be proud.

Mr. Jekielek: I want to shift gears a little bit, so into another area, which is Roe v. Wade being struck down, Dobbs. And maybe before we start, just very briefly, where you stand on this. I think some people might have an idea. And why? And then, the significance in your mind of this.

Mr. Roberts: I’m an ardent pro-lifer, it’s my number one issue. And, my understanding of that comes, not even so much for my faith, or of course that informs it, but my intellectual understanding of natural law. How in the world could we build societies whether in the United States, or in Europe, or in Asia, or Africa resting upon the idea of natural law and natural rights, if we can’t guarantee the first right, which is to be born? I mean, and I don’t mean this to be condescending toward people with a different view, but it is evident to me that the very first right that a polity should protect is the right to life. And our founders understood that so clearly, they did not have to enumerate that. I mean, we talk about it in the Declaration of Independence, right? But in terms of First Amendment Rights, it didn’t even have to be listed.

But the second thing is, I think it’s really important that those of us who are pro-lifers continue to do what our movement has been doing the last 20 years and not get into really vitriolic arguments with people who are pro-abortion. But, to accept our difference of opinion, to ignore some of the vitriol that they send our way, and to understand that the solution to this problem now, because of the Dobbs decision is both to get state laws passed and a federal law passed, but far more importantly, this is the key point, that we invest in women, in men, in families, that we understand that our fellow Americans who are faced with that very difficult, potentially tragic decision, aren’t bad people. These are not bad women. These are women who have their set of circumstances they’re trying to decipher. And society has sent them a very poor set of signals about the decision to make.

It is our opportunity to now build the American republic in the image, the vision that our founders had, which is that, every American, regardless of their walk of life, now, every woman faced with this decision is not condemned by the United States of America, but nurtured and cultivated. And I am therefore convinced that over the next 5, 10, 20, 25 years, we are going to live in the golden era of the United States of America. I have many friends on the right who think that I am just filled with hollow optimism, but I mean that because I see it in the streets. And not just outside Washington, D.C., in Washington, D.C. itself. This is a tall order, because the empty promises of radical leftists are very persuasive to some Americans.

My argument, Jan, is that, let’s not condemn anybody. Let us love them. Let us understand that this great republic rests upon having a debate. We’ve had that debate. The pro-life side has won. Let’s go win this in  state capitals, but most importantly as a cultural conservative, the most important thing for us to do is to minister to women, and men, and families who need it.

Mr. Jekielek: You’ve described the Alito ruling as a historic document. It’s historic for many reasons, but  you meant something more than just, it changed history here. So, tell me about that.

Mr. Roberts: I did. I think this is coming from someone who not only is a history teacher and former professor, but someone who has a deep passion for the great books, what we call the Canon, of not just the  west, but of great civilizations. This opinion, from the standpoint of reasoning, rhetoric, logic, writing style,  clarity of writing is one of the most important documents ever in the history of the American republic. And  the reason isn’t that I happen to agree with the decision. I guess, I have to account a little bit for my bias. I’m  sure that has something to do with it. But, 90 percent of my claim comes from understanding where our concept of natural law comes from. It comes from understanding the very consistent intellectual history of America, and from Western civilizations.

And Justice Alito, not that he needs to get a grade from me, gets an A plus for that, from this historian. And I would just encourage anyone who’s a little unsure about the outcome. A lot of friends on the right, they’re  unsure about how much I and the Heritage Foundation emphasize this issue to read that, and let the words, and the reasoning, and the beautiful measured rhetoric persuade them, because we will understand not just the issue at hand, abortion. We will understand where we come from intellectually and socially.

Mr. Jekielek: What would you say is a key element that people will discover in this document?

Mr. Roberts: Well, great question. I will put off to the side the arguments that are specific to abortion. And,  that sounds a little odd to say, but the reason I want to do that is to emphasize the point that while of course, I happen to agree with those parts of the decision, the most important, it’s really the context in which Justice Alito and those justices who concurred with his opinion built. 

