As the smoke cleared from David Horowitz’s recent carpet-bombing of the issue of reparations for African Americans, he sought safe harbor in the First Amendment and then claimed that his attack was prompted by a desire to prevent African Americans from becoming targets of resentment over reparations. Sounds like the old Vietnam War saw about “bombing the village to save it.” What’s up with this Master of Mean, Prince of Conservative Politics?
Horowitz, a well-known ’60s lefty, Black Panther Party supporter, and editor of Ramparts, the premier left-wing magazine of the period, not to mention a contributing editor to MediaFile in the early ’80s, came out as a right-winger, along with Peter Collier, in a highly-publicized 1985 Washington Post article, “Lefties for Reagan.” Since then, Horowitz has become a well-connected politically savvy coach of conservatives with a Dr. Laura-like pomposity and knack for self-promotion.
All these Horowitizian elements are at play in his anti-reparations campaign which has attempted to place full-page advertisements headlined “Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea–and Racist Too,” in college newspapers throughout the country. What started at the University of California, Berkeley, on the last day of Black History Month, has evolved into a full-blown promotional and fundraising project for his Los Angeles-based Center for the Study of Popular Culture (CSPC). (For up-to-the-minute stats and to see how your alma mater is doing, check out Horowitz’s “Censorship Scorecard” at www.frontpagemag.com.)
The ad lays out Horowitz’s anti-reparations position, plugs his latest book, The Death of the Civil Rights Movement, and solicits money for CSPC. According to Media Transparency, a website that tracks the money behind right-wing politics, right-wing foundations have ponied over $9 million, including more than $3 million from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation of Milwaukee to CSPC between 1989 and 1999. (www.mediatransparency. org/cspc_results.htm)
The advertisement is one in a series of racial bombs thrown by Horowitz during the past few years in his attempt to reframe the debate over civil rights and race. The former Berkeley resident’s choice of U.C. Berkeley as an early target came as no surprise to those who understand the anger and contempt he holds for many of his former local comrades. Reaction to the advertisements at the U.C. Berkeley and U.C. Davis campuses was quick and unequivocal. The editors of the student-run papers apologized to African-American students and offered space for rebuttal.
What emerges from this episode and Horowitz’s other close encounters with race provides a window into his political methodology, which he discusses in “The Six Principles of Political War,” an article published on his FrontPage Magazine website in August 2000, in which he talks about “striking first [so] you can define the issues as well as your adversary.” It works like this: First, he says or writes something incendiary and offensive about African Americans. If called on it, criticized, or labeled a racist, Horowitz cries out against being a victim of left-inspired censorship, casting himself as a First Amendment martyr. Suddenly, the debate is no longer focused on the merits of the issue at hand–in this case, reparations for African Americans–but on the bankruptcy of the left, censorship, political correctness on campus, and other Horowitiziana.
The day after the anti-reparations ad hit, Horowitz, without a trace of irony, told the San Francisco Chronicle that one of his reasons for placing the $1,200 ad was that he doesn’t want to see African Americans become targets of resentment. Fortunately, regardless of Horowitz’s concerns, the debate over reparations has begun to gain traction around the country.
Legislation on an apology to African Americans and to further study reparations has been introduced in Congress for the past two years. In the November 2000 issue of Harper’s magazine, a forum examined the possibilities of a major reparations lawsuit. Also in 2000, Randall Robinson, founding president of the Washington, DC-based TransAfrica, wrote The Debt–What America Owes to Blacks, which has brought the issue out of the closet and into the mainstream.
Bill Berkowitz is an Oakland, California-based freelance writer covering the Religious Right and related conservative movements. Contact him at email@example.com.