Bullies of the left

Joe Conason prefers personal attacks to political debate, just like his heroes Clinton and Gore.

By David Horowitz
July 24, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)
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Recently I called the Clinton administration "the most criminal, the most corrupt, the most cynical administration in American history." I also referred to Joe Conason as a columnist "well known for his unflagging loyalty to every Clinton claim." Conason proved his loyalty immediately, by firing back a column attacking me politically and personally.

Of course I do not have "proof" for the assertion that Clinton surpasses all presidents in corruption, which Conason built a whole column around. Though many Clinton officials have been convicted, many more (including the culprit-in-chief) obviously have not.


Nonetheless, I believe the key charges in the Clinton scandals -- including the Whitewater crookery, the abusive use of military force for domestic political agendas and the collusion with Chinese agents that led to the loss of America's nuclear secrets and missile technologies -- will be shown over time to be as firmly based in fact as the deposition of Monica Lewinsky. (Let us not forget, moreover, that if it weren't for the preserved blue dress with its stain, people like Joe Conason would still be righteously insisting that she, and not he, was the liar.)

The basis for my belief in Clinton's guilt on charges he has denied is the reckless determination that he and his closest associates have shown in their attempts to obstruct justice and the amazing energy they have been willing to put into these efforts. The Lewinsky affair should have convinced even the most reluctant observer that this president is a criminal who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

He will perform Byzantine acts of prevarication before the entire world; he will drag his family through unimaginable torments on a global stage; he will paralyze the United States government for months on end; he will destroy the reputations of his political (and nonpolitical) opponents, especially vulnerable women he has wooed and abandoned; he will abuse his political intimates by involving them in humiliating lies; he will assault the innocence of the young, by forcing an issue which he knows (but no one else does) will cause his private mess to be projected onto their morning television shows; he will risk the electoral destruction of his own party (by not stepping down); he will mortgage the future of his party and his country by soliciting illegal campaign money from foreign dictatorships and by casually lobbing missiles into nations with whom America was otherwise at peace.


Of course, if, like Joe Conason, you can delude yourself into thinking that Clinton did all this to avoid embarrassment about sex, you will be able dismiss a lot of the evidence of his sociopathic dysfunction. But to the rest of us, the impeachment scandal was ultimately and obviously not about sex. It was about power. And President Clinton's desire for power -- his willingness to betray trusts and commit crimes to preserve and extend his power -- far exceeds that of any president on record, including the only modern president forced to resign, Richard Nixon.

Nixon did resign, and that's the operative fact. Although he could have fought the outcome (and was advised by friends to do so), he voluntarily gave up his power to avoid consequences to family, party and country that were unacceptable to him. In other words, in the end, there were considerations -- family, party, country -- that he considered more important, greater than himself. That is what ultimately redeems him.

What is so frightening about President Clinton, on the other hand -- what leads people like me to believe that the main charges and suspicions against him are true -- is that he does not have such concerns. He has shown he is willing to do anything to cover his tracks. In life, one is often forced to make judgments on the basis of behavior. Many people believe that even though O.J. Simpson was acquitted, he was obviously guilty. So are Bill and Hillary Clinton. So is Al Gore.


My recent clash with Conason was spurred by something I wrote about Gore -- about the latest charges that he had not been truthful about his involvement in the Asian-American fundraising scandals that have rocked the administration.

It was pretty obvious to anyone who took the time to read the newly released transcripts that the vice president had lied under oath. From the left, James Ridgeway had this to say in the Village Voice last week: "A look at Al Gore's just-released interview with the Justice Department's campaign-finance task force director not only makes the Vice President look like a barefaced liar but also makes you wonder why Janet Reno has not prosecuted him and why this man is the certain nominee of the Democratic Party."


In my short article for Salon, I focused on the Buddhist temple fundraiser, where Gore sat at the head table between two Chinese Communist agents, Ted Sieong and Maria Hsia. (Their Communist ties have been well-documented by the Washington Times). Between them, this pair was responsible for providing several million dollars in illegal contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaign coffers. Hsia has since been convicted on five felony counts and Sieong -- a Los Angeles businessman connected to a Macao prostitution ring -- has fled the country to avoid prosecution. Gore pretended not to have realized that the event was a fundraiser.

