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David Horowitz's Long March By: Scott Sherman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, June 19, 2000


The Nation | June 15, 2000


ON OCTOBER 19, 1959, Frederick Moore Jr., a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, climbed the steps of Sproul Hall and began a hunger strike to protest the university's compulsory military-training requirement through ROTC. "I am a conscientious objector," Moore declared. "I object to killing and any action aiding war." David Horowitz, a 20-year-old graduate student in the English department, was so moved by Moore's stance that he volunteered to defend him at a campus debate. Horowitz's opponent, a young military veteran, insisted that ROTC's detractors simply lacked the guts to fight the Communists; Horowitz disagreed. "Wearing a uniform with a million other guys is easy; hiding behind a gun is even easier," he proclaimed. "All you do is what you're told; you and a million others." Concluded Horowitz, "Was not patriotism of this sort questionable?"

Many years later, in the fall of 1987, Horowitz received a phone call from the office of Elliott Abrams, an Assistant Secretary of State. It was time to fight the Communists. "Are you willing to serve your country?" one of Abrams's young assistants jauntily inquired. A few weeks later, Horowitz found himself in Managua, Nicaragua, where, at the expense of US taxpayers, he offered tactical advice to anti-Sandinista labor unions, politicians and journalists, and, in the dining room of the Intercontinental Hotel, thundered, "For the sake of the poorest peasants in this Godforsaken country, I can't wait for the contras to march into this town and liberate it from these fucking Sandinistas!"

* * *

These days, not much remains of the student who stood up to defend a conscientious objector in the twilight of the Eisenhower era. The years have transformed Horowitz into a steely gladiator, an indefatigable pugilist in the culture wars, the right's very own Ahab. "Lapsed radicals like ourselves are always condemned to regard the left as their Great White Whale," Horowitz and Peter Collier confessed in their 1991 anthology, Deconstructing the Left. "This book is a record of our sightings of the beast. We may not yet have set the final harpoon, but we have given chase."

Throughout the nineties, Horowitz spent much of his time combating "political correctness" in American universities. His weapon in that crusade was Heterodoxy, the tabloid-sized monthly he founded with Collier in 1992 and which, Horowitz has written, "is meant to have the feel of a samizdat publication inside the gulag of the PC university." But the spirit of Havel and Michnik is noticeably absent; Heterodoxy is a garish, surreal compendium of Horowitz's obsessions and demons, neatly packaged for right-wing consumption. There are lists ("The Ten Wackiest Feminists on Campus"), odd cartoons (Karl Marx in drag) and admiring letters from the next generation ("I am 11 years old and I cannot thank you enough for publishing this wonderful paper...my schoolmates are a bunch of feminist, liberal, PC, vegetarian multiculturalists"). In 1993, when the literary critic Catharine Stimpson told a reporter that frequent attacks in Heterodoxy had transformed her into the magazine's "centerfold," the editors replied with a pornographic pastiche of her in its April 1993 issue, under the caption "ms. april."

But the PC "gulag" is just one of Horowitz's targets. His self-appointed mandate is to sniff out and expose leftist chicanery--real and imagined--wherever it may exist. He is a busy man. "One has to stigmatize the left and segregate it," Horowitz told Insight magazine in 1989. Last year, when the anthropologist David Stoll challenged the veracity of Rigoberta Menchú's autobiography, Horowitz rushed to purchase advertisements in six college newspapers announcing: rigoberto menchu nobel laureate and marxist terrorist now exposed as an intellectual hoax.

Such crusades have hardly damaged his career. He has a column in the online magazine Salon, he contributes Op-Ed pieces to leading newspapers and rarely a day goes by when he doesn't appear on television or talk-radio. He is currently involved in efforts to create a conservative talk show on PBS. His funders admire that tireless spirit. "He's an extremely articulate man and a very determined fighter. I think he brings a great deal of intellectual power and energy to his work," says Michael Joyce, president of the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, which has given Horowitz more than $3.5 million since 1988.

Lately, Horowitz has stepped into a new role: Republican Party theoretician. His pamphlet The Art of Political War: How Republicans Can Fight to Win, is causing a stir on the right: Thirty-five state Republican Party chairmen have endorsed it, the Heritage Foundation sent 2,300 copies to conservative activists and House majority whip Tom DeLay provided copies to every Republican Congressional officeholder, with a cover note praising its contents. On April 5, Senators Arlen Specter, Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback, plus a dozen members of the House, hosted a soiree for Horowitz in Washington, at which $40,000 was raised for his activities.

