An article in Tuesday's Style section about Deroy Murdock incorrectly listed the source of a published survey on attitudes of black leaders. The survey was done by the Center for Media and Public Affairs.
The Georgetown University freshman can stand the debate no longer. She leaps out of her seat in the lecture hall to pounce on one of the speakers.
"You're a better example of tokenism than any black person -- and you're kissing white tail to get somewhere," she shouts at Deroy Murdock, a gaunt, dark-skinned Georgetown senior in a steel-gray suit, with crossed American and California flags pinned to his lapel.
"You're not a true black man! You wouldn't even be able to stand there if you did not have black people dying for you!"
The room explodes in a thunderclap of echoed condemnation. It's enough to rattle the walls -- but not Murdock, who simply grins.
He plows ahead at the lectern, quoting newspaper pundits and subcommittee reports in favor of more, not less, American investment in South Africa, and the lifting of U.S. sanctions against the white-minority regime. When the debate ends, and he is surrounded by a squad of angry inquisitors, he stays behind to meet them eyeball to eyeball.
"Please, please, let me finish!" he demands, while arguing that increased investment will improve the lot of South Africa's blacks, and that patience is warranted for what he calls "President Botha's program for undermining apartheid." Carlene Francis, a black Georgetown sophomore, shakes her head and walks away.
"I feel horror, I want to cry," she says on her way out. "I just hope to God he never runs for office."
He's right-wing, black and 21.
He remembers the first, hot kiss of conservatism as a spiritual epiphany. "It was a very -- how can I say? -- almost a liberating feeling. I felt as if I'd seen the light or something. It was just like a cliche' line from I don't know how many movies -- 'It's all very clear to me now.' "
This was when he was 16. "The light is always there. If you can see it early on, all the better."
Today Deroy Murdock is himself a leading light among young conservative activists. "Let me tell you something," says Sen. Orrin Hatch (R -- Utah), for whom Murdock has worked as a part-time aide. "This young man is going to be a major leader in this country someday. He just has that kind of personality, appearance and, I think, dedication. I think Deroy is going to be a U.S. senator someday, maybe even more than that. He can go right to the top. He's that good."
He's also one of the more shining examples of a new, albeit small, wave -- children of the black middle class who are spurning the Great Society of their parents' generation to embrace the Conservative Opportunity Society. Believers in the promise of the Reagan Revolution, they are ambivalent about the legacies of the civil rights movement -- such legacies as hiring quotas, federal job training and minority recruitment programs in higher education.
"There's a lot of controversy about what the future of the civil rights movement ought to be," says Murdock, who was not yet born when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. enunciated his dream at the Lincoln Memorial. "Does it return to its original goals of colorblindness in public policy and private affairs? Or does it invert to a sort of reverse racism or covert racism in which people are again judged by the color of their skin for promotions in jobs, for acceptance to college, for retention whenever layoffs have to be made?"
Murdock -- who will be one of half a dozen featured speakers tonight, along with Vice President Bush, at a Heritage Foundation dinner for Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) -- is particularly unusual in the completeness of his conservatism, which encompasses everything from prayer in school to "Star Wars" to "constructive engagement" in South Africa.
In August he took a 10-day trip to that country -- flying over, by chance, on the same airliner as the Rev. Jerry Falwell -- as a guest of the Southern African Forum, a private organization that works closely with the government, often with government funding, to improve South Africa's image abroad.
A few days before the Georgetown debate, in a plush auditorium at the Heritage Foundation, Murdock's insights on this odyssey go down like vintage port.
Referring to apartheid as "an incorrect policy" as often as he calls it "a repugnant system," he addresses a crowd made up mostly of young conservatives who are the influential think tank's "Third Generation." Some take notes. Others nod in agreement. When Murdock finishes -- to warm applause -- a matronly, white-haired woman floats up to him and touches his arm.
"I just hope," she confides, blue eyes agleam, "that my grandson grows up to be as fine a young man as you."
Murdock smiles a modest smile. He kicks at the carpet with a tasseled loafer.
"It's a tough job," he says later, still smiling, "but somebody's got to do it."
Deroy Murdock and his peers may represent the beginnings of a trend or merely a political aberration -- it depends on whom you ask. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, for one, recently scoffed at a much-ballyhooed poll by the American Enterprise Institute -- "a right-wing institution," Jackson noted -- showing that blacks in general tend to be significantly more conservative than black leaders such as himself.
But such prominent black conservatives as Walter Williams, an economics professor at George Mason University, Robert L. Woodson, head of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, and Joseph Perkins, an editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, say the poll is evidence of a newly emerging set of values.
As further proof, Perkins cites a more recent survey by The New York Times and CBS News showing that President Reagan's approval rating among blacks -- while still low at 28 percent, compared with 66 percent among whites -- has doubled in the past two years. Among blacks under 30, Reagan's approval rating is even higher -- 33 percent -- according to the poll published last week.
"Young blacks like us don't have the baggage of bygone years," says Perkins, who is 26. "We're role models to the extent that we're demonstrating that it's not necessary to benefit from the paternalism of the liberal establishment to be successful."
