David Horowitz's Long March | The Nation


David Horowitz's Long March

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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.

Research assistance was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.

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Scott Sherman
Scott Sherman (scottgsherman.com), a contributing writer to The Nation,  is at work on a book about the New York...

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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.

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