Remarks: Vivek Ramaswamy

Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of Vivek Ramaswamy’s remarks upon receiving the Gentleman of Distinction Award, delivered at the 2022 Annual Awards Gala.

Hadley Heath Manning: Hi, good evening. Thank you, Carrie, and thank you to everyone for being here tonight. It is truly my honor to introduce this year’s Gentlemen of Distinction, Vivek Ramaswamy. That’s right. At IWF we talk a lot about closing gaps in the conservative movement. Well, Vivek’s book, Woke, Inc., demonstrates that when it comes to corporate culture, we weren’t just facing a gap, but a real David versus Goliath battle. In Woke, Inc., Vivek makes it clear that most major corporations have been utterly coopted by wokeism and are now using their power and influence to punish anyone who dares to question the politically correct orthodoxy. We’ve been pushing back at IWF. Our policy team has been working hard to sound the alarm about ESG and other misguided alphabet soup such as CRT and DEI. And it’s because of our efforts, and Vivek’s, that ESG is now facing huge pushback in the financial world and in public opinion. That’s right. But Vivek has performed an important service in that he hasn’t just demonstrated all that’s wrong in our culture and our institutions, but he’s actually doing something about it. He founded Strive Asset Management, a refuge from the woke ESG agenda on offer everywhere else. Since launching in August, Strive’s pro-energy fund, DRLL, has received in excess of $300 million in investments. And we know that this is just the beginning of what Vivek will do. His latest book, Nation of Victims, was just released last month and he’s already been on IWF’s podcast, She Thinks, to talk about it. Vivek, thank you for showing people that we are not doomed to fund a system that is bent on silencing us, but instead we can redirect resources in order to create a better, freer, and fairer world. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in recognizing Vivek Ramaswamy.

Vivek Ramaswamy: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you for this honor. This is a real pleasure to be here. I came here from Ohio. I’ll speak for my family members. My wife really wanted to be here. She’s looking after our couple-month-old new son, and my parents wanted to be here, but they’re looking after my 95-year-old grandmother, so we’ll celebrate the evening in spirit with the whole family here in spirit. I did tell my parents I would kick it off with a story about them, and it’s the story of, as you probably guessed, they’re immigrants, and they came to this country to Ohio, where I’ll be returning after this event tonight, and they came here about, you know, 40 years ago. And the question I used to ask my dad was why is it that you came halfway around the world of all places to Southwest Ohio? And, you know, he never had a good answer to that question, but he said the best reason was that his older sister had actually come to Fort Wayne, Indiana, which of course begs the question of why his older sister came halfway around the world to Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the only answer we ever got was it is the only U.S. state with the word India contained in the name of the state, so that was a story for my dad who couldn’t make it tonight.

In all seriousness, I’ll take you back to actually when I was in second grade in Avondale, Ohio, just outside of Cincinnati. I remember the moment back in 1993 when I heard Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech for the first time. That was a speech where he famously said, I hope my four children grow up in a country where they are judged not on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character. I’ll tell you, that dream had stuck with me. It meant something to me, because it was the dream that allowed me to go in a single generation from being the kid of Indian immigrants who came to this country with almost no money to becoming the founder of a multibillion-dollar biotech company that I had the privilege of leading for seven years. Thank you. We worked on a number of medicines for patients, a few of them were approved drugs. One of them that I’m most proud of is an approved drug for prostate cancer that I personally had the chance to work on, but I stepped down from that job as a CEO in the start of 2021 to work on a different kind of cancer. It was not a biological cancer. It was a cultural cancer that I felt threatened to kill that dream that Martin Luther King had 60 years ago, a cancer that threatened to kill the dream that allowed me to achieve everything I ever had in my career. And that is this new secular religion in America that says that your identity is based on your race, your gender, and your sexual orientation, full stop. That America is a systemically racist nation, that if you’re Black, you’re inherently disadvantaged; that if you’re White, you’re inherently privileged. No matter your economic background or upbringing, your race and gender govern who you are and what you can achieve in life. This new philosophy took a – made a really clever turn a few years ago. In the words of a local of this town, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who famously said a couple of years ago that we don’t want any more Black faces that don’t want to be a Black voice. I think of Tim Scott, someone who’s big shoes I step into tonight as a recipient of this award. We don’t want any more Brown faces that don’t want to be a Brown voice. I probably don’t fit her description of what counts as a Brown voice, but there’s a really clever move embedded in that ideology. And it’s this: When your race goes from being about the color of your skin to being about the content of the ideas you are allowed to have, then any disagreement with those ideas is automatically rendered racist. And there is no greater damnation in modern America than to be called a racist. So, when given the choice between being tarred with that scarlet R and pledging allegiance to this new religion, everyday Americans are choosing to bend the knee. And that has been what’s created this new culture of fear in our country, fear of losing your job, fear of becoming a pariah in your own community. That’s completely replaced our culture of free speech in America. If you ask me – you hear a lot of talk these days about the defense of our democracy, I’ll tell you, to me the best measure of the health of a democracy, especially American democracy, isn’t the number of ballots that are cast every November, it is the percentage of people who feel free to say what they actually think in public.

