White Whine

White Whine

White Whine

How you look at things.
March 29 2001 3:00 AM

White Whine

A few weeks ago, conservative activist David Horowitz asked college newspapers to print an ad titled "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks—and Racist Too." The ad provoked a few campus uprisings and a national uproar over race relations and political correctness. The 10 points stated in the ad can be boiled down to four principles about racial generalizations, divisiveness, gratitude, and victimization. Whether reparations advocates, blacks, college students, or liberals should heed the four principles can be debated. What is certain is that these principles are being ignored by David Horowitz.

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1. Don't lump people into groups. The ad points out that the coarse idea of transferring money from all whites to all blacks overlooks distinctions within these groups. "Black Africans and Arabs were responsible for enslaving the ancestors of African-Americans," says the ad. "There were 3,000 black slave-owners in the ante-bellum United States," and "many blacks were free men." Moreover, "Only a tiny minority of Americans ever owned slaves," and many people who would be asked to pay reparations are "descendants of the 350,000 Union soldiers who died to free the slaves."

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

In debating his critics, however, Horowitz casts aside such distinctions. "America has given black America a great gift of freedom and prosperity and opportunity. But the black leadership just wants to shake down … the rest of America," Horowitz charged on Fox News' The Edge two weeks ago. On The O'Reilly Factor, he deplored "the very sad state to which the black movement, political movement, has come." And while protesting that blacks shouldn't be lumped together when discussing what some of them are owed, Horowitz casually lumps them together when discussing what some of them have been paid. "Forty percent of all the welfare moneys went to black people, who only paid 13 percent of the taxes," he argued on Hannity & Colmes this week. "So there has been a net transfer of wealth through welfare to black America, from all the rest of America, of trillions of dollars."

Similarly, Horowitz dismisses all critics of his egotism, tastelessness, casual exaggeration, petty belligerence, and/or political views as "the left." "Every American is suspect in the eyes of the left—and this is about the left—as somebody harboring racist ideas," Horowitz complained on Hannity & Colmes. "Leftists have contempt for America," he declared at Berkeley two weeks ago. "What the left is about is a species of civil war." To Newsweek, he complained, "The left boycotts my events and burns down my posters." From whom has Horowitz extrapolated this monolithic picture? Himself. "I adopted the tone and the style of the left, and they can't handle it," he says.

2. Don't foment ethnic conflict. "The African-American community has had a long-running flirtation with separatists, nationalists and the political left, who want African-Americans to be no part of America's social contract. African Americans should reject this temptation," Horowitz writes in his ad. "The reparations claim is one more assault on America, conducted by racial separatists and the political left. … The American idea needs the support of its African-American citizens."

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To illustrate his concern that reparations might stir up racial conflict, Horowitz uses the example of an immigrant from Mexico. "How could you tell Jose Martinez, who may have come to this country 10 years ago and is struggling to put bread on the table for his family, to pay reparations to Johnnie Cochran and Jesse Jackson, who are multimillionaires? This is a very divisive campaign," Horowitz protested on CNN's The Point March 27. The warning might have seemed more sincere if it hadn't been at least the 11th time Horowitz had delivered exactly the same sound bite—Jose Martinez, bread on the table, Johnnie Cochran, Jesse Jackson, multimillionaires—over the course of three weeks. When Horowitz repeatedly goes on television to predict that the black leadership's "constant shakedown of the rest of America" will "alienate the black America from Hispanic America, Asian America, and European America" (Fox News, March 12) and will "pit Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, as well as European-Americans, and all other Americans against the African-American community" (CNN, March 26), he has crossed the line from forecasting a backlash to inviting it.

Horowitz also complains that three college newspapers that rejected his reparations ad "printed an ad denying the Holocaust a few years ago." This complaint clearly isn't about consistent censorship of views that might be deemed offensive to minorities. It appears to be about differential treatment of views pertaining to two different minorities. What exactly is Horowitz's point?

3. All's well that ends well. According to Horowitz, "African-Americans have benefited from slavery." In the ad, he dissolves past wrongs with a utilitarian shrug, arguing that blacks have gained more from the United States in the long run than they lost in the short run. "The claim for reparations is premised on the false assumption that only whites have benefited from slavery. If slave labor created wealth for Americans, then obviously it has created wealth for black Americans as well," he writes. "American blacks on average enjoy per capita incomes in the range of twenty to fifty times that of blacks living in any of the African nations from which they were kidnapped. … If not for the dedication of Americans of all ethnicities and colors to a society based on the principle that all men are created equal, blacks in America would not enjoy the highest standard of living of blacks anywhere in the world. … Where is the gratitude of black America and its leaders for those gifts?"