Murdock, who will graduate from Georgetown next year with a degree in government, has been very successful indeed.
His career so far -- as Reagan campaign chairman and student body president of Palisades High School in an affluent part of Los Angeles, a member of Georgetown's student senate, D.C. chairman of the Young Americans for Freedom, a YAF national director and now head of a fledgling group called Free Students of America -- is a model of political credential-gathering.
A prolific writer of letters and essays attacking such diverse figures as Louis Farrakhan, the Sandinistas and Henry Steele Commager, Murdock has been published everywhere from Georgetown's student newspaper to Conservative Digest to the Los Angeles Times. These days he juggles classes and exams with politicking, speaking engagements and television appearances (he's been on the "Today" and "Donahue" shows, among others).
He's already a virtuoso in the subtle art of networking -- ask him whom he knows at the White House and in Congress, and he reels off dozens of names -- and he has managed to acquire an impressive list of mentors in the conservative establishment. One of them is sometime Reagan adviser William Van Cleave, director of the Center for Defense and Strategic Studies at the University of Southern California, who remembers meeting Murdock five years ago.
"He was just this high school student who came into my office one day, saying he'd read some of my articles and wanted to talk about national security. This I found absolutely amazing," recalls Van Cleave, who promptly invited Murdock to become a research intern -- his youngest ever.
"Deroy is like a son to me," says Orrin Hatch. Among others who take an active interest in Murdock's career are syndicated columnist William Rusher, publisher of National Review, and political operative Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Murdock harbors great expectations. "I want to be a Republican congressman from California," he says. "With any luck, 10 years from now I'll be serving my first or second term.
"Then I'd like to serve in national office at the federal level -- possibly the executive branch."
There is another side to Deroy Murdock, he insists one day over lunch.
There's his fondness for dancing, for parties, for "Late Night With David Letterman," for drinking beer with his buddies and making smart remarks about "The McLaughlin Group" before heading out for a Saturday night date (most of his girlfriends have been liberal, he says). And -- as he forgets to mention at lunch but remembers to point out a few days later -- there's his fondness for running at midnight through the pouring rain.
"I'm a 21-year-old and I've got to live like a 21-year-old, and enjoy life as a young person," he says.
"I had a very happy childhood. There were one or two days there when I got up on the wrong side of bed, screamed at someone or something like that. But no major traumas. I enjoyed growing up very much."
His father, a data systems analyst, and mother, a Los Angeles public school teacher, live in Culver City, a middle-class Los Angeles suburb. They are naturalized Americans, having immigrated from Costa Rica in 1962.
They came by bus. Oscar Murdock recalls stopping at a depot in Texas that had a segregated restaurant. He says he and his wife Marcia -- both members of the Costa Rican middle class -- simply ignored the restrictions.
"We were not troubled by anyone, but we felt the tension," he says. "It seemed that the American blacks had it deeply ingrained in them. All of them were seated in the back of the bus. They had brought their own sandwiches wrapped up, and they were the last to get off. We just pretended that we were just like everyone else."
Marcia Murdock believes her family's values are different from those of many American blacks.
"In the country where I came from, everyone had equal opportunity as far as I can remember. We never felt any racial feelings of being less than anyone else just because of color. In general, I think the black community here -- and it's justified -- is resentful because of the historic past of being slaves. They're all supposed to be equal, but there's still a difference as far as jobs, and how far they can go. The values I see in black Americans are 'What's the use trying, we're not going to get the job anyway.' It's just a lack of believing in themselves."
For Deroy, as well as for his two younger sisters, the civil rights movement is a televised apparition filtered through the memories of his parents.
"I can barely remember the funeral of Martin Luther King," he says. "It had relevance to my parents. Not living in the South, I don't think they went through a lot of the discrimination blacks did there. But certainly, obviously, they sympathized with the movement. We talked about it. My parents told me what it was like to put the TV on and see blacks getting hosed down with water cannon or beaten with whips, or German shepherds or Dobermans barking at them. My parents said this sort of thing pained them.
"It's interesting that for black people my age, the civil rights movement is sort of a thing to look at historically as something we're very thankful took place -- but I don't know how much actual experience we have in understanding what the Selma bus boycott was all about.
"I think the racism issue is a safe harbor that blacks revert to. I think there certainly is racism in this country. I'd be silly to indicate otherwise. But I think racism is diminished, much diminished. I think if there is any insensitivity on the part of most whites, it is not a malicious insensitivity. If anything, it may be a lack of contact, a lack of familiarity with what it is blacks are concerned about, blacks worry about, what makes blacks tick. I would say in some conservative circles you may find actual bigotry."
Indeed, he says a rare instance of such bigotry might have played a minor role in his defeat for reelection as the only black on YAF's national board at the group's convention last August in Denver -- a charge denied by YAF Chairman Terry Cannon.
"I'd really not like to think that my being black had anything to do with it," Murdock says. "A friend of mine who was with the New York delegation told me that as I was standing in the lobby, these New Yorkers were coming into the hotel and one of them said, 'There be Deroy.' I did not appreciate that one bit when I heard it. At all. After all I'd done for them, that these people would say, 'Oh yeah, he's just black, that's all' . . . I think there's a few ugly snakes in the grass."