Now, the story of how we got here is an interesting one. It actually starts in an unexpected place, and I’ll give you the brief version of it here. It starts – as I saw it, at least, it started actually with the 2008 financial crisis. I got my first job in the fall of 2007 at a hedge fund in New York City. I saw this firsthand. What happened after the ‘08 financial crisis, after the bailouts and all, was that Wall Street ended up the bad guys. And by the way, I was an opponent of the bailouts. I was no friend of crony capitalism, but Occupy Wall Street was on Wall Street’s doorstep. And if you’re Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street isn’t too friendly of a movement to get mixed up with, but they realized that there was a new trade they could make because there was a new movement in the Left, not the Occupy Wall Street, but the birth of a new Left, right around that time in 2008 that said actually the real problem wasn’t quite economic injustice, it wasn’t quite poverty, no. It was racial injustice, and misogyny, and bigotry. And it’s really when wokeness got mixed up with capitalism that it became unstoppable, because if you are Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street is a tough pill to swallow, but this new woke stuff is actually pretty easy. You appoint some token minorities on your boards, you muse about the racially disparate impact of climate change after you get on a private jet to Davos. It’s pretty good work if you can get it, but you don’t do it for free. You effectively expect the new Left to look the other way when it comes to leaving your corporate power intact. And really that was the story of how this spread like wildfire, not just through our culture, but through our economy. A bunch of woke millennials get in bed with a bunch of big banks, together they birth woke capitalism, and they use that to put Occupy Wall Street up for adoption. Worked so well that Silicon Valley then gets in on the act, said that you know what, the threat to our monopoly power used to come from the Left. We can do something about that. We will commit to using that power to take down speech on the internet, hate speech, misinformation that you don’t want to see online, but we don’t do it for free. We effectively expect that the new progressive movement look the other way when it comes to leaving our monopoly power intact. And, again, that trade worked masterfully. See, that is the story of this arranged marriage. My parents had an arranged marriage. That one worked out well, but this is – this one is not an arranged marriage of love. This one is more like mutual prostitution. And the net result of the act is the illegitimate birth of what I call this woke industrial ESG industrial complex that’s a hybrid of big government and big business that together can do what neither one of them could do on its own. And there’s a third actor that showed up on the scene in recent years. I’d be remiss if I left this out. It’s a personal passion of mine to point this one out. New actor turned that arranged marriage into a three-party affair, and that’s the Communist Party of China. They really recognize, they understand this game far more deeply than any of us do, and what they realized is that you know what, if you’re Xi Jinping and you’re getting pressed about the Uyghur human rights crisis in Xinjiang, just listen to the first thing he says frequently when pressed at the U.N. and elsewhere. He says that Black Lives Matter shows that the United States is no better. His top diplomat comes to the Alaska summit just last year, says that China wants to see the U.S. do better on human rights and to stop slaughtering – his word, not mine – slaughtering Black Americans. This would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that our own corporations lend implicit moral legitimacy to those claims. When Disney says it cannot shoot a film in the state of Georgia if it passes a new antiabortion statute, let alone what Disney has been doing in the state of Florida this year, yet it goes to Xinjiang, literally ground zero, where there’s a million religious minorities in concentration camps subject to forced sterilization, communist indoctrination, and worse, does not say a peep as they film Mulan until the very end of the movie, where they muster up the courage to say we thank the local authorities for allowing us the privilege of filming here. That is how this game is played. It creates this false moral equivalence. When you have a new international arbiter, new class of international arbiters of moral justice that consistently criticize the United States from within about microaggressions without saying a peep about the actual macroaggressions abroad, what does that do? It erodes our greatest asset of all, and that is not our nuclear arsenal. It is our moral standing on the global stage. Thank you.

