Profiles in Bullshit, Vol. 6


THE POOP: If anyone in the modern conservative moment places above all others on the Stinkometer that measures the fetid funk of the True Believer, it's David Joel Horowitz. The trouble is, he's never quite known what he's a True Believer of. One of the most cartoonish distortions of the New Right, it's not really that surprising that he was once one of the most cartoonish distortions of the New Left. Following the depressing arc of a man who turns to money because he can't find love, Horowitz's youthful flirtations with revolutionary Marxism turned sour when he realized that all the violent rhetoric he'd had so much fun shouting alongside the other campus radicals had a deadly serious side; the Black Panthers turned out to really mean it when they said they were at war with the American system, and the Viet Cong weren't just killing time between weed re-ups when they vowed to drive out the imperialists. When one of his radical friends turned up dead and his comrades in black pajamas turned out to be just as adept at violence as his fellow Americans, he got spooked and began a craven withdrawal from politcal life. Too bad for the rest of us, he -- like so many others of the chattering classes -- never mastered a marketable skill other than letting loose flatulent blasts of ideological windbaggery. By the mid-'80s, like a lot of curdled yuppies, he'd repudiated his wild-eyed hippie past as insufficiently profitable, and was looking for a chance to cash in. All he'd ever been good at was bloviating, but fortunately, in the Reagan era, bloviation was in a seller's market, as long as your bile was spewed in the right direction -- which is to say, towards the Left. Horowitz did an about-face and aimed his brand of academic hustling at a brand-new target, and he's never looked back.

It's amazing how little his M.O. has changed; back in the '60s, his stock in trade was hollow, windy Marxist rhetoric of the sort only encountered in the halls of academia. Horowitz was, astoundingly, once an aide to the incredibly brilliant author, philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell; but his own writing of the era (best embodied in the unreadable The Free World Colossus: A Critique of American Foreign Policy in the Cold War) was weightless lefty propaganda, anchored only by his tendency to crib arguments from people smarter than himself. It's interesting that no one on the left calls Horowitz a traitor; that would imply that by losing him to the right, they'd lost something of value. As a reading of his works, liberal or conservative, makes clear, this is not the case; had he stayed pink, he'd have been a decades-long embarrassment to the left. As to the reasons for his apostasy, Horowitz has always been crystal clear: he was awoken to the lies and cruelty of the left, first by the corruption and violence of the Black Panthers (who he'd once idolized so thoroughly that one wonders if his real disillusionment came after confessing a schoolboy crush on Huey Newton), then by the brutality and aggression of the Viet Cong. It's not hard to see what really happened: Horowitz, more than comfortable spieling his anti-capitalist down-with-the-Man rhetoric from the comfort of a dorm room or a wood-paneled office with tenure-seekers and book-deal-wranglers, got the fear when he heard it coming from people who really meant it. His master's degree fom Columbia made it easy to play arond with revolution, but he freaked out when presented with the possibility of real revolution, advocated by people who actually had something to lose.

At any rate, by the late '80s, despite all the Scaife money floating around, you couldn't just wander in off the streets, declare yourself a right-wing apostle, and start collecting a paycheck, even if you were a former editor of Ramparts who used to say things about how the rule of capitalism was a permanent threat to the democratic order. Even for a guy who sat in a luxury hotel in downtown Managua in 1987 and wished for the brutal, nun-slaying Contras to overthrow and execute the Sandinista government (for the good of the poorest citizens, no less!), just being a ridiculously extremist neoconservative crank was no longer enough. He needed a hook, and boy, did he find one! After dicking around with a few hilariously titled books like Hating Whitey and Other Progressive Causes and The Anti-Chomsky Reader, he started pulling in the Regnery paychecks by inventing a whole new subgenre of right-wing lunacy: the battle against leftist academic McCarthyism. David Horowitz fully embraced the notion that our nation's colleges, despite turning out economy-choking numbers of MBAs and lawyers, were actually hotbeds of unreconstructed Stalinism, dedicated to warping our children into neo-Marxist tools -- and who would know that better than he, a former neo-Marxist tool? But then, showing a spark of originality no one who'd followed his career up to that point could possibly have suspected he possessed, he went the movement one better and added a twist: not only were the universities leftist rat-traps, but they were actually practicing employment discrimination against conservatives!

Yes, in the Witziverse, there is no such thing as a campus conservative; as he puts it, "it is virtually impossible for a vocal conservative to be hired for a tenure-track position on a faculty anywhere, or to receive tenure if so hired". Curiously, Horowitz tends to focus his attention on the liberal arts, where one would expect to find a lot of liberals; his search for conservative professors might be more fruitful if he were to look for them in the sciences, law schools, business schools, engineering departments, or even schools of government, but it's a lot more fun to point out how j-schools or literature departments are run by self-described leftists, then cross his arms and say "see?". Upping the irony ante to the point where the table is beginning to groan, Horowitz -- who makes his living bitching about the fact that people like Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky are permitted to have opinions -- claims that his anti-liberal witch hunts are conducted in the name of "academic diversity". This asinine claim doesn't stand up to even a second's worth of scrutiny, and people like Juan Coles and Stanley Fish have spent a lot of time meticulously demonstrating what any ten-year-old can plainly see (that David Horowitz is a low-rent two-bit hustler with his head so far up his ass that when he talks his eyeballs vibrate), but he's still managed to become one of the leading lights of neo-conservativism on the strength of his highly original and appealing notion of collegiate Communism, which people just eat up even though there's not a scrap of merit to it. His latest project, Discover the Network, is a conspiracy-mongering aggregation of nutjobs dedicated to "outing" campus liberals a la Joe McCarthy reincarnated as Fox Mulder.

Curiously, Horowitz has made lots of money and quite a name for himself, but one thing he hasn't made is friends. Unlike Norman Podhoretz, who people seem to like until they discover that he's a walking fart, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in contemporary punditry, on the right or the left, who has anything good to say about David Horowitz. The left naturally regards him as a penny-arcade snitch who's parlayed a lucky hustle into a reekingly harmful career, but surprisingly, people on the right don't seem to care much for him either. They peddle his arguments when it suits them, and they defend him as much as possible against the supremely ironic charge of censorship from the left, but they don't ask him to all the good parties, and a number of prominent conservatives seem to flat-out despise him. Perhaps it's because of his cheap racket, or his snitch's demeanor, or their own memories of how quickly he turned against his own when the tide shifted; or perhaps it's that he's just a dissimulating little shitstain who it's impossible to like.

WHAT’S THE ONE THING HE KNOWS FOR SURE? Affirmative action is A-OK, as long as it's only applied to conservatives.

DEFINING MOMENT: Horowitz (who shouldn't be confused with the consumer advocate and Fight Back! host of the same name) doesn't really have one defining moment where his stench wafted out of the folds of his forehead for all to smell, but he does tend to lie a lot. At least three times, he has reported incidents of students receiving failing grades because they turned in papers that were pro-American or anti-liberal, but each time he's been shown to have hyped, exaggerated, misinterpreted or invented the cases. His most recent book, The Professors, claimed to show the liberal biases of over a hundred "dangerous academics", but only six profiled professors were included because of anything they'd ever said or done in class. Also, despite being subtitled The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, the book featured only 100 profiles. To no one's surprise, Horowitz blamed the gaffe on someone else. He was, of course, lying.

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