And it’s that context in which we see the American story. A country that’s not just diverse, and pluralistic, and is filled with people who are guaranteed equal opportunity, including the unborn, but that the reason we’re able to do that is because of an understanding of the rule of law that you and I can take for granted, all of our Americans, regardless of who they vote for, regardless of how they describe themselves politically, we take for granted that the rule of law exists. This opinion explains why and how that happens, many sections of the opinion that happens. And that’s the context in which it’s self evident to Justice Alito and to many of us on the right, that they made the right decision.

Mr. Jekielek: Do you feel like there’s questions about the importance of rule of law in America at this moment?

Mr. Roberts: I do. I visit the Southern border and I see an utter absence of the rule of law. I read about what was going on with the zone of anarchy that occurred in Seattle. There was, by definition, no rule of law. I was leaving the White House a couple of summers ago, listening, watching part of the president’s nominating week. And, as I was leaving the White House along with the other few thousand people who  were there on the White House lawn, not quite physically assaulted, but only because of my own self-control, and there was no rule of law there. 

The wonderful members of the Washington Police Department told me, “Good luck.” I didn’t hold that against them, because I didn’t want them to be harmed. And, I think about some of the rhetoric, just blocks  from where you and I are sitting, recently by radical American leftists about what they wanted to do, not just  to the Supreme Court as an institution, but to individual members of the Supreme Court.

I would find it equally abhorrent if people on our side were saying that about the three justices who were in the minority on that opinion. And so, I see a crisis in understanding and appreciation of the rule of law. And, as I think you know, one of the aspects of my job that I enjoy the most is trying to help restore to America left, right, center, an understanding of civil discourse, that we can disagree without being disagreeable. In fact, we can have deep disagreements about policy, about politics, about natural law, without believing that we need to hate one another, because it’s in that vitriol that we start to undermine the rule of law. Therefore, I think that not only do our policies need to be better, but our manner of discussing them needs to be as well.

Mr. Jekielek: I’m going to switch gears again. You have seven key policy objectives, or foci, for lack of a better term, for the Heritage Foundation that you’ve outlined. One of them, it focuses on a single country, China and the Chinese Communist Party that governs China at the moment—rules it. Why single out a single country, single government?

Mr. Roberts: The Chinese people are a beautiful people and they are victimized by one of the most evil regimes in human history—no hyperbole. The Chinese Communist Party is one of the most evil regimes in human history, just in the last 100 years, I think that they rival the evil regimes that come to mind, in terms of the genocide that they have propagated against many different segments of their population. For that matter, what they’ve done with COVID lockdowns. I mean, what’s happened recently in major Chinese cities. That would be reason enough to make the claim that I’ve made. But, I’m also, as we’ve established, a very proud American. And I think that American foreign policy has to ask the first question first. And it is, what’s in the best interest of the American people when it comes to formulating peace through strength?

In the spirit of restraint, which this country has mostly exercised in its foreign policy, I might argue that, policy makers, presidents right of center have been the biggest violators of a more restrained foreign policy. All of that to say, that for the United States, if we think about how much the Chinese Communist Party has infiltrated our politics here in Washington, D.C., look, I’m just going to be blunt, because I don’t think we have time to waste. 

We have policy makers in this city who are compromised, because they receive campaign contributions from K Street lobbyists, who are hired by the Chinese Communist Party that leads directly to Chinese Communist Party investments in American companies. Think about what the CCP wants to do with their government and with world domination. This is not good that the United States unintentionally, I would mostly argue, is in some concert with them.

I haven’t even gotten to military power. I worry deeply about the ability of the United States to wage any necessary and just military conflict right now. Not just because we have war material that is aging, that’s outdated, not just because we left $80 billion of advanced war material in a tragic withdrawal from Afghanistan, but because, rather than readying our forces for a potential conflict with China, we’re instead teaching them about pronouns, and vocalism, and continuing the nonsense from American public schools. Therefore, at the Heritage Foundation, among these seven priorities, I probably talk about the threat from China more than any of the other seven, because I think it’s one of those definitive potential conflicts in world history.

And I think we have a very simple question in the United States in the 21st century, will this be a century dominated by the United States? And when I say dominated, I mean, in the sense of giving other people their self-governance, because that’s the spirit of America, or will it be dominated by the Chinese Communist Party? If America can get that question right, if we can answer it correctly and courageously, which is to avoid war, I want to be very clear, it will require us to project a strength that we’re not doing right now, but it will also be very clarifying for the other issues that we have identified as priorities.

