FIFTY YEARS AGO, a demagogue named Joe McCarthy attempted to stifle the discussion of national-policy issues by labeling anyone who deviated from his conservative party line a "Communist," a "pinko" or a "red." Because McCarthy is now despised by our liberal culture, it is probably important to point out that there were indeed Communists and reds in government back then who had treason in their hearts and were working on behalf of America's enemies. But among McCarthy's targets were also Democrats and liberals, whose loyalties to America were genuine. Their real offense was failing to toe the McCarthy line. By recklessly associating those who merely disagreed with him with Communists, McCarthy was able to silence his political opposition.
Today there is a reverse McCarthyism operating in contemporary political debates, which comes from the political left. The damning label is no longer "Communist" but "Nazi" or "racist." Of course there are racists and bigots among us. But these stigmas are used just as the old McCarthy labels were: to threaten those who dissent from the party line.
Last year, for example, Democrat Charles Rangel said of Republican reformers of the Social Security system: "Don't you believe that they don't want to dismantle the Social Security system. They are afraid to come out from under their hoods and attack us directly." Rangel's colleague John Lewis was even less subtle, describing Republicans who wanted welfare reform as "Nazis." Meanwhile the White House's chief advisor on race denounced as a "crime against humanity," an academic book—a book!—showing that economic and educational opportunities for African Americans had increased more rapidly in the twenty years preceding affirmative action than they have in the twenty years since.
The use of such inflammatory labels can have only one purpose—to intimidate would-be dissenters and silence debate. Who wants to be labeled a Nazi or a racist, after all? Who can afford it? Years ago, "Jimmy the Greek" lost a $350,000 job as a network sports commentator when he made an off-the-cuff remark that some black leaders attacked as "racist." He was summarily fired by the network and never worked again. The same fate was meted out to former Dodger coach Al Campanis, who after eight years was still known to break down in tears of embarrassment and pain when interviewed about the incident. Because the term "racist" has the power wound and to kill, it should be used cautiously, especially by those who have the authority to make it credible—minorities themselves.
Recently, I myself was the target of such an attack in the pages of Time by an African-American columnist who called me a "bigot." The attack was occasioned by my opposition to an NAACP lawsuit against gun manufacturers and by my suggestion that while there are racists in America, America itself is not a racist country. America, I wrote, does not "oppress" blacks. Otherwise, why aren't blacks fleeing to more hospitable shores? Why are black Haitians trying so desperately to come here. To be oppressed?
As a Jew, I think I know something about ethnic prejudice. Jew hatred is alive and well in America. Thus, it was particularly unpleasant for me to be labeled a "bigot" and lumped with Buford Furrow within weeks of his attack on a Jewish center in California. I have been an active participant in the struggle for civil rights for more than half a century, having marched in support of Harry Truman's program for ending discrimination in government employment back in 1948. I am one of the most active Republicans working to make the party more inclusive of minorities and more supportive of the needs of inner-city communities. But none of this—my long public record in support of civil rights or my current efforts to get Republicans to give more support to African-American causes—served to insulate me against attacks that would stigmatize me as a race-hater.
That political differences were the true ground of the attacks on me that followed was underscored by a letter to Time from NAACP chairman Julian Bond. Bond called me a " '60s turncoat" and then added the following smear: "Horowitz may ruminate about being accused of being a closet racist. He need not worry—he's outed himself."
In fact, it is Julian Bond and the NAACP leadership who are the political turncoats. It is they who have embraced the same system of racial preferences the NAACP opposed back in the 1960s when it was the policy of segregationists in the South. I still believe in the color-blind values of the civil-rights movement I supported then. It is Julian Bond and the NAACP leadership who now take the position of George Wallace and Bull Connor, that government should adopt different attitudes towards people on the basis of their skin color. It is the NAACP that now defends the racial "boxes" in the U.S. census that try to pigeon-hole Americans into discrete racial categories. It is conservatives like myself who want the federal government to drop all racial categories and recognize that we are a diverse American family of "Cablinasians" and other racial mixtures.
This, I believe, is the reason why leftists like Julian Bond reach so readily for the race card in an attempt to silence those of us who disagree with them. They fear the exposure of their hypocrisy and lack of principle, unless we are discredited. The question is whether the rest of the country—black, brown, yellow, and white—will continue to go along with them, defending the unsavory past. Or whether the American people are ready to march forward, towards a less divisive and more diverse American future.