Perhaps my Salon article would have been less inflammatory to Conason if I had not focused on the flamboyant Buddhist temple affair, but on the "White House coffees" -- fundraisers that were illegally held in government buildings. At these gatherings the president and vice president met with campaign fat cats, who paid $50,000 a head for the privilege.

The Justice Department had obtained a note, written by Gore, in which he observed the following: "So we can raise the money -- BUT ONLY IF -- the president and I actually do the events, the calls, the coffees, etc." (Emphasis in original.) Gore himself hosted 22 of these coffees and co-hosted another eight with the president. But when asked by Justice Department investigator Robert Conrad what went on, Gore pretended not to know what he was talking about.


Conrad: And how did the events, the calls and the coffees, factor into that ability to raise more money?

Gore: Well, this was not prepared by me. This was prepared by, apparently by Ron Klain. But, among the activities that were intended to help raise the funds were telephone calls to potential donors to ask if they could contribute to the DNC. And the coffees were in a somewhat different category, and I don't -- that was not an activity I -- I may have attended one.

One? A few days later, Gore's attorney, Jim Neal, sent a "clarifying" letter to Justice explaining that the coffees that Gore hosted were held in the Old Executive Office Building and he thought that the questions would only pertain to coffees in the White House, so Gore had not reviewed the records before testifying. But eight of the coffees were co-hosted by Gore in the White House. Moreover, the Old Executive Office Building, in which the vice president's own staff is housed, is part of the White House compound. Besides, it's a government building and fundraising on its premises is illegal.


These and other incriminating details made no impression on Joe Conason. In his Salon piece, he dismissed it all as "a tired rerun of an old flap" -- further machinations of the right-wing conspirators against the Clinton-Gore administration. Conason even titled his piece "A Republican hatchet job," because Conrad was formerly a federal prosecutor in North Carolina and had once contributed $250 to a Jesse Helms campaign. If you can't refute the facts, impugn the motives.

"Without fresh proof of wrongdoing," wrote Conason, ignoring the fresh proof in the previously unreleased transcript, "there is no more reason today than there was two years ago to believe that Vice President Gore raised funds illegally during the 1996 campaign -- or that he lied about the controversy later."

And later Conason came after me, when I dared to question his analysis. "Urging the hyperbolic Salon columnist David Horowitz to calm down and cite facts," he wrote, "instead of spewing insults seems as pointless as asking a dog not to defecate on the sidewalk. In either instance, the result is always and predictably the same: Somebody has to clean up a stinking pile."

This is really just a version of the Clinton attack mode. Commit an offense and then accuse the victim should he attempt to defend himself. Abuse your opponent and then call him a whiner -- or worse -- if he complains about the abuse. Insult him and -- if he responds -- call him a "spewer of insults."


This is more than a Clinton or a Conason style, it is a trope of the broader left -- though, to be fair, not all leftists are culpable and few are as adept or dependent on it as Conason himself. It is remarkable, in fact, how consistent the reflexes of this tradition have been over time.

Half a century ago, the formula for discrediting an opponent would have been to affix to them the label "fascist" or "lackey of the ruling class." That way no decent person would consider the merits of what they had to say. Today the new term of choice is "racist"; ruling-class lackey (or some version of that slur) remains.

Thus Conason's first attack on me in Salon two years ago included the charge that I was a "hired propagandist" (read: lackey) for wealthy donors. This, because my institutional base is an educational foundation that depends on contributions. My contributors are now more than 40,000 in number and support me with mainly $25 and $50 donations. No matter, I am a hireling of the rich. (Who does Joe think pays his salary at Salon and the New York Observer -- the homeless?)

