Paradigms and Sunflower Conspiracies
Jude Wanniski
May 3, 1999


Memo To: Sen. Richard Shelby [R-AL]
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Conspiracy Theories

As chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, you naturally come across a lot of suspicious looking stuff involving our national security. You are now up to your ears in revelations about Chinese espionage at our national laboratories -- Sandia and Los Alamos in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore at the U. of California at Berkeley. I watched your appearance on FoxNewsSunday with Tony Snow this weekend, and thought it would be helpful to you and our relationship with China if I shared some thoughts with you.

God knows why I first thought about Kansas sunflowers as a way of explaining conspiracies that are not really conspiracies. The concept is so profound that I'm sure I did not originate it, but I don't remember anyone telling me about it. What is important for you to understand, Senator, is that none of us can think for ourselves beyond a very narrow range. The most brilliant political or financial people cannot fix a carburetor or get elected dogcatcher. What I mean to say is we all need to concede that experts should do our thinking for us, deciding when to fix our teeth or transplant a new organ for us. This is where the sunflowers come in.

They face east in the early morning and face west at dusk. They move their faces at the same pace, even though they never speak to each other. This, Senator, is what a "paradigm" is all about. You know that a great many of your constituents believe there is a conspiracy of big money people who decide the fate of the world, and there is little they can do about it. In a sense, they are right, but the conspiracy is like the Kansas sunflowers, with powerful men (and a few powerful women) responding simultaneously to a moving assumption.

You know me as a supply-sider, for example. That simply means that I believe at the center of the economic universe is a PRODUCER, a supplier of goods. That is my "paradigm" and it also was Ronald Reagan's, which is why we got along so well together. When you have that central assumption, you and your associates can figure out from day to day what is the course of economic action that should more or less be followed in order to make progress -- like the sunflowers turning in unison.

Which brings us to China -- really the point of this whole memo. I mean to say that if you believe that the world revolves around China, you will move like a sunflower the way others of like mind are moving. You will come to believe that China as a political organism absolutely is determined to BE the center of the universe, and you will concentrate your mind on preventing that from happening. I suggest that is the case, Senator.

In fact, the United States is the center of the universe, and the Chinese know that it is. We are gigantic compared to Beijing, and they know that too. If you put yourself in the shoes of the Chinese, you would look across the Pacific and see the WORLD'S ONLY MIGHTY SUPERPOWER. The Chinese do not view us as a competitor, but as a GIANT -- which we are. We have nothing to fear from China, now or in the near future, by which I mean the next century or two.

Now you appear to belong to the Anti-China team, which believes China is a sly, inscrutable Monster, waiting to lunge at us and turn us all into precincts of Taiwan, which it will gobble up along the way. There is of course an important place in the government for those who view China in this way, but I believe the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee should be a little skeptical of both the pessimists and the optimists. By that, I mean that before you make statements on FoxNewsSunday about all the secrets our nuclear labs have delivered to the Chinese you should get the facts nailed down. When people come at you and say China has stolen stuff, you should look them in the eye and say: "Prove it to me," not "I always thought those slant-eyed Commies were up to no good," which is what some of your colleagues say.

As a former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal, I know a little about first impressions, which often turn out to be worthless. Your colleagues can afford to be sloppy in their statements regarding China because they are not chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Since Jeff Gerth of The New York Times first "broke" the story about a massive flow of nuclear secrets flowing from the labs to Beijing, I have been asked the question of those who are supposed to know: "HOW DO YOU KNOW?" As far as I can tell, there is not yet one iota of proof that anyone did anything wrong or that China got a single secret. This is why you were put in such an awkward position when Mara Liason asked you why has nobody been arrested -- especially Mr. Lee, the guy who was supposed to have leaked like a sieve?

Do you know what I mean, Senator? There is no good purpose to be served by alarming the American people about nuclear secrets being whispered at cocktail parties to the ChiComs, when all you have is a circular stream of arguments revolving around the NYTimes original story. As far as I can tell, if there was too much "cooperation" between our laboratories and the Chinese laboratories, it did not give Beijing anything we should worry about. It should be your role, as if you were a Supreme Court Justice, to ask questions of both sides on the issue, until you find there really was something terrible that was divulged, and you know who did it. Otherwise, all we have is self-generated smoke, which gets in our own eyes. Not a good way to manage the world.