In addition to political alchemy, Horowitz has another new fixation: race, exemplified by his recent book, Hating Whitey and Other Progessive Causes. Last August, in a piece titled "A Real, Live Bigot," Time columnist Jack White took issue with an essay Horowitz wrote for Salon. In that piece, Horowitz excoriated the NAACP's class-action suit against gun manufacturers and wondered, "Am I alone in seeing this as an absurd act of political desperation by the civil rights establishment? What's next? Will Irish-Americans sue whiskey distillers, or Jews the gas company?" White, who is African-American, retorted that Horowitz's column was so repellent that it "made the anti-black rantings of Dinesh D'Souza seem like models of fair-minded social analysis."

* * *

When you enter Horowitz's office, in a tony highrise on the West Side of Los Angeles, the first thing you notice on the wall is the New York Times's framed and weather-beaten front page for March 6, 1953. stalin dies after 29-year rule, reads the six-column headline. Welcome to the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, Horowitz's burgeoning empire, which generates a remarkable range of products and services. There is Heterodoxy. There is his daily online journal, FrontPageMagazine, whose features include a "Left Alert" ("Chevy Chase Says Socialism Works" was one recent item) and an "Intellectual Rogue's Gallery" with unflattering articles about Edward Said, Noam Chomsky and Eric Alterman. There is a publishing imprint, Second Thoughts Books, which brings forth titles like P.J. O'Rourke's Why I Am Not a Conservative, pamphlets like Liberal Racism: The College Student's Common-Sense Guide to Radical Ideology and How to Fight It, and collections of essays by...David Horowitz.

That's not all: There is Horowitz's legal arm, the Individual Rights Foundation, which represents police officers and college professors who see themselves as victims of affirmative action policies; there is the Wednesday Morning Club, which brings speakers like Newt Gingrich, George Will and William Kristol (plus the occasional liberal) to a monthly networking lunch hosted by Horowitz at the Beverly Hills Hotel. There is the Matt Drudge Defense Fund, which raised $50,000 for the online gossip columnist's defense against a libel suit and which provided him with two pro bono lawyers. To burnish the center's image, there is even a charity organization.

The center's annual budget is approximately $3 million, roughly a third of which comes from the Olin, Bradley and Scaife foundations. But Horowitz also has 30,000 small donors who send checks of varying sizes. The center is his war room: His direct-mail campaigns, his endless media appearances (he employs a full-time publicist), his forays to college campuses, his charity work--all of it is coordinated under this roof. Of the fifteen people employed here, some are reluctant to communicate with a visiting reporter; others speak their mind. When I phoned the office a few weeks before my arrival to inquire about its proximity to public transportation, I was informed by one of Horowitz's young assistants, "The bus system is awful, but you don't want to ride with those people anyway."

* * *

Horowitz occupies the corner office, which affords a stunning view of downtown Los Angeles from the twelfth floor. It is a cluttered, cramped space, overflowing with unruly piles of books, pamphlets and magazines. Photographs of Horowitz with Bob Dole, Colin Powell and Henry Hyde adorn the walls, along with an admiring 1986 letter from Richard Nixon. Stout and compact, attired in a chic navy-blue suit, Horowitz appears relaxed and cheerful as he ruminates on his favorite themes: leftist domination of Hollywood, the press and higher education. "Hollywood keeps celebrating Communists," he grumbles, in reference to the recent film The Hurricane. "Where's the Hollywood film about Whittaker Chambers?"

Academia, too, is suspect: "I want to know," he snaps, "how many reading lists have von Hayek on them as opposed to Chomsky." But what about the UCLA survey of 35,000 professors cited by Robert Hughes in his book Culture of Complaint, which revealed that only 4.9 percent called themselves "far left," while 17.8 percent put down "conservative." Horowitz's voice rises to a shout. "Norman Podhoretz cannot retire and be a professor anywhere! Clancy Sigal, the novelist, is a fucking professor at USC! He has no degrees. He's written books that nobody reads, and he's got a sinecure."

Is the fractured, demoralized US left really the colossal monolith depicted in Horowitz's voluminous writings? "Leftists will always think of themselves as powerless," he replies cryptically, adding, "The actual views of Nation readers are reflected in the White House today, and in the DNC." Still, those who find themselves on the receiving end of his wrath should not take it personally. Says Horowitz with conviction: "I harbor no ill will toward leftists."

