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The Journey of David Horowitz By: Post-Gazette.com
Post-Gazette.com | Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Written by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Reporter Dennis Roddy

By the time we reached Mt. Washington to admire the renamed husks of Pittsburgh's empire -- this one used to be the Westinghouse building, that one was called the National Steel Building -- David Horowitz had diagnosed the city's problem as political termites.

"It's gotta be the Democrats," Horowitz said. "How can you be a Democrat when you're living in a city that's a monument to not being a Democrat?"

Then the odd revelation: growing up the son of communist high school teachers in New York City, Horowitz was a Pittsburgh Pirates fan.

"I loved Ralph Kiner," he said. "Being communists we couldn't root for the Yankees because they were examples of American imperialism. They won everything. They were rich. They were lily-white. And I just couldn't like the Brooklyn Dodgers."

Now the Dodgers, and Horowitz, are both in Los Angeles, and largely indifferent to each other. The Pirates play in a park funded the way it would have been done in Sweden. And David Horowitz is touring the city before I drop him off at the office of one of his underwriters, Richard Mellon Scaife.

At 64, Horowitz has reached his point of youthful rebellion. Once he edited Ramparts Magazine, hated his country and considered Marxism his religion. Now he is a left-baiting conservative who rounds endlessly on liberals, affirmative action, welfare, Bill Clinton, John Kerry. When The National Review Online dumped Ann Coulter, the screeching Valkyrie of the far right, Horowitz promptly scooped her up as a new star for his online FrontPageMag.com.

"I'm a campaign," he said over lunch.

Aptly put. Horowitz has taken out advertisements in college newspapers arguing against the idea of reparations to black Americans for slavery -- an act his enemies see as pure provocation in the field of race. Once a fixture in the political left, he now attacks the anti-war movement as an anti-American Fifth Column -- his words.

His trip from leftist to rightist began in 1974. Ramparts had closed and Horowitz opened a school for the children of Black Panthers in Oakland, California. To keep the IRS off their case, he asked his longtime friend, Betty Van Patter, to keep the books.

She vanished in December of that year. Her body was fished out of San Francisco Bay five weeks later. It took years before Horowitz came to the conclusion that Van Patter had been murdered by the Panthers.

"They were gangsters," he said.

Depressed, Horowitz did no politics between 1974 and 1983. Instead, with Peter Collier, a pal from Ramparts days, he did a series of dynastic biographies of the Kennedys, the Rockefellers and the Fords. The duo became a publishing success while, at the same time, moving rightward. As late as 1980 Horowitz was still voting for Democrats and viewed himself, however inchoately, as a man of the left.

"It's very hard to leave the left, because you feel like you're giving up hope. Because if socialism is impossible, you know the world is never going to change very much," Horowitz said. In 1984, he and Collier publicly wrote about voting for Reagan. Three years later, they organized The Second Thoughts Conference, a gathering place, he insisted, to discuss the future and direction of America's jumbled left.

"I made huge efforts to make sure that it not be seen that we were joining the conservatives," he said. When the blasts came from the left, though, both Horowitz and Collier were blown over to the other side. By the time I met them in 1988, they were writing speeches for Bob Dole.

Now, slightly stooped, bearded, looking like the college professor he will never be, Horowitz can't get his books reviewed, despite unquestionably dazzling prose. The chapter in "Radical Son" about his father and grandfather flows like a wonderful river. What his allies cheer him for is the partisan zeal he seems to have carried over from the other side of the political spectrum. His enemies slander him as a purchased man.

"I've been on platforms and all people have to say is 'Oh, funded by Dick Scaife,' and that's it. It's like the McCarthy era."

For the record, Scaife's foundations in 2001, the most recent available figures, donated $310,000 to Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture. That is slightly more than 10 percent of its annual budget.

Now, having tossed aside cherished illusions of changing the world, Horowitz sees his job as improving it. Whether he is achieving this is a debate that turns on the observer's politics. His stated goal is to turn the incendiary language of the '60s left back onto its remnants. The polemics are entertaining, but as Horowitz himself admits, his worldview has been informed by the sudden knowledge that hope can be a destructive thing.

"I saw that hope could be more destructive than anything else," he said.

I didn't know how to break the news to him about how we financed the ballpark where Kiner's retired number hangs.

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