Conason embellished his smear on my foundation in his latest piece: "In case any readers aren't aware," he wrote, "the GOP also happens to be the party which Horowitz, through his various "non-partisan" tax-exempt fronts, serves as both a leading pamphleteer and a prodigious fundraiser, who organized $100,000 or more in contributions to George W. Bush."


Well, I thought everyone knew I was a Republican and a supporter of George Bush. I certainly haven't kept that any secret, writing articles in Salon about it. The way I read the syntax of this sentence, Conason has accused me of using a tax-exempt foundation to conduct partisan political activities and raise political campaign contributions for a federal candidate. These are not quite as serious as Al Gore's offenses -- which Conason apparently can't be bothered with -- but they are in the same category of breaking the law.

In fact, like many conservative foundations in the Clinton era, I have been thoroughly audited by the IRS -- and given a clean bill of health. I did raise money for Bush, but as an individual. (I am entitled to do so under our still intact Constitution.) Insofar as I have pursued any political agendas, for example in the publication of my book, "War Room,"I have done so through appropriate entities that are not tax-exempt.

I am sure that when Kate Michelman, Patricia Ireland or Kweisi Mfume raise political money or pursue partisan activities, they do so not through their "tax-exempt fronts" -- NARAL, NOW and the NAACP -- but by utilizing appropriate alternatives as I do.

Philip Klinkner's defense is entirely scholastic. His statement in the Nation -- that "throughout American history, in nearly every instance in which they have been given a direct vote on the matter, the majority of white Americans have rejected any measure beneficial to the interests of blacks" -- was technically about referenda, he writes, and not about mere sideshows like the acts of presidents or the Congress. The record of referenda, according to Klinkner, confirms his claim that white majorities have voted against black interests virtually every time.


Maybe one has to be a leftist to follow even this logic. I happen to think that Ward Connerly's referendum against government race preferences, though it was passed by a white majority, serves the interests of blacks, even though a black majority voted against it. After all, by now South Africa's Afrikaner minority understands that their affirmative action program (apartheid) served them badly. There is an analytic literature that shows quite clearly how racial preferences have worked against black interests.

But why bother Klinkner with complications like this?

The point at issue is obviously not referenda. Does Klinkner think there can be an "overwhelming pattern of white racism" that is restricted solely to ballot measures? Do whites vote down pro-black ballot measures and yet elect representatives and presidents who are sympathetic to blacks, who then pass pro-black legislation? If whites were overwhelmingly anti-black racists, would a Republican president like Richard Nixon have created much of the structure of affirmative action that now exists?

As if eager to prove that the technical issue is a mere smokescreen, Klinkner immediately shifts gears in order to rehearse the thesis of his book "The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America." In this book Klinkner tries to prove the thesis that whenever the white devils did something right toward blacks in America's past, they did it for the wrong reasons, i.e., only because they were coerced into doing so or had no other option (which is the same thing). This is a kind of academic Farrakhanism without the colorful theology.

It would be pointless for me to go over this history in an effort to pick out the slivers of fact in Klinkner's overview from the woodpile of distortions and lies under which he has buried them. What would Klinkner think, for example, of a history of black America in which every progressive step of black Americans, every worthy achievement and advance, was attributed to external forces and influences, and to white influences in particular? He would say it was racist.

Finally, having been forced to half-heartedly admit that black Americans are "the freest, richest and most privileged community of blacks anywhere in the world," Klinkner cannot resist concluding with the assertion that they are still oppressed by those racist whites who somehow let blacks get so far but not any farther. According to Klinkner, "It is indisputable that [blacks] remain, despite our nation's ideology of equality and individual rights, less free, less rich and less privileged than white Americans."

Well, I for one dispute it. Blacks are more privileged by law than white Americans; they are certainly no less free; and if they are less wealthy as a group this is in no small measure due to the dysfunctional behaviors and self-destructive mental attitudes (grievance-mongering, self-pity and an inability to take responsibility) that are encouraged by the arguments of "friends" like Klinkner.

David Horowitz

David Horowitz is a conservative writer and activist.

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Al Gore Bill Clinton Campaign Finance Joe Conason