David Horowitz's new campaign attacking reparations for African-Americans
is becoming the right-wing equivalent of the Energizer bunny--it
keeps going and going and going. In what began as an effort to place
an anti-reparations ad in college newspapers across the country,
Horowitz has garnered more media attention for himself than at any
other time since the former leftist turned conservative 16 years
Rupert Murdoch's conservative Fox News channel is becoming Horowitz's
personal soapbox, dozens of conservative columnists and talk-radio
hosts are singing his praises, and several daily newspaper editorial
boards have supported him. After the editors of the Harvard
Crimson refused to run the ad, liberal journalists Anthony
Lewis and David Halberstam wrote the student newspaper, expressing
their disappointment because they "thought the Crimson stood for
freedom of the press" and had "the courage" to exercise that right.
Horowitz has become the prince of conservative politics. A well-known
leftist in the
'60s, he was a Black Panther supporter and editor of Ramparts
magazine, the premier left-wing publication of the period. (He was
also an original sponsor of In These Times.) Along with Peter
Collier, his longtime writing partner and co-founder of the Center
for the Study of Popular Culture, Horowitz came out as a Reagan Republican
in a 1985 Washington Post article. Since then, he has blended
Dr. Laura-like pomposity with a knack for self-promotion.
Security guards lead David
into a speech at U.C. Berkeley.
Horowitz's latest stunt began on February 28--the last day of Black
History Month--when he approached the University of California at
Berkeley's student-run newspaper, The
Daily Californian, about running the ad. Headlined "Ten
Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea--and Racist Too,"
the ad lays out Horowitz's anti-reparations position, plugs his
latest book, The Death of the Civil Rights Movement, and
solicits money for his Los Angeles-based center. According to Media
Transparency, a Web site tracking the money behind the right, over
the past decade right-wing foundations have ponied up some $9 million
for the center--including more than $3 million from the Milwaukee-based
Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
At press time, Horowitz had sent ads to 57 college papers--34 had
rejected the ad, 14 printed it (three with apologies) and 9 were
still undecided. Horowitz is giving those who rejected the first
ad an opportunity to rethink their decision, offering them a second
ad to use as an op-ed piece.
A week after the ad appeared in Berkeley's Daily Californian,
Horowitz (accompanied by campus police and two personal bodyguards)
spoke at a gathering sponsored by the Berkeley College Republicans.
According to the student newspaper, the sponsors pulled the plug
during the question-and-answer period when "the crowd became raucous,
with yelling and cheering on both sides of the aisle."
At Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, student editors
published the ad in mid-March and the next day discovered that the
entire press run had disappeared from campus newspaper racks. Several
days later the ad was reprinted and the paper delivered with police
protection. Interim Brown President Sheila Blumstein told The Associated
Press that she supported the decision to run the ad and that the
theft of the papers would be investigated.
At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the Badger
Herald ran the ad. Editor-in-Chief Julie Bosman explained
on NPR's Talk of the Nation that although the advertising
department was responsible for the decision, she felt the "content
of the ad was well within the discourse of a college paper." Bosman
also said that she had heard that "stacks of papers were stolen
and thrown into trash cans on campus." The paper's editorial board
later refused to publish a counter-ad labeling the Horowitz campaign
These episodes provide a window into one aspect of the political
strategy Horowitz elaborates in "The Six Principles of Political
War," a piece posted last August on his Web site (www.frontpagemag.com).
First, he says or writes something incendiary about African-Americans.
Called on it, criticized and sometimes labeled a racist, Horowitz
then cries out that he's a victim of left-wing censorship, casting
himself as a First Amendment martyr. The debate is no longer focused
on the merits of the issue--in this case, reparations for African-Americans.
Instead Horowitz has successfully turned the entire affair into
a self-aggrandizing media blitz, gaining a platform for condemning
the bankruptcy of the left, intolerance of student radicals and
political correctness on campus. In this case, Horowitz's plan is
to build opposition to the reparations movement among black conservatives
and his white supporters. By setting off this pre-emptive strike
against reparations, he gets to define the issue on his own terms.
Regardless of Horowitz's schemes, the debate over reparations has
begun to gain steam around the country. Since 1989, Rep.
John Conyers (D-Michigan) has introduced a bill to begin a full
congressional examination of the issue. And last June, Rep.
Tony Hall (D-Ohio) introduced legislation to formally apologize
for the government's role in slavery.
Horowitz's book, The Art of Political War, is becoming a
valuable organizing tool for right-wing activists across the country.
Shawn Steel, a board member for the Study of Popular Culture and
the new chairman of the California State GOP, distributed 3,500
copies to party members around the state. Nationally, the conservative
Heritage Foundation also distributed more than 2,500 copies. This
publication should be a must-read for progressives, too--since it's
clear there will be more of these campaigns in the years to come.