Some Horowitz-watchers beg to differ, and they attribute his rancor to a complex ideological journey that began in Sunnyside, Queens, in the fifties. His parents were Communists who taught Negro history in their spare time, and he recalls a boyhood home filled with prints by William Gropper, back issues of the Communist Party newspaper the Daily Worker and books like Stalingrad and Scottsboro Boy. In 1952 his father, a high school English teacher, came under attack for his political views. When he refused to answer the question of whether he was a Communist, he was fired for "insubordination," despite his twenty-eight years of service to the school system. His relations with the party were poisoned, and he quit shortly thereafter. But he remained a fellow traveler, and David grew up in a milieu of red summer camps, Paul Robeson concerts and May Day parades. In 1953, at the age of 14, he was present at the Union Square Park death vigil for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. When the execution was announced, mounted police moved in to quell the demonstration. In his compelling, infuriating memoir, Radical Son (1997), Horowitz recalled, "I scrambled with the others to avoid the hoofs of the oncoming beasts, thinking: This must be fascism."

Following his graduation from Columbia University, Horowitz began graduate work at UC-Berkeley, arriving just in time for the anti-HUAC protests in San Francisco, which ended in massive police violence against the demonstrators. Horowitz chronicled those events in a slender 1962 book titled Student, which was one of the first texts of the New Left. It begins with a line from Ingmar Bergman's The Magician: "I have prayed just one prayer in my life: Use me." Student contained some Howl-like riffs against the conformity and ennui of the fifties, and it sold 25,000 copies. In 1982 Mario Savio, leader of Berkeley's Free Speech Movement, told Horowitz that he devoured the entire text standing in a New York drugstore, and it inspired him to go to California because "Berkeley is the place."

In 1962 Horowitz and his young family moved to Europe, spending most of the next six years in London. He became affiliated with the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation; fell under the spell of Ralph Miliband, the socialist intellectual, and Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky's biographer; and wrote several bombastic and forgotten volumes whose ambition was "the reconstruction of socialist theory after Stalin."

In 1968, at the behest of his old Berkeley comrade Robert Scheer, Horowitz returned to California to work at Ramparts, which, under Scheer and Warren Hinckle, had become one of the New Left's most vibrant publications. But internecine conflict quickly erupted, and Scheer was ousted by Horowitz and Peter Collier. Today, Scheer attributes his removal to the fact that he wasn't "left enough" for the fiery insurgents. In Radical Son, however, Horowitz argues that Scheer was expelled in a popular revolt by beleaguered staff members. In the fall of 1969 Horowitz and Collier took over Ramparts, but they lacked their predecessors' journalistic and literary imagination, along with their ability to raise funds from wealthy individuals. The magic was gone, and the New Left's flagship publication perished in 1975.

* * *

In early 1974 the French writer Jean Genet phoned the Ramparts office and got Horowitz on the line. Genet, who had taken up the Black Panther cause in the Bay Area, needed a translator. Might Ramparts provide one? One thing led to another, and it wasn't long before Horowitz found himself in the Oakland penthouse of Panther leader Huey Newton, who had just returned from China. A heated argument about the revolutionary virtues of Maoism erupted between Horowitz and Newton, and the latter concluded the debate on a conciliatory note. Horowitz was delighted: "I had found a political soul mate," he recalls.

Horowitz's intellectual seduction by Newton constitutes some of the most fascinating pages in Radical Son. Newton made Horowitz his confidant, took him to glitzy parties and published his essays in the Panthers' official newspaper. When Newton asked him to raise money for a new Panther school in Oakland, Horowitz eagerly obliged by creating a tax-exempt foundation that eventually netted more than $100,000 for the project.

Attaching himself to the Bay Area Panthers in 1974 was, it turns out, a colossal mistake: Their heyday was over, and the leadership had become increasingly violent and deranged. The educator Herbert Kohl, who was then involved in several Panther education projects, warned Horowitz that Newton was abusing cocaine. ("He had a cold," Horowitz replied.) Uncomfortable being a white man in the upper ranks of the Panther hierarchy, Horowitz attempted to recruit qualified blacks to replace him, so he invited Troy Duster, a sociologist at UC-Berkeley, to meet Newton. But Duster was suspicious of Newton's mercurial behavior and fled. Horowitz then denounced Duster as something of a bourgeois "Uncle Tom." "I must have been insufferable," Horowitz says, reflecting on his younger self.

