Pushing the envelope of dissent

Maggie Gallagher
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Posted: Mar 22, 2001 12:00 AM
Colleges claim to be tolerant places dedicated to intellectual freedom. Political correctness, administrators say, is a figment of overheated conservative imaginations. So, thought David Horowitz, why not conduct a little test?

Horowitz approached 50 college newspapers to place a paid ad: "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea -- and Racist Too." The scorecard so far? Just four college campuses have met the free speech challenge: University of Chicago, University of Arizona, Boston University and Duke. Student newspapers at 23 august places of higher learning such as Harvard, UCLA, Michigan State, SUNY-Binghamton and Columbia refused to allow the ad to be printed, including two papers (Notre Dame and Penn State) that had previously run advertisements by Holocaust deniers, according to Horowitz's Web zine FrontPageMagazine.com. Three student papers ran the ad but apologized for their mistake afterward (Arizona State and University of California at Berkeley and Davis).

At Brown University, the published ad provoked outraged protests and a pending criminal investigation into newspaper theft. A group called Coalition of Concerned Brown Students demands the Brown Daily Herald do appropriate penance: How about donating free ad space, plus the Horowitz ad revenues to student minority groups?

"The Brown Daily Herald ... chose to ... print a paid advertisement that solicits funds in order to further a maliciously misinformed and intentionally misguided political project," charged the coalition, according to ABCNews.com. A newspaper selling space for an "intentionally misguided political project"! Horrors!

"This is not an issue of free speech," designated spokesman Kohei Ishihara told The New York Times. "This is about profits. The (Brown Daily) Herald profited from the deliberate distortion of history."

A more succinct expression of political correctness could hardly be found: This is not about free speech because I disagree both with your conclusions and your right to pay to publicize them. To his credit, Leon Botstein, president of New York's Bard College, acknowledged there is truth to the charge: "We say we believe in dissent but we actually do not practice it well," he told The New York Times.

Horowitz's argument was about as provocative as civil discourse can be: "To focus the social passions of African-Americans on what some other Americans may have done to their ancestors 50 or 150 years ago is to burden them with a crippling sense of victimhood," the ad copy reads. "How are the millions of non-black refugees from tyranny and genocide who are now living in America going to receive these claims, moreover, except as demands for special treatment -- an extravagant new handout that is only necessary because some blacks can't seem to locate the ladder of opportunity within reach of others -- many of whom are less privileged than themselves?"

Black Americans' GNP, the ad points out, is equivalent to that of the 10th most prosperous nation in the world, and the average income of African-Americans is 20 to 50 times greater than that of Africans living in nations from which slaves were so unjustly abducted. Moreover, 350,000 Union soldiers died to correct the Founders' error, or inability, to guarantee freedom to all Americans. Who should pay their descendants?

I do not agree with all of Horowitz's arguments. But he's right: Attributing moral guilt on the basis of race is a very dangerous, false and destructive idea. Too many African-American children live in neighborhoods riddled with too much crime, drug abuse, sorry schools, broken families and crippled dreams. But the reason we should do what we can to help is not that "their" ancestors were injured by "our" ancestors, but quite the opposite: because they are all America's children.