Like Ronald Reagan, Murdock began his political life as a Democrat.
"As I was growing up," he says, "I thought my dad was far too conservative for my taste. When I was 11, 12 or thereabouts, I was rather liberal. I was somewhat active in the antinuclear power movement. I was for Jimmy Carter. I mean, what does a 12-year-old want? I was satisfied that here was a man running for president with a nice smile and he looked friendly and he had a wonderful family."
But then Murdock suffered, if not the pain of adolescence, at least from the energy crisis, Iran, Soviet brigades in Cuba, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Soviet influence in the Third World, Soviet persecution of Jews ("I was completely thunderstruck by this") -- and, at long last, malaise. The teen-ager found solace in former governor Ronald Reagan's daily radio commentaries.
"At 7 a.m., as I was getting my clothes on to go to school, I'd hear Ronald Reagan one day about taxes, the next day about regulation, the next day about the environment, the next day about what the Soviets are up to, and every day I'd put it on. And I thought, 'Boy, this makes sense to me.' "
He credits Reagan as the catalyst for his conservatism. But today, like many in the New Right, he blames Reagan for falling short of the conservative ideal.
Murdock scores Reagan's "complete inability to respond to the Korean airline massacre"; "the appointment of many people who are hostile to the president's thinking"; and what he sees as a pervasive White House attitude of "can we surrender a few principles so we can put some policies into effect." Further, the president hasn't made good on his promises to dismantle the departments of energy and education, and his recent imposition of limited sanctions on South Africa was, for Murdock, perhaps the last straw.
"I once wanted to work at the White House," he says. "I'm now in a strange position where my president -- at least from my point of view, my conservative president -- has done one thing after another to lead me to be so completely frustrated that I almost feel I can't work for the man.
"He doesn't understand the potential he has for being a figure of tremendous historical proportions. I think Reagan is under the impression that maybe he is just another president of the United States. He's followed policies which are myopic, when they could be visionary. Frankly, he's dared to be cautious."
And lest anyone think Murdock too green to be taking on the Leader of the Free World, he says, "I'm 21 years old, but this does not indicate that I have thought these issues out any less than anyone else has, nor that my opinions and convictions are any less formed than others have, nor that my suggestions are any less wise than anyone else's. My age is an interesting factor. But I don't think it should have any effect, positive or negative, on what I say."
"Deroy impressed me immediately," says William Rusher, "as a very smart and prepossessing young man with very articulate, firm and well-organized conservative beliefs. Of course, his being black is a factor that can't be ignored. One certainly has to say that in terms of political spokesmanship, black conservatives in their twenties don't grow on trees."
Paul Weyrich says Murdock can be useful to the conservative cause as a wedge into the black community. "Somebody like myself has zero credibility with those folks. It's nice to know you have somebody of this level of ability and sophistication out there representing your point of view."
At the same time, Weyrich adds, Murdock could hardly do better than conservative politics when it comes to career advancement. "There are hardly any prominent black conservative leaders in this country. The field is wide open. If you're young and ambitious, you can establish a name for yourself in the conservative community, whereas it would be pretty hard to do that if you're a young black liberal. You'd have to wait for people to retire first."
But while white conservatives have eagerly taken Murdock under their right wing, he has not been so unanimously welcomed by conservative and moderate blacks.
"The reaction I had to him at first was anger. It seemed like he was a robot spitting out the conservative line in blackface," says Skip Kelly of Leaders Energized for Neighborhood Development, a free-enterprise group. "Now that I know him better, I think he's a brilliant guy, and I admire him as a human being, even though I disagree with his perspective."
Says Robert Woodson, who appeared with Murdock last March on a "Donahue" show devoted to black conservatives: "The mistake he makes is that he has total faith in the conservative agenda, and supports it. And he tends to do so without questioning. And some of us -- at least I do -- personally think blacks have no permanent friends or permanent enemies -- only permanent issues."
Murdock, by now, has grown accustomed to such criticism -- and worse.
"It's not painful at all," he says. "Part of it is I've been doing this for so long. But I guess in some sense, I make myself vulnerable to abuse. But virtually anyone who speaks out in the political spectrum leaves himself vulnerable to abuse. It's part of the game. But it's just something we have to do.
"We can't base our actions and judgments on how people will respond. It has to be based on what we think is right."
The topic once again is South Africa, and this time Murdock's forum is the Youth Brain Trust of the Congressional Black Caucus, where he sits at the front of a House committee room, making people mad. Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.), chairman of the caucus, smiles lopsidedly across a table at Murdock -- perhaps a future colleague.
"I certainly hope he changes his views by the time he gets here," Leland says, having repaired outside to the hall. "He's bright enough to be in some leadership position, and he represents a rather unique perspective. I find it encouraging that we have the leadership of a young man like that. I see some hope for him. He's just a young man. He still has time to save his soul."
Inside, Murdock is taking heat.
"One day," a young woman tells him, "you are going to wake up and discover that you are black in America."
"I look in the mirror every morning," Deroy Murdock replies.