“Sometimes I think I’ve been sent as an ex-radical to teach conservatives bad manners,” author and conservative activist David Horowitz likes to say. “Republicans are too polite.” If the tacit message here is that the Left is naturally rude, that was underscored last week when Horowitz was hit with a pie in the face while beginning a speech at Indiana’s Butler University.
Pie-throwing seems to have become almost standard practice now when conservative pundits visit college campuses: Just a week before Horowitz was chocolate-creamed, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol got hit with an ice-cream pie while speaking to students at Earlham College, as it happens also in Indiana.
But Horowitz has a particular talent for sending the opposition into paroxysms of rage, even when he’s being attacked and not on the attack himself. Daily Kos, for instance, called Horowitz a “sissyboy racist” in commenting on the pie-in-the-face incident. Kristol’s incident, by contrast, got the relatively bland Kos description: “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”
I once wondered, during an interview at Horowitz’s home in Los Angeles, whether our psychotherapized culture means that people find his typically blunt way of making his points shocking.
“No, no, no,” he responded. “If you’re a conservative and say something blunt, people are shocked. If you’re on the left, people take no notice. Jesse Jackson says racist things every other speech he makes. The idea that black people are locked out in our society–give me a break. One of my notorious Salon columns was called ’Guns Don’t Kill Blacks, Other Blacks Do.’ Well, it’s true: Ninety percent of black murder victims are killed by blacks, and I wrote the article because the NAACP had announced that it was launching a suit against gun manufacturers because so many young blacks were dying of gun wounds.”
“I think if I say it enough times,” he continued, “hone the edges of my words until they’re razor sharp, it will cut through this nonsense and maybe restore us to some kind of common sense.”
Horowitz’s L.A.-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture is the umbrella organization for his Front Page Magazine, the Individual Rights Foundation, and the Wednesday Morning Club (originally started by screenwriter Lionel Chetwynd), a group of Hollywood conservatives that meets every month or so, and to which I often go to hear speakers. Probably no right-winger can discuss the Left more knowledgably than Horowitz, who’s now in his mid-60s and was an antiwar demonstrator before today’s college students (and even some of their parents) were alive.
He was born the red-diaper baby of two Communist schoolteachers (the old-fashioned card-carrying kind) in New York. The family were such true believers, in fact, that Horowitz remembers his father remarking gloomily, “you’ve broken the mold” at the news he was about to have a third grandchild.
“In the ‘20s, U.S. Communist Party members considered it reactionary to have any children, since they would be obstacles to the revolutionary mission,” Horowitz explains in his autobiography Radical Son. “More than two indicated a lack of political focus.”
Horowitz had helped found the New Left movement that emerged during the late-‘50s in Berkeley, and after spending a few years traveling around Europe lecturing about Marxism, he returned in 1968 as an editor of the radical magazine Ramparts. He also became an advisor and confidant to Huey Newton and the Black Panthers, an involvement that led to the first station of his journey from left to right.
In 1974, Horowitz recommended a friend, Betty Van Patter, to the Panthers as a bookkeeper. After Van Patter told Horowitz she was upset about what she’d seen in the Panthers’ records, she disappeared. Two weeks later her body was found, head bashed in, floating in San Francisco Bay. (The case was never solved.)
Horowitz had been aware of the Panthers’ thuggish habits–Newton had already killed a police officer and a young prostitute and beaten up fellow Panther Bobby Seale, who went into hiding–but had avoided facing them. Van Patter’s death sent him into a spiral of guilt, depression, and self-examination that destroyed his marriage, most of his friendships, and eventually his entire worldview.
He took a hard look at the Left’s hypocrisy and anti-Semitism, at its willingness to condemn repression in right-wing regimes like Chile and Nicaragua but never in Communist Cambodia or the Arab world, which the Soviets supported against Israel. He remembered Marx’s reference to the Devil’s motto in Goethe’s Faust–“Everything that lives deserves to perish”–and began to see his former comrades as violent nihilists in dangerous pursuit of an impossible, utopian dream.
“When the left called for ‘liberation,’” he observes in Radical Son, “what it really wanted was to erase the human slate and begin again.” By 1979, Horowitz had burned the last of his bridges with a piece called “A Radical’s Disenchantment” for The Nation.
But old friends have been replaced by new ones. George W. Bush has been a Horowitz fan since happening across his autobiography. “There was just a lot of history I remember from my early 20s come to life,” the president said. “And here was somebody who blew the whistle.” Since Sept. 11, however, Horowitz’s special focus has been defeatist pacifism, particularly that emanating from academia. He sees the contemporary Left as much more dangerous than the one he grew up with.
Horowitz has been attacking the rhetoric of Noam Chomsky et al. by placing ads in student papers advising demonstrators to “Think Twice Before You Bring the War Home” and by distributing brochures to colleges picturing the M.I.T. linguistics professor as “The Ayatollah of Anti-American Hate.” The two are old enemies–Horowitz has been tilting at Chomskyisms like the professor’s claim that the U.S. press is “the mirror image” of the Soviet press for a quarter-century–and Chomsky gets his own chapter, “The Nihilist Left,” in Horowitz’s latest book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left, a typically impolite polemic about what former CIA director James Woolsey has described as “the Hitler-Stalin pact of our time.”
Horowitz has been coming out with at least one new book a year since his 1998 autobiography. He’s now working on an encyclopedia of the Left. “We’ve already identified 82 left-wing foundations, beginning with Pew, Carnegie, and Ford,” he said. “There’s 57 times as much money on the left as on the right. Fortunately, these people are living in cloud cuckooland and don’t always spend their money well.”
This is the sort of extra dig that makes Horowitz particularly infuriating to those whose patriotism he questions. “I have made it my business to call the Left out on its anti-American agenda,” he said with a shrug, when I asked about this. “I refer to it as the Hate-America Left, and they don’t like that because the American Communist party proclaimed that Communism is 20th-century Americanism.”
“My parents, who were Communists, always pretended to be American patriots,” he continued. “You can always convince yourself you are: I love America, I just want it to be perfect, which it will be when it becomes a Soviet Communist state. Like everybody else, I see things that need to be improved. I just am mindful of the fact that they can be made a lot worse.”
–Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.