* * *

On July 22, 1974, Huey Newton shot a young prostitute, after which he fled to Cuba. "I should have left [the Panthers] then," Horowitz says. In fact, many of his black friends in the party did depart at that very moment--a turn of events that enraged Newton's successor, a striking, charismatic and voluble young woman named Elaine Brown, who, according to Horowitz, said the party was under attack and "the rats were leaving the ship." Horowitz says he felt trapped. When Brown asked him to recommend someone to oversee the party finances, he suggested Betty Van Patter, a 42-year-old bookkeeper who had worked at Ramparts. Van Patter, who was white, eagerly accepted the position. On December 13, 1974, she vanished. A month later, her body, with a massive head wound, was discovered in San Francisco Bay.

It is a case, according to veteran Panther-watcher Kate Coleman, that has "haunted the Bay Area left for two decades." A lengthy investigation by Coleman revealed that Van Patter had discovered questionable activity--rackets, dope, prostitution--at a Panther-run bar in Oakland called the Lamp Post and had reportedly complained about it to Brown, who then fired her.

Van Patter's death plunged Horowitz into "a really clinical depression," he says today. "For a good year, I woke up in tears every day because of Betty." What inspired the guilt was not simply that he'd recommended Van Patter to the Panthers but that he'd been too frightened to warn her about the dangers she faced. But he was in a bind: Van Patter, delighted to be employed by the Panthers, was completely enamored of Brown and wary of Horowitz, whom she did not trust. So he let her proceed with the job.

"Today I can't even justify it," he says wearily. "I have no idea why I did it." Horowitz and I are seated in his office. The room is tense and completely silent, except for the sound of his hand nervously striking the table. His voice, normally firm and confident, sinks to a barely audible mumble.

"It was inconceivable to me that the Panthers would kill Betty Van Patter," he whispers. "I was nervous about what was going on there, but if I told Betty what I actually felt, I was afraid that she would tell Elaine, and that Elaine would harm me or my children. I was completely unprotected."

If he could do it over again, what would he say to Van Patter?

"I would tell her flat out--get out of there," he replies. "But the consequences for me would have been awful. I didn't have any money. How was I going to move my family?"

Today, Tamara Baltar, Van Patter's daughter, does not consider Horowitz in any way responsible for her mother's death. "David didn't kill my mother, and David didn't participate in the killing of my mother," says Baltar, breaking a long silence on the case. Is there something curious about the fact that he holds himself responsible? "No," she replies. "I think I would, too, if I were him." Not until 1984, however, did Baltar, who was a leftist and a supporter of the Panthers, accept the view that they committed the crime. "David Horowitz kept at it from the beginning," she says. "And I was mad at him for keeping at it. But he kept at it."

In the late seventies, relying on his old Panther contacts, Horowitz quietly began to reconstruct the crime, and he was a primary source for a lengthy exposé on Newton's criminal activities that Kate Coleman published in New Times in 1978.

"I stayed on the story," he says. "It's a minimal atonement."

For her part, Elaine Brown vehemently denies Horowitz's accusation that the Panthers were involved in the murder. "I didn't have anything to do with this woman's death," Brown insisted in a recent telephone interview, noting that no arrests have ever been made in the case. "White people," says Brown, "always want me to tell them about fucking Betty Van Patter, but not one person from The Nation has ever called to ask me who I think killed George Jackson." From her point of view, Horowitz and Coleman have waged a relentless vendetta against her. But the available evidence strongly suggests Panther involvement in the death of Betty Van Patter. In 1984, when Van Patter's family engaged the services of the renowned private detective Hal Lipset, he reported back, "You should have no doubt that your mother's death was Panther-related--that they killed her."

* * *

In the wake of Betty Van Patter's death, Horowitz's life came apart. Surrounded by "personal darkness," he began a series of affairs, which led to the collapse of his marriage. He launched a new career, with Collier, as a dynastic biographer; eventually they would produce thick histories of the Rockefeller, Ford and Kennedy families. "Without question, David Horowitz was extremely traumatized by what happened with Betty Van Patter, as I think anyone would be," says Hugh Pearson, author of The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America. "As a result, David just totally went berserk with regard to the left-liberal community."

