David Horowitz explained

Horowitz is a bit of a puzzle. He used to be a left-winger and is now a right-winger. What makes his case unusual is his apparent sincerity.

Back when I was in the Navy, I noted that people have the tendency to be very consistent. If a sailor took a careless, lackadaisical attitude towards swabbing the deck (mopping the floor) or filing records or keeping a sharp eye on watch, it was very likely that the sailor also wouldn't be very good at more urgent tasks like keeping a sailors pay accounts updated, making sure that the machinery that kept helicopters aloft were in good working order or seeing to it that items being craned up from the pier made it safely into our cargo holds. If a person could not be trusted to do one type of task, it was usually futile to hope they'd be good at another.

Conversely, if the sailor took a conscientious attitude towards non-vital tasks, treating them as though they were important, it was extremely likely they'd be trustworthy at tasks that truly were important. This fundamental attitude towards one's work was not something that fluctuated over time. Someone who took a good attitude last year usually had a good attitude this year and can reasonably be expected to maintain their good attitude next year. Of course their attitude can change, but if a change takes place, it's usually obvious why. A crisis has taken place in the sailor's life or a person in their life has had an effect on them.

Susan Faludi, author of Backlash and prominent feminist, wrote a piece on “faux feminists” who:

...define themselves as "dissenters" within the feminist ranks, but they never joined feminism in the first place; they have met each other mingling at conservative academic gatherings (like the "anti-P.C." National Association of Scholars) and conservative Washington networking circuits, not the feminist trenches of pro-choice demonstrations and clerical unionizing meetings.

Their slogan is "I am a feminist, but ... "--as in "I am a feminist, but ... I don't believe women face discrimination anymore; I don't see any reason for women to organize politically; I don't think the pay gap, sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, or just about any other issue feminism has raised are real problems; I don't see why we even need to bother with gender analysis anymore; and, on the whole, I find feminists to be little more than victim-mongering conspiracy nuts." These are "feminists" who weigh in to the debate only to speak out against feminism's "excesses."

Faludi makes the case that women who play the game of pretending to have once been feminists do so for manipulative reasons, that there truly aren't many people who have undergone that sort of sea change in their ideology. The importance of this observation is to demonstrate that a person's political leanings are an essential part of their personality. Do people ever make an about-face in their elder years? Yes, but it doesn't happen often.

There are two public figures who have shifted from the left wing to the right wing, The comedian and former Saturday Night Live cast member Dennis Miller and the former writer for The Nation Christopher Hitchens.

In both cases, their motivations are pretty transparent. Miller moved on from SNL to be a movie actor whose characters usually got killed off and a comedian who couldn't get a good gig. People from the right wing made an offer and he very pragmatically took them up on it. Hitchens appears to have adopted a real fondness for alcohol and it seems to have affected his judgment along with his general physical health.

As neither explanation appears to apply to Horowitz, the former 60s activist who once edited the magazine Ramparts, I was most intrigued by the explanation offered in a blog commentary section by Michael Berube. I've reproduced our discussion on because he had technical problems with his blog that erased the reference I was going to use.

  • Pooey! I was in the middle of a blog post where I pass on the revelation that Horowitz is still conflicted because he continued to support the Weathermen long after more respectable leftists gave up on them. If anyone has the source for that quote, I’d like to get that. Relatedly, Horowitz’ indiscriminately sweeping up everything (Katie Couric as a leftist!?!?!) fits in with the idea of his feeling guilty over supporting a group of thugs as the Weathermen had become.

Personally, I went over to discoverthenetwork and found an entry where he lumps in the entire Iraqi resistance with Saddamist thugs. I wrote him an email questioning his sanity. He hasn’t responded. Dunno why not.

Posted by Rich on 03/04 at 09:15 PM

  • Actually, I don’t believe Horowitz ever lined up with the Weathermen. His late-in-the-day infatuation with the Panthers was, in fact, all the stranger precisely because he’d been reasonably skeptical (up to that point) of the cults of violence and of personality that defined and destroyed the furthest fringes of the New Left.

Posted by Michael on 03/04 at 11:14 PM

  • So you don’t think that David has difficulty drawing distinctions between different kinds of political actors in general? It appeared to me that lumping in all sorts of leftists with Islamic “bad guys” was of a piece with failing to distinguish between “New Left” people back in the old days.

