This is beyond libel. It is surreal

The columnist responds to Alicia Montgomery, who dubbed him "the white Al Sharpton."

Published March 19, 2001 4:06PM (EST)

A depressing aspect of the debate that I seem to have started is how one-sided it remains. In the thousands of words written in response to the 1,300-word ad I attempted to place in college papers that was critical of the growing movement calling for reparations for slavery, hardly a sentence has dealt with the points themselves. Instead, they have been personal attacks -- attempts to label me as toxic and my ideas unthinkable -- in effect, to exclude my voice from the arena of civilized discourse. With few exceptions (Joan Walsh's Salon article is a notable one) the critics' characterizations of my motives and perspectives are so hysterical and absurd that I have not even bothered to answer them.

I do so in the case of Alicia Montgomery's regrettable outburst only because she is a colleague and her attack was unexpected. I can hardly bring myself to deal with the central trope of her piece, which is so crass and baseless that it is difficult to know how anyone of reasonable intelligence could imagine it, let alone attempt to sustain an argument around it.

Comparing me to Al Sharpton is laughable and also disgraceful. Sharpton hates white people, or at least acts as though he does. There is hardly a guilty black criminal -- even a murderer -- he will not defend, and there is no blameless white person he will not crucify to advance his self-serving agendas. He has made a career out of hating and baiting whitey and, in the process, ruining particular lives: Tawana Brawley's targets, for example, whom he has libeled and harassed for over a decade without so much as a reflex of regret, the lynch victim Yankel Rosenbaum and the seven innocents burned in Freddy's Mart by a Sharpton follower, incited by the leader's invective. He has made a career of promoting violence and racial mayhem generally ("no justice, no peace") with identifiably destructive consequences.

Sharpton is a disgusting figure in the David Duke mold -- only far more socially accepted and politically effective. His prominence as a black leader and a force in the Democratic Party explains more about what I have written -- and why -- on the subjects Alicia Montgomery summarizes so inadequately and crudely as "race," than all the pseudo-psychologizing with which she and others have attempted to dissect and dismiss me.

Unlike Sharpton, I do not hate black people, and I have never incited any racial or ethnic group against another. I have spent a lifetime -- and lost part of a life -- doing battle on behalf of minorities generally and of black people in particular. It is true, as she writes, that I have been wounded by people who happen to be black, but I have never confused a minority of left-wing gangsters with black people in general, as Montgomery preposterously and maliciously suggests, nor have I ever entertained "the wrong-headed belief that the whole of black America somehow forced him to hang out with the Panthers [or] romanticize their thuggery." This is beyond libel. It is surreal.

I have never claimed (as Montgomery also asserts) that "white racism doesn't exist except among the KKK set." I have specifically written (and in Salon itself!) that everyone -- white, black, left, right -- has bigotry in them. It is a human condition. In fact this very perception is the core of the conservative argument against affirmative action race preferences: It requires a single standard and neutral governmental rules to civilize us all.

Although I am indeed appalled by the monolithic character of the so-called civil rights left, I do make distinctions between black leaders and I do not attack liberal black leaders, as she falsely suggests. I am on record praising and defending black leaders who are truly liberal and with whom I often disagree -- specifically Urban League president Hugh Price, the late Barbara Jordan, Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy and Washington Post columnist Juan Williams to name but a few. I am indeed in battle with black leftists, but then I am in battle with the left generally in all its ethnic and racial colors.

At the same time, I have harangued Republican audiences over Republican failures to reach out to blacks and other minorities, and I have been a public leader in attempts to make the Republican Party a rainbow coalition. This is an aspect of my career that Montgomery doesn't even address because it would reveal the racial character of her own perspective, which causes her to miss the political nature of mine. To seize on my five-hour working meeting with a group of liberal black leaders in the course of a more than five-year effort to help inner-city blacks, and to compare it (as Montgomery does) with the demented anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan's smarmy offer to have a photo op with Joe Lieberman is beneath contempt. But it is reflective of the path Montgomery has chosen in her effort to caricature my career.

Having relied so heavily on low-grade rhetorical smears to achieve her purpose, Montgomery pontificates: "Name-calling rarely encourages dialogue." Like this I suppose: "Right now the only ones tuning in to Horowitz are his own tribe of ditto-heads." Is she referring to the Washington Post's Jonathan Yardley, or Mickey Kaus of Kausfiles, or the editorialists of the Arizona Republic and USA Today -- all of whom have come to my defense and have done so as liberals, as Democrats and in Yardley's case as no Horowitz fan (his review of "Radical Son" was as negative as any written). Salon itself has reported that 70 percent of the American public, when polled, agrees with my position on reparations, a fact that underscores my concern that a left-wing black leadership is once again embarked on a destructive course that will further isolate its constituency.

How bizarre of Montgomery to accuse me of patronizing African-Americans when it is actually my candor -- and thus my respect -- that she really objects to. What she cannot accept is the fact that I actually work with African-Americans across political lines and in practical ways to help minority communities that are disadvantaged. This aspect of my biography she distorts as a liberal tic allowing me to invoke the "some of my best friends" excuse of parlor racists. This lame slander is actually necessary to her argument because the reality would put the lie to every negative thing she wants to believe -- and wants others to believe -- about me, but is incapable of justifying with evidence. The problem for her and for others like her is that I am not a cracker whom they would know how to answer, but a quantity unfathomable to them -- a conservative who understands that equality and justice will never be achieved by the racially divisive and infantalizing strategies of the political left.

I do know my opponents, and I understand them better than they think. Contrary to Montgomery, I have named the racial provocateurs "who want to put race at the center of every political conflict and reveal it as the source of every problem afflicting African-Americans." I have put flesh and blood on each of my claims and have backed them with the evidence to support them. This is precisely what Alicia Montgomery has not done in a screed that relies on global but unfounded statements about who I am and what I am alleged to have said, and which is un-self-reflective and mean-spirited, and which she will one day look back on with shame.

To readers who read Cary Tennis' coverage of my appearance at UC-Berkeley last week:

On Thursday night, which many Shakespeare-aware e-mailers thoughtfully reminded me was the ides of March, I spoke in the Life Sciences Building at the University of California at Berkeley.

Now I know what it's like to be Al Gore, specifically to have six armed guards escort one to the bathroom. A very odd experience. In fact, 30 armed police (both uniformed and undercover) were assigned by the university administration to the security detail for my speech, and I hired two additional guards myself. I am not in a position to judge how well the university authorities are able to assess the level of campus threats, but I was happy that every one of them was there. The evening ended when things began to get out of control. I, myself, took the decision to terminate the proceedings before anyone got hurt.

The need for security, as I noted from the platform, was itself a horrific commentary on the state of our campuses. The intention of the 200 protesters was to make certain ideas so toxic that one could discuss them only at one's peril -- moral or physical. As someone who spoke up in behalf of Marxist and communist ideas in the 1950s at Columbia with no such opposition, I can attest that McCarthyism was a tea party compared to this.

By David Horowitz

David Horowitz is a conservative writer and activist.

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