In 1979 Horowitz published an article in The Nation ["A Radical's Disenchantment," December 8] lashing radicals for their supposed moral indifference to repression and genocide in Vietnam and Cambodia. Old friends from the New Left began to fall away. In 1984 he cast a ballot for Ronald Reagan. In 1986 he informed a Berkeley audience: "You are in fact in league with the darkest and most reactionary forces of the modern world, whose legacies--as the record attests--are atrocities and oppression on a scale unknown in the human past." By 1989 Horowitz was comparing himself to Gifford Maxim, the Whittaker Chambers character in Lionel Trilling's novel The Middle of the Journey, an ex-Communist who confronted the radical tendencies of his time "with what he knew, from his experience, of the reality which lay behind the luminous words of the great promise." Horowitz had arrived at the final destination of his journey. Now, he ridicules the idea of utopia: "Every leftist should watch the Jerry Springer show," he says today. "How are you going to make a new world out of that material?"

Horowitz spent the nineties securing funding for the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, coming to grips with his family history, writing his memoirs and consolidating his status as a conservative pundit. That was accomplished with freewheeling attacks on homosexual promiscuity, multiculturalism, the ACLU, Angela Davis, the Russian Revolution, John Kenneth Galbraith, postmodernism and Winnie Mandela, to name but a few targets.

* * *

By the end of the decade, however, Horowitz had more or less exhausted his arsenal, and the political world beckoned. He was not a complete stranger to the corridors of power: In 1988 he and Collier wrote speeches for Bob Dole and had the pleasure of dining with Ronald Reagan, William Bennett and Newt Gingrich. Later, Horowitz was part of the brain trust that launched anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 in California. Last summer, he released The Art of Political War, printing 80,000 copies. It argues that the Republicans have been utterly vanquished by a President who has mastered the art of triangulation. In the public's mind, Horowitz writes, "the Clinton Democrat Party is now the party of economic vibrancy, anti-crime laws, welfare reform laws, budget surpluses and free trade. That's what the American people want."

To regain the political initiative, says Horowitz, Republicans must overturn the public perception that they are coldhearted and beholden to the rich: "'Tax breaks for the wealthy on the backs of the poor.' This is the Democrat sound-bite that defines Republicans as mean-spirited fat cats and enemies of the poor. What is the Republican chant? There is none." He proposes his own mantra: taxes for bureaucrats out of the pockets of the people. Republicans, in his view, must aggressively depict their opponents in starkly different terms: "Democrats label Republicans right-wing. But Republicans have no label to pin on Democrats to fight back." Horowitz to the rescue: "Here, then, is a label for Democrats: Leftists. The Democrat Party is a party of the Left."

Finally, Horowitz argues that the Republican Party must, through a massive legislative push for school vouchers, reposition itself as "champions of working Americans and minorities," the "party of the underdog." The Art of Political War appears to be having an impact: A recent letter from the head of the Missouri Republican Party reported that Horowitz's suggestions proved decisive in a recent Congressional election in the state's 32nd District: "We prevailed," she wrote, "by implementing 'political war' a la Horowitz."

Horowitz's other current project is rather more controversial. No longer content to hammer away at the usual suspects, he has trained his sights on a new target: Afro-America. Hating Whitey's thesis is that contemporary black leaders--ranging from Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton to Jesse Jackson and Julian Bond--have "squandered" the moral legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by their "restructuring of the civil rights agenda as a radical cause" with policies like affirmative action and multiculturalism. "Whereas the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King's leadership," he writes, "achieved its aims with the support of 90 percent majorities in both houses of Congress, a majority of Americans--roughly 70 percent--oppose the current civil rights agenda that embraces racial preferences." The "moral abdication" of black civil rights leaders can be explained, he insists, by "their close association with a radical left whose anti-white hatred is a by-product of its anti-Americanism." Consequently, "ideological hatred of whites is now an expanding industry not only in the African-American community, but among white 'liberals' in elite educational institutions as well."

Hating Whitey is filled with assaults on leading black thinkers (Harvard Professor Cornel West is dismissed as "an intellectual of modest talents whose skin color has catapulted him into academic stardom with a six-figure income") and giddy celebrations of the American past: "The establishment of America by Protestant Christians...was historically essential to the development of institutions that today afford greater privileges and protections to all minorities than those of any society extant."

