In watching David Horowitz’s
transformation from lefty radical, confidant of Huey Newton and the son
of communists, all the way to conservative Republican, I have always
marveled at how deeply the hard left despises him — more so than they
do most right wingers.
I suppose it’s because he is seen as a turncoat — someone who used
to be one of them, but has peered through the fog and rejected heroes
of the left such as Howard Zinn, whom Horowitz condemned last night as “a Stalinist fraud.”
Once Nancy Johnson country, the Northwest Corner is now solidly blue.
Still, about 75 people turned out see Horowitz at the Elfers music hall
at The Hotchkiss School [see photo at left]. Before he began, Horowitz
worked the room, introducing himself to everyone there. I chatted
briefly with him about being a community journalist — a job he
professed great respect for because “you really get to know the people
The appearance was sponsored by the Hotchkiss Republicans and Young America’s Foundation, a conservative young people’s organization Horowitz has supported for years.
Horowitz, a nationally know author and activist who appears
regularly as a guest on cable news shows, has long been a champion of
academic freedom and has lamented the extent to which academia has been
dominated by the left, especially on college campuses, but also in
settings such as Hotchkiss.
In her introduction, Natalie Boyse, a junior at the school and a
member of the Hotchkiss Republicans, lionized Horowitz in a way that
would probably even make the Heritage Foundation blush.
“You are an inspiration to all of us who cherish academic freedom,” Natalie said.
Rather than potificate from the ornate-looking lectern that had been
set up for him, Horowitz got ahold of a wireless microphone and walked
back and forth on the stage, delivering a 50-minute sermon on academic
freedom, which he emphasized again and again, was not the same thing as
freedom of speech.
“When was in college and graduate school I never once heard an
instructor make a political statement, never tried to persuade the
class of a political point,” Horowitz, 69, said to the audience, some
of whom were visibly nodding their heads in approval. “They were
professional teachers. Today at least 10% are political activists
rather than scholars.”
Although I’m 18 years younger than Horowitz, my experiences are consistent with his. I attended a school much like Hotchkiss in the 1970s and then on to a Canadian university in the 70s and early 80s. Political statements by my teachers were rare, as were attempts to state opinion as fact.
But by the time I got to Wesleyan
as a grad student in the late 80s, political pontifications by
professors were more commonplace — and in literature class, no less.
I’d say 20 to 30% of my instructors occasionally lectured us how on
close-minded Americans were or how pervasive racism and sexism were. My
literary theory prof, Jim Stone, was an avowed Marxist — although,
ironically (and in between his wrongheaded political statements), he
was also the best teacher I had while in Middletown.
Horowitz, who is the author of an Academic Bill of Rights,
recalled the story of a student who told him his French professor at
Penn State took up valuable class time with a showing of “Sicko,”
Michael Moore’s scathing indictment of the U.S. healthcare system.
Horowitz likened it to going “to your doctor and getting a lecture on
Evidently someone at Hotchkiss had told him a teacher there had
likened President Bush to Hitler, causing Horowitz to go off on a
another riff: “If people are allowed to use their classrooms as
political soapboxes, then they’re destroying the mission of the
Another student asked him what he thought of censorship and
suggested she had been warned by school officials against using a
politically loaded phrase — to which Horowitz replied: “I would not
like to see you censored for the use of the word Islamofacism, but it’s
a private school. It doesn’t fall under the first amendment.”
One student, whom others identified as Alex, asked Horowitz a
lengthy question about the Middle East. When the answer did not satisfy
him, Alex asked another argumentative question and another until John
Virden, the school’s assistant headmaster, attempted to shut the affair
down and have the students make their queries privately with the guest
speaker. But Horowitz insisted on taking a few more questions and then
the event adjourned to a small reception out in the hall.
I thought the man made a very compelling case against bias in the
classroom. You would think that even the left could agree with him that
bringing a heavy political agenda into the classroom (be it left or
right) is simply wrong. But no, many in the academy see Horowitz’s
crusade as an attack on them, when in reality if they were simply doing
their jobs, they would have nothing to worry about.
I must admit I had half expected some mild protests, since Horowitz has attracted his share
of them in the past (and since there were already lefty protesters
ready to spring into action the next day during Bush’s visit to Kent).
Students have in the past tried to shout Horowitz down and prevent his
voice from being heard. He’s even been the victim of a pie throwing.
But I felt proud to be at that lecture and reassured that, although
I’m sure many on the Hotchkiss campus can’t stand him him, Horowitz was
allowed to be heard, just as his detractors are. And there were no pies
… what a country and what a school!