So, not to be all doom and gloom tonight. I mostly wanted to end on a couple of notes about where we go from here. I do think we’re at an exciting moment in the future of, if I may, you know, use the C word, conservative movement, here. You know, I do think that there’s a moment for reflection. Ronald Reagan, one of the reasons he was my hero, one of many of our heroes, is that he did what he needed to do in his day. Back in 1980, he came to this town, he slashed taxes, cut government regulations, ushered in a new era of prosperity whose benefits we continue to enjoy to this day in 2022. It’s why he’s one of my heroes. But I will remind you of a quote from my favorite Republican of all time that’s not Ronald Reagan. It’s a Republican who spoke 160 years ago by the name of Abraham Lincoln, who famously reminded his peers that the dogmas of a quiet past are inadequate to a stormy present. And I say the dogmas of 1980 are inadequate to address the unique challenges that we face in the year 2022. If you asked me ten years ago, I’d say a website is free to decide what does and doesn’t show up on its own website. After all, that’s the way the free market works. Well, it turns out that makes sense as long as they’re actually behaving as private companies. But what we see today is that the government is actually using those private companies to censor content through the backdoor that they could not censor through the front door under the Constitution. To say that if it is state action in disguise then the Constitution still applies, and if you’re going to work in cahoots with the government, then yes, social media companies ought to be bound by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the same constraint that applies to the U.S. government. It’s not just about the internet and the online world. It goes to the offline world too. There’s rampant discrimination, viewpoint-based discrimination in the private marketplace. Now, conventional wisdom would say that if all these silly businesses over here are firing these great politically motivated actors or conservatives or whatever, that’s an opportunity for another group of businesses to hire those same employees instead. That’s the free market, after all. What I say is that that’s 1980 thinking. 2022 you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that you can’t discriminate on the basis of race, or sex, or sexual orientation, or religion, or national origin while allowing for rampant viewpoint-based discrimination in the private sector. So, what I say is if you can’t fire somebody or deplatform somebody because they’re Black, or gay, or Muslim, or White, or Christian, or Jewish, or whatever, then you should not be able to fire somebody or deplatform somebody just because they’re an outspoken conservative either. Gotta apply the standards evenhandedly. Maybe we get rid of the protected classes, but if we’re going to have them, we can’t apply those without an even hand. Now, I will tell you, I’m not optimistic about our politics as the forum for how we settle these unanswered questions in our movement, which is why I’ve turned to a different venue instead. We should actually address this through the market. I know we have an election in November. I’m not going to underplay its importance, but you actually don’t really just vote once a year or once every four years at the ballot box. What we wake up to is that we’re voting every day with our dollars, whether or not we know it. And if we look upstream to the forces that actually control corporate America’s behaviors, there’s a small handful of institutions that manage tens of trillions of dollars of probably most people in this audience that are using those dollars, those investment dollars, to pressure corporations to advance social and political values that most people in this audience would probably disagree with. I think it’s a largescale fiduciary breach. I think it’s the largest scale fiduciary breach of the 21st century, and we don’t need to wait for government to solve that. We can do that through the market. That is why I founded Strive earlier this year, to look for a more positive way to address change than to just do it through our politics.

But there’s no such thing as a silver bullet. There’s no such thing as a solution to complex problems. The best we can hope for is a plethora of partial solutions. It’s part of why I enjoy being here at an evening like tonight where there’s so many people working on different frontiers, from education to government, to the market, to our universities, to our culture. And I think that over time, that plethora of partial solutions is going to answer what I think is the real issue that plagues our culture today, and that is our generational hunger for a cause. And I’ll close on this. I speak as a member of my generation, millennial generation, when I say that we are all hungry today for a cause. We are hungry for a sense of purpose, and meaning, and identity at a moment in our history where the kinds of things that used to fill our hunger, faith, patriotism, hard work, family, national identity, whatever it might have been, as those concepts have disappeared, we have a black hole of a vacuum. And when you have a vacuum that runs that deep, that is what allows poison to fill the void. And I think we’ve all gotten good, and myself included, at hammering out the poison one by one, pointing out the hypocrisies on the other side. I think the work ahead of us is to fill that void with something far more rich, far more meaningful, that dilutes the poison to irrelevance, answering the question of what it actually means to be American in the year 2022. And if you ask me, the answer to that question starts with that dream that I told you about at the very beginning, the idea that no matter who you are, or where you came from, or what your skin color is, that you can achieve anything you ever want in this country with your own hard work, your own commitment, and your own dedication. That is the American dream. Those are the values that won the American Revolution 250-some-odd years ago. Those are the values that reunited us after the Civil War. Those are the values that won us World War I, and World War II, and the Cold War. Those are the values that, if you ask me, still give hope to the free world. And I say that if we can revive those common values over fractious group identity, then nobody in the world, not a nation, not a corporation, not a virus is going to defeat us. That is what true American exceptionalism is all about. And that’s what we’re going to need to revive to defeat this cultural epidemic. Thank you for this award. Thank you for the honor tonight. I look forward to being with you. Thank you.