On Media / Pop Culcha

Jewish World Review April 29, 1999/ 13 Iyar, 5759

Robert Leiter

To tell the truth

AS PART OF A WIDE-RANGING discussion of lying in public life, published as a cover story in the May/June issue of American Enterprise magazine, David Horowitz contributes some eye-opening disclosures about pioneering feminist Betty Friedan.

Drawn from Horowitz's column of Jan. 18, 1999 in the internet magazine Salon and printed in American Enterprise as a sidebar to a section on "Untruth In Academe," the piece focuses on some little known facts of Friedan's early life.

Econophone "What is it with progressives?" Horowitz, himself a former '60s' radical, asks. "Why do they feel the need to lie so relentlessly about who they are?"

The columnist then notes that in the new biography, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique, Daniel Horowitz, a Smith College professor (and no relation to David Horowitz), proves conclusively that Friedan, who's always portrayed herself as "a typical suburban housewife" until she began writing her groundbreaking book, was actually "nothing of the kind."

Under her maiden name, Betty Goldstein, she was in fact "an activist and professional propagandist for the Communist Left for over a decade before the publication of The Feminine Mystique."

The column continues: "Professor Horowitz documents that Friedan was, from her college days until her mid-30s, a Stalinist Marxist, a political intimate of leaders of American Communists, and for a time the lover of a young Communist physicist working on atomic bomb projects with J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her famous description of America's suburban family household as 'a comfortable concentration camp' therefore had more to do with her Marxist hatred for America than with any of her actual experience as a housewife or mother. (Her husband, Carl, also a leftist, once complained that his wife 'was in the world during the whole marriage,' had a full-time maid, and 'seldom was a wife and a mother.')"

David Horowitz then goes on to discuss other examples of such left-wing personal revisionism. He admits that he understands why people like Friedan and his other subjects lied in the McCarthy period - they actually had something to hide. But what he doesn't understand is why these people and their children continue to lie to this day.

"The reason is this: The truth is too embarrassing. Imagine what it would be like for Betty Friedan as a Jew to admit that she opposed America's entry into the war against Hitler because her Party told her that it was just an inter-imperialist fracas? Imagine what it would be like for America's premier feminist to acknowledge that well into her 30s she thought Stalin was the Father of the Peoples, and that the United States was an evil empire, and that her interest in women's liberation was just a subtext of her real desire to create a Soviet America. No, those kinds of revelations don't help a person who is concerned about her public image.

"The example of Betty Friedan," the columnist concludes, "should be a wake-up call to the rest of us to insist that people be candid about their politics and about calling things by their right names."

Long live David Horowitz!

R. EMMETT TYRRELL, JR., editor of The American Spectator magazine, has given this year's J. Gordon Coogler Award for the worst book of the year to Harvard law professor Alan M. Dershowitz's Sexual McCarthyism, a critique of the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. I couldn't agree with him more.

An added benefit of the prize is that Tyrrell's comments accompanying the announcement make an important point - Dershowitz's use of the term "McCarthyism" is totally specious.

"True McCarthyism," Tyrrell writes, "is defined as a personal attack on elements deemed subversive through indiscriminate charges that are usually unsubstantiated. But the charges made against Clinton have been fulsomely substantiated," beginning with the president's own admission of an improper relationship with Miss Lewinsky.

It's always refreshing to have the air cleared --- and twice in one week!

I CAN'T THINK of when I've heard more fanfare, from the publisher and the media, for a first book of stories than what's accompanied the publication of Nathan Englander's For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, recently out from Knopf. The promotional fervor has been intense, the first printing considerable, and there has been talk of a six-figure advance.

The only writer in recent memory similarly greeted - with praise, though not with money, if memory serves right - was Ann Beattie,. who interestingly enough provides a blurb in the promotional material for Englander's book.

"The best story collection I've read in ages," Beattie blurbs. "Every so often there's a new voice that entirely revitalizes the short story. It happened with Richard Ford, and with Denis Johnson, and with Thom Jones. It's happening again with Nathan Englander, whose precise, funny, heart-breaking, well-controlled but never contrived stories open a window on a fascinating landscape we might never have known was there."

Call me a spoiled sport, but I don't agree with any of this. Englander's stories seem to me totally contrived, in a manner that's come to be associated with the major writing programs in this country.

(It's not surprising to discover that Englander is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop).

All of the stories in the collection have more to do with literature than life - everything imagined rather than felt - whether it's in "The Gilgul of Park Avenue," where the WASPy main character suddenly realizes in the course of a Manhattan taxi ride that he has a Jewish "neshama," or the title story in which a sexually frustrated husband is told by his rabbi to take solace in a prostitute.

Englander who was raised in a modern Orthodox household told the Forward last week that's he's been doing everything in his power to escape the fold. His stories, which seem to give us an insider's view of Orthodox Judaism, work on the premise of turning the tables on their pious characters in ways that will compromise them. This may tickle left-liberal reviewers and book editors to no end, but I find it lifeless on the page and endlessly offensive.

Robert Leiter is Literary Editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent.

3/17/99: Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder


©1999 Robert Leiter