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Jewish World Review April 10, 2001 / 17 Nissan, 5761

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Consumer Reports

X-treme Politics

An ad about reparations for slavery points out the follies of political censorship -- OVER the last few months, a great deal has been written about the vulgarization of American football. The cause of the controversy was the decision of the NBC television network to join forces with professional wrestling impresario Vince McMahon to create a new and more outrageous brand of football called the Extreme Football League.

As a minor-league trash sport, the XFL and everyone associated with it are appropriate symbols for what might charitably be considered the decline of Western civilization.

Yet as anyone who has followed American politics in recent years can attest, the spirit of the XFL is alive and well in America. Though the hormone-crazed teenage boys and young men whom NBC believed would love the XFL probably don't pay much attention to C-Span or CNN, some of what passes for discussion among the talking (or should I say screaming) heads in the world of politics seems aimed directly at the same audience.

The question is: Just how far out of bounds can political speech go before we throw a penalty flag and say that an opinion ought not to be read or heard? Writer David Horowitz and his critics are giving us a good example of just how far along the road to trash-talk politics we have gone.

Politics in our day is a contact sport, and there is no more "Xtreme" practitioner of it than author David Horowitz. Horowitz is a former denizen of the far-left where he edited Ramparts magazine in the 1960s, and also served for a while as an apologist and supporter of the thuggish Black Panther party.

Horowitz had an epiphany in the late '60s when a Ramparts bookkeeper whom he had recommended to the Panthers was brutally murdered by them. That event not only opened his eyes to the fact that the Panthers were a criminal organization, but it caused him to start questioning all of his left-wing beliefs.

Horowitz's ideological odyssey eventually led him to become a supporter of Ronald Reagan and notoriety (along with his writing partner Peter Collins) as a prominent critic of what he rightly termed the "destructive generation" of the '60s.

As an antidote to the distorted nostalgia that usually passes for history of the anti-war movement and left-wing politics in the 1960s, Horowitz's memoirs of that era, such as his 1997 autobiography Radical Son, are an indispensable source of truth and historical perspective.

Horowitz emerged honorably and successfully from the debates over the triumph of freedom over Marxism. But the writer is still, at heart, something of a Bolshevik.

Evidence of this is readily apparent when visiting the Web site for his online magazine, Front Page ( Along with a lot of cogent conservative commentary on the issues of the day is the most popular feature of the site:

SlapHillary offers frustrated conservatives and Clinton critics (a group that in the aftermath of the Marc Rich pardon probably includes quite a few Democrats) an opportunity to use a computer-animated hand to hit a caricature of New York's junior U.S. senator.

I bow to no one in my repugnance for Sen. Clinton and her despicable spouse, but violence against women - even computer-animated violence - is not only not funny, it's sick.

Horowitz defends this moronic stuff as a way to toughen up conservatives so they can combat the left which generally takes no prisoners when they decide to "Bork" someone. But given the dismal results that the last eight years of personal attacks on the Clintons have produced, its pretty clear conservatives aren't very effective when they use these tactics.

When not offering America a chance to slap around the former first lady, David Horowitz is also doing his best to push the envelope on racial issues. His latest effort is a series of advertisements criticizing a proposal that the United States offer African-Americans reparations for the slavery of their ancestors in this country.

Horowitz has written on race before, with good effect in his 1999 book Hating Whitey, which skewered racial hucksters like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and their intellectual counterparts such as Harvard's Cornell West.

Horowitz's arguments against reparations are generally correct.

This issue does divert African-Americans from the real problems facing their community. Nor is there much of an analogy between reparations paid to actual survivors of the Holocaust or the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and giving money away to descendants of victims, several generations removed from the wrongs done. Americans alive today not only bear no responsibility for slavery, most are descendants of immigrants who arrived long after the Civil War. Not to mention the fact that, as President Lincoln saw it, America already paid in oceans of blood for this nation's original sin of condoning legalized slavery.

That said, there is an unfortunate tone of contempt in the ad for those who disagree with its author. This is smash-mouth politics with a no-holds-barred aim at provoking what Horowitz likes to call the "brain-dead left." The ad isn't racist, but it is nasty.

But just when you feel like slapping Horowitz himself around a bit, in steps the politically correct left to make him look better. Several college newspapers refused to publish the anti-reparations ads, including some, Horowitz alleges, that have run Holocaust-denial ads in the past. Those papers that did run the ad were pilloried as racist, with some editors forced to apologize like cowed victims of Mao's Chinese cultural revolution.

Even worse, the Anti-Defamation League has now weighed in on the issue. Abe Foxman, ADL's national director (who has spent most of the last week eating crow over his not-inconsequential role in President Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich), wrote in a letter published by The New York Times that Horowitz's ad was analogous to those advocating denial of the Holocaust, which are also offered to college newspapers. He went on to write that Horowitz's "premise has no purpose other than to foment racism and hate."

Foxman has every right to disagree with David Horowitz. But when the country's leading monitor of anti-Semitism and hate crimes starts employing his own brand of extreme rhetoric, we're all in trouble.

The ADL has spent a lot of time in recent years trying to educate college-newspaper editors that a belief in the First Amendment does not obligate them to print ads such as those put forward by Holocaust deniers - ads that are filled with blatant falsehoods and that serve only to promote hatred. But though Foxman is correct when he says that newspapers have a right to refuse ads they consider offensive, he is dead wrong to confuse a legitimate, if heated, debate about reparations for slavery with efforts to combat the flat-earth thinking of Holocaust deniers.

Moreover, Foxman is treading on thin ice when he aligns the ADL with campus leftists who want to silence their opponents. In much of academia, dissent from leftist dogma is a dangerous business. It is that atmosphere of Bolshevik tactics that has produced its mirror image on the right in the form of Horowitz.

In the end, no matter how much we may dislike the bad taste exhibited by these bare-knuckle political pugilists, we are far better off letting them vent their opinions than trying to shut them up.

The answer to vulgar political rhetoric is not censorship, but more thoughtful speech. Whether employed by the right or the left, "free speech for me but not for thee" is a slogan that means death to democracy.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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