The same question could be asked of Horowitz. By a similarly utilitarian calculus, he has profited from his persecution. Thanks to radical students at three campuses who tried to punish editors for running his ad—and who took copies of the Brown University newspaper to prevent the ad's dissemination—Horowitz has now reaped, by his own admission, "the most publicity I've ever got." He fills college lecture halls and appears on national TV virtually every day. His run-ins with hecklers and protesters at campuses a few weeks ago have given way to well-attended speeches and orderly question-and-answer sessions. But that hasn't stopped him from harping on his persecution, which evidently includes the public regrets of editors who printed his ad. Such apologies are "a way of stigmatizing me and my views," Horowitz told Newsweek.

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4. Get over it. Even if slavery's injustice hasn't been canceled out by subsequent progress, Horowitz argues in his ad that it was a long time ago and that it's unhealthy for blacks to dwell on it. The hardships created by slavery "were hardships that individuals could and did overcome," he writes. "The renewed sense of grievance—which is what the claim for reparations will inevitably create—is neither a constructive nor a helpful message for black leaders to be sending to their communities and to others. To focus the social passions of African-Americans on what some Americans may have done to their ancestors fifty or a hundred and fifty years ago is to burden them with a crippling sense of victimhood." Extending this anti-whining argument to critics of his ad, Horowitz told the New York Times, "These black students come in and say, 'This hurts our feelings.' Come on, an argument hurts your feelings? Fight back."

But when it comes to wallowing in grievances, victimization, and hurt feelings, nobody can match Horowitz. For weeks, he has fled from one media venue to another, claiming to be oppressed by "fascists" and "witch hunters" who are subjecting universities to a "dictatorship of the politically correct" and an oxymoronic reign of "intellectual terror." Today's accusations of racism against campus conservatives are "much worse than the McCarthy era ever was," Horowitz declared a week ago. This week he proclaimed, "There is no editor of a campus paper who does not have to live in some kind of fear of vigilante action if he should print something that deeply offends the far political left."

Horowitz says that Harvard and Columbia "banned" his ad. "When the University of Wisconsin Badger-Herald ran the ad, its editorial offices were visited by 150 angry protesters. Campus police instructed the editors to take refuge in their dorms and lock the doors to ensure their safety," he reports. "At Brown the entire print of the Daily Herald was stolen and trashed. At UC Berkeley and UC Davis, the campus papers printed the ad, but after being visited by angry protesters in their offices, the editors of both papers performed public acts of contrition—one for 'inadvertently' becoming a 'vehicle for bigotry' and the other for printing 'discriminatory statements(!)' "

Actually, not a single act of violence has been reported. Harvard and Columbia didn't ban the ad. Their principal student newspapers declined to take the ad, leaving Horowitz the option of submitting his message as an op-ed or delivering it through other outlets on those campuses. Student protesters tried to pressure or punish editors at Wisconsin and Brown who ran the ad, but the editors stood up to them and kept their jobs. Campus police, as the Wisconsin case illustrates, protected the editors. Brown reprinted 1,000 copies of its newspaper, and campus police guarded the newsstands where they were delivered. The editor at Berkeley who apologized for running the ad has been derided in the national media for doing so—and what's important for the exchange of ideas is that he ran the ad, not what he said afterward. "I had 30 armed guards at Berkeley. And there seem to be some here today," Horowitz complained at the University of Texas. "This is an outrage on a college campus." An outrage? Imagine what Horowitz would have said if he hadn't been protected. Finding a grievance either way is the highest art of the professional martyr.

Horowitz's most ludicrous complaint is that his oppression is even worse because his views are overwhelmingly popular. "I cannot go and speak on the University of California campus without being concerned about my security," despite the fact that "70 percent of the American people support the anti-reparations view," he protested on Fox News. On CNN, Horowitz said of a leftist professor, "This is the way he intimidates his campus community, by calling perfectly reasonable arguments—shared by 70 percent of the American people—calling them racist." To Newsweek, Horowitz flatly declared, "The issue of reparations isn't going anywhere." So where's the crisis? Horowitz isn't the isolated minority. His "intimidators" are.

Absent any violence or successful attempt at suppression, what crime has been committed against Horowitz? He says campus leftists have "censored" him and other conservatives through "bullying" and "moral intimidation." He defines moral intimidation as "a species of racial McCarthyism—wild accusations of racism and bigotry, and indiscriminate use of guilt by association." How exactly do nasty accusations violate free speech? "There's a very important issue at stake here," Horowitz explained on CNN. "And that is not only my right to say what I want to say … but to say it without coming under attack with a smear campaign." On Fox News, he demanded the "right … to be able to express reasonable views without being accused of racism or bigotry." At Berkeley, he faults "an assistant chancellor who sat with the bullies in the back and refused, as I had asked them to do, to introduce me and to insist on order and decorum." The result was that students "organized" and "chanted" at Horowitz. At the University of Texas, Horowitz criticized administrators for failing to ensure that "views like mine can be heard regularly without it being a big controversy."

To rectify the left's crimes against Horowitz, in short, colleges would have to stop tolerating so much controversy, protest, and talk of bigotry. And to think the descendants of slaves are only asking for money.