Posted by Rich on 03/05 at 10:13 AM

  • Yeah, actually I do think he has trouble making those distinctions. He just never signed up with the Weather Underground, that’s all. I believe he was in England when the Weathermen split off from the SDS (which amounted to, what, 200 people out of a membership of 100,000), and according to someone who was around at the time, he never really understood the phenomenon by which the other 99,800 stayed on the left while not sliding off into sheer barking New Far Left lunacy.

Anyway, my initial point about Horowitz and leftist distinctions was simply that he demands we make them in his case (he was never a Stalinist, never a member of the Weathermen or the SLA, etc.) while stitching together Ramsey Clark and Katie Couric.

Posted by Michael on 03/05 at 10:56 AM

And as an added bonus, someone else added:

  • Rich:

Not quite. The right actually believes that 60’s leftist groups and radical Islamist movements are literally one and the same. From Thomas Y M Barnett’s best-selling “The Pentagon's New Map:”

What really happened in the 1990s is that many of these [sixties extreme left ] terrorist groups, cut off from Soviet material and ideological support, fundamentally reinvented themselves as religiously motivated terror movements.

Apparently, Horowitz doesn’t go this far, but he’s trying to make this association in people’s minds without being held responsible for saying it. (Needless to say, Barnett’s assertion is insane. I checked with a genuine expert on the extreme left in the 60’s and he agreed. )

By the way, the context has not been distorted for the Barnett quote. A longer excerpt can be found here. Hard to believe this book is being taken seriously, but it is.

Posted by tristero on 03/05 at 10:55 AM

So unlike the Faux Feminists examined by Susan Faludi and the pragmatic side-switchers exemplified by Dennis Miller and the physically and morally declining Christopher Hitchens, Horowitz was awfully confused to begin with. He ceased to draw careful distinctions between different kinds of lefties back in the old days and judging by the statement I've copied below, doesn't really draw distinctions between foreign opponents either:

What has now changed is not the intention of the leaders of the anti-American peace movement. What has changed is that the enemy is so nakedly the aggressor against us (and not some hapless Third World people like the South Vietnamese). What has changed is not that the enemy is more evil, but that he is more transparently evil. But that is all. The totalitarian agendas of Saddam Hussein and Yassir Arafat are no different from those of Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Sung --- or Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega for that matter.

I couldn't resist copying items from the following as well, just to demonstrate how far Horowitz has declined in understanding:

During our lifetimes the so-called "progressive" Left opposed:

    4.The Vietnam War (to save South Vietnam and Cambodia from Communist conquest) (1964)
    7. The War to liberate Central America from Communist dictators and guerillas (1983)
    11. The Bush Administration's plan to finish the War to liberate Iraq (2002)

Horowitz lists several not-so-bad wars along with justified wars, but these particular items really jumped out at me


tristero said...


A few things:

I for one don't find him puzzling. I've known a lot of true believers, and they're basically the same, tedious person. And you're right as far as you go, but you have not factored in other aspects of Horowitz's personality, for example his black and white approach, his penchant for radical solutions (regardless of left/right polarities), his neurotic and chronic sense of alarm, and his penchant to accuse.

While I understand your point about the Navy and doing a good job regardless, I beg to differ. I was a lousy accountant and really couldn't care less whether the sums added up in the fluorescent lightbulb factory where I worked. OTOH, I'm a heckuva composer, and passionate about it.

As for changing sides you left out Mr. David Brock, of course. But all of these are far less interesting than the case of the one person in recent memory who truly can be said to have changed profoundly, to the point of redemption.

And that, of course, was Malcolm X. He lost his life because of who he became, which was nothing like what he was, and he was still changing when he was killed. May all of us have a tenth of his moral courage, but also avoid his fate.

Rich said...

You're absolutely correct in most of what you write. I did indeed leave out a lot of arguably critical subjects, specifically why a person might hold the viewpoints he does in the first place. I've read many accounts of people "growing up" or "putting aside their illusions" and becoming right-wingers and I wanted to examine people who had changed from left to right for less-than-impressive reasons.
You're right, Malcolm X is a sterling example of someone who moved from right to left for very impressive and honorable reasons.

As to how my Navy experience relates, I think of the issue as more a case of general tendencies than of specific talents. Once, when I had to contact a co-worker I had known for at least a year and was all stressed out and finally reached her, instead of calling her "Sue" or "Sue Smith", I called her "Ms. Smith".
This general tendency of mine to deal with people in a formal manner didn't pop up yesterday and will not disappear tomorrow. This is what I meant by the observation that you take the work seriously or you don't. Now, whether you do the work well is clearly a different story. Also, I did many academic subjects well, but I could never get the hang of foreign languages and was mediocre at math.