Mr. Jekielek: So, I have to ask, because there’s a lot of these K Street lobbyists around, and many of them would love to have the Heritage Foundation, I’m sure, on their side. So, how are you making your decisions about what funding to accept, what not to accept? I’m sure, Heritage, I think, has been criticized in the past for being interested in money from places like communist China, and so forth. So, how do you square that?

Mr. Roberts: Yeah, great question. We don’t receive any money from the Chinese Communist Party. And, we would be very suspect of any money coming from K Street. And I don’t mean to over generalize, although I just did. But there are some good people on K Street. The point is that the Chinese Communist Party should be credited for understanding how American politics work. And the way American politics works is that you infiltrate the decision makers by using these K Street lobbyist firms. For the Heritage Foundation, this is really easy, because there are two sources of concern for us. The first is on the American side, there are American companies vital to the production of our ammunition and our ammunition systems that are potentially compromised by investments from the Chinese Communist Party. Congress needs to pass a law and disallow that.

Related to that, Congress needs to pass a law… And the Heritage Foundation expects this to happen. We’re going to be an accountability partner if you will, for the next conservative majority that disallows the CCP from hiring K Street lobbying firms. And that way we don’t even have to get into the game of, which firm is good and which firm is bad? Just disallow it. But then, the second bucket is on the Chinese side. We need to make sure that fewer American companies are investing in Chinese companies that produce Chinese war material that would be used against us.

We’re not saying we want to cut off the ability of American companies to invest in other aspects of the Chinese society. We need to recognize that, if we’re not on the brink of war, we’re on the cusp of a war footing with a Chinese Communist Party because of what they’ve chosen to do, not because of what we’ve chosen to do. And we’re just arguing at the Heritage Foundation that Americans and our policy makers know what time it is in America. And the time that it is, is one where we need to wake up and recognize this threat has been in our backyard literally because of our own freedom. And, we need to recognize that we’ve got to confront this great threat, or all of the other policies we’re working on could be for naught.

Mr. Jekielek: Would you characterize it as a cold war?

Mr. Roberts: Absolutely. 100 percent.

Mr. Jekielek: It doesn’t strike me like the U.S. has ultimately taken the threat of the Chinese Communist Party that seriously. It changed considerably over the last four or five years, but I mean, how do you see things now, and how to move forward?

Mr. Roberts: Well, it’s a sobering reality to accept that… I can speak for myself. I mean, I thought that we could turn China into something more like America, because of our free market, because of the persuasiveness that comes from being free. And what’s happened is that the Chinese Communist Party has really affected America more than we’ve affected them. And I say that for people to realize that, I was there. 

As recently as 5 or 10 years ago, I credit President Trump and so many of his policy advisors for helping me to understand the threat that was coming from the CCP. But, I want to be really clear, Jan, the sobering reality is that, right now as things stand, we’re not on the best footing to meet this challenge with China. We need to build a China resistant economy. We need to, of course, upgrade our war material. We need to defend Taiwan at all costs. We need to project more strength in Eastern Europe, and in Southeast Asia, so that it is a deterrence to the Chinese.

But I also think we’re going to win. And hopefully not win, what I would dread would be a hot war, but we’re going to win this cold war that the Chinese Communist Party has started with us, because just in the last 6 to 9 months, most Americans, across the political spectrum, realize the threat that’s posed by the Chinese Communist Party. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon us at the Heritage Foundation and other policy organizations to provide the pathway for members of Congress and for the next friendly presidential administration on how to confront that threat.

Every time that has happened, the American people, and eventually our elected officials in Washington have answered the call. And so, I’m convinced that’s going to happen. The reason Heritage is spending so much time and so many resources talking about this is, we don’t have that much longer to wait. We’ve got to get busy about recognizing this threat and building a China resistant economy that allows us to defeat them without having to be in war with them.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, Kevin Roberts, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Mr. Roberts: It’s a great pleasure. I love everything that you do. And look forward to being back.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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