The book is littered with inaccuracies large and small. Writing about the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Horowitz says he saw Nation columnist Christopher Hitchens, who was "showing his parents around the event." (Hitchens's parents are deceased.) More troubling is the way Horowitz wields statistics. "In 1994," he writes, "there were twenty thousand rapes of white women by black men, but only one hundred rapes of black women by white men"--a statistic he lifted from Dinesh D'Souza's book The End of Racism. D'Souza's assertion, however, is based on a gross misreading of Justice Department figures.

Hating Whitey was rejected by Horowitz's regular publisher, the Free Press, who told him they would never publish a book with that title. Spence Publishing, a tiny outfit in Dallas, was pressed into service. To propel sales, the author purchased more than 100 advertisements, but sinister forces derailed the campaign. In October the Center for the Study of Popular Culture issued a press release titled horowitz book on race hits roadblock despite public demand, which proclaimed that some bookstores were reluctant to stock it, while others mistakenly listed the book as Hating Whitney. His media appearances have been turbulent. In a debate with Michael Eric Dyson on Black Entertainment Television, Horowitz seemed overwhelmed by Dyson's rhetorical finesse, and by his repeated insistence that, given escalating levels of intermarriage, "black folks are loving whitey!"

* * *

Hating Whitey and The Art of Political War offer sharply divergent strategies on how to wage political combat. The latter insists that the Republican Party "can only win" by linking its agendas to the downtrodden, and it laments the GOP's unwillingness to "reach out to African Americans." In Hating Whitey, however, Horowitz whips up a frenzy about a multitude of black rapists. Is that the way to entice black voters into the Republican Party? "Sometimes my tactical agendas conflict," Horowitz shrugs.

As a young man, Horowitz was enamored of socialist revolution and the Black Panthers. His leftism has vanished; but the fervor remains. In that sense, he is not so different from the ex-Communists whom Horowitz's mentor, Isaac Deutscher, dissected in his famous 1950 review of the anthology The God That Failed. The apostate from Communism, Deutscher wrote, "continues to see the world in white and black, but now the colors are differently distributed." The most dignified attitude for the ex-Communist, Deutscher believed, was "critical sense and intellectual detachment." But many apostates found that an impossible road to follow, and, in Deutscher's phrase, ended up doing "the most vicious things."

* * *

Critical sense and intellectual detachment have never been Horowitz's forte. As he embarks on a new set of battles, the stakes are somewhat lower than in the past. Lives are not on the line; only jobs and reputations are. Take Horowitz's campaign against China expert and writer Orville Schell, dean of the UC-Berkeley Journalism School. In 1998 Horowitz's legal arm, the Individual Rights Foundation, filed suit against the Regents of the University of California on behalf of Michael Savage, a conservative radio commentator who had applied unsuccessfully for the deanship. Schell got the job, but the IRF suit contended that since he was selected through an old-boy network of New Leftists, his appointment constituted political patronage and was therefore illegal under California labor law.

Why was Schell, whom Horowitz has labeled a "Gucci Marxist," unfit for the position? "Although he has written several books on China and authored some op-ed pieces," Horowitz affirmed in Hating Whitey, he is "not a working journalist." Schell's curriculum vitae lists twelve books and 206 articles, including contributions to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker and Harper's Magazine. The case eventually collapsed when Savage refused to be deposed.

Horowitz's crusade against Steve Wasserman, editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, was conducted with similar methods. When Wasserman arrived at the LA Times in 1996 Horowitz spread rumors about his youthful relationship with the "Red Family" commune, "a group of Berkeley urban guerrillas." In an interview with Buzz magazine Horowitz repeated a story he says he heard in the sixties--that Tom Hayden taught the young Wasserman how to manufacture explosives. Horowitz later withdrew the charge in a letter to Buzz: "Steve now informs me that the story is untrue and I have no reason to disbelieve him." (Wasserman says he was never a member of the Red Family.) Subsequently, Wasserman asked Horowitz to contribute a 250-word essay to a symposium on Marx's Communist Manifesto, but he shortened the piece for reasons of clarity and coherence. When Horowitz saw his tiny essay alongside a lengthy commentary by Eric Hobsbawm, he dispatched a letter to Times publisher Mark Willes, lecturing him about Hobsbawm's Communist past and insisting that "Wasserman has an agenda in defending Marx." Willes passed the letter to Wasserman, who communicated his displeasure to Horowitz. That prompted Horowitz, writing in Salon, to once again dredge up the old charges about the rifle-toting Red Family: "They hoped to launch a 'war of liberation' in America, and Wasserman was one of their foot soldiers."

For Horowitz, it's not only journalism schools and newspapers that harbor subversives; the Democratic Party itself has been invaded. One of the many people pilloried in Hating Whitey is Carlottia Scott, who was an aide to former Representative Ron Dellums and is currently political director of the Democratic National Committee; Horowitz labels her a "communist." Is Scott a member of the CPUSA? "I don't know that she's a member of the CPUSA," he replies with irritation. "Small 'c,' please."

In leveling such charges, Horowitz knows he is being outrageous, but it's all part of the high-stakes game he is playing. He seems to accept the fact that something in his character propels him toward the edge, wherever it may lie, and it's a risk he accepts wholeheartedly. He is a man willing, maybe even eager, to play with fire. Perhaps that is the surest way of saying to the Olin, Scaife and Bradley foundations, "Use me." At one point, in discussing his long campaign against Elaine Brown, he confesses that for a while he was afraid to turn on the ignition of his car in the morning. I asked him if he meant that seriously. He does. "Hating Whitey has returned the apprehension," he admits. "But when I am out there," he says, "talking about the violence that is committed against whites in America by blacks--which is huge and largely unreported--I know there are black people out there who see me as...somebody standing in the way of justice for them. And that means they hate me. And I need to just recognize that." Thus far, he hasn't received any threats.

* * *

In an article in the New York Times Magazine last November about the new cold war scholarship, Jacob Weisberg interpreted Horowitz's career as a "fierce Oedipal struggle entwined with radicalism." That is ultimately a question for psychohistorians, but what is certain is that Horowitz craves approval, and that underneath the fiery demeanor is an insecure human being. More than anything, he wishes to be taken seriously as an intellectual and an apostate. In 1998, when Smith College Professor Daniel Horowitz published a biography of Betty Friedan--one that delved into her political affiliations in the forties and fifties-- Horowitz tore into the book in Salon, demanding that Friedan come clean about her "Stalinist Marxist" past. But he also purchased an advertisement in a Smith College newspaper that proclaimed: "An Invitation to Professor Daniel Horowitz (No Relation) or Any Member of the Smith Faculty or Administration to a Debate on Any One of the Following Subjects: 1. The Fibs of Smith Alumna Betty Friedan. 2. Smith's Political Hiring Practices that Result in a Liberal Arts Faculty Overwhelmingly on the Political Left. 3. What has happened to Students' Academic Freedom? (As in the Right Not to be Ideologically Indoctrinated in the Classroom) --David Horowitz." No one accepted his offer.

He talks openly about his quest for intellectual respectability. Here is Horowitz on The New Republic: "[Literary editor] Leon Wieseltier, for some reason, hates me. I have no idea. They not only don't ask me to write for them, but they don't review my books." On lunch with Steve Wasserman, months before his invitation to the Marx symposium: "I found myself wondering whether a leftist writer of reputation comparable to mine would have been invited to lunch by Wasserman and not asked to write a review for his magazine." On being snubbed by the sociologist Alan Wolfe at a conference: "I invited him to breakfast. I wanted to speak to Alan. I think a lot of what he does is good work. He was afraid to get near me. I could see him drawing back. I think he's afraid of the taint. I ate alone."

* * *

At 61, Horowitz shows no signs of exhaustion; indeed, Hating Whitey is his most incendiary work to date. His guilt over Betty Van Patter is an unrelenting source of anguish, and consequently there is every reason to believe that his crusade against the "Great White Whale" will continue, in all its peculiar sound and fury. Horowitz strenuously rejects allegations that he is a neo-McCarthyite. But his zeal and righteousness, his passion for lists and old political affiliations, his use of gossip and innuendo, his endless feuds and vendettas make him a creature of the fifties--not Whittaker Chambers, as he would have it, but something closer to Walter Winchell. "Stigmatizing" and "segregating" the left has brought him financial security in addition to a host of other benefits. His beloved column in Salon is a platform from which he can launch guerrilla raids deep into enemy territory; his recent marriage to a much younger woman has finally brought him some domestic tranquillity; and his burgeoning reputation in the Republican Party reduces the likelihood that he will have to eat alone, at least in Washington.

© Copyright 2000 by The Nation


Scott Sherman's articles have appeared in The Nation, Lingua Franca and the Washington Post. Research assistance was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.


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