What America needs is a moxie transplant

Posted: Mar 27, 2001 12:00 AM
Can't we all just get along? No. It seems we can't, although the formerly famous Rodney King deserves credit for his amiable suggestion. The proximate reason we can't get along is the kind of nuttiness that presently infests the American left, as exemplified in the David Horowitz/slavery reparations debate. For the last couple of weeks, David Horowitz, a celebrated West Coast conservative propagandist -- I mean that in the kindest sense -- has been declaring, in college newspaper ads and campus speeches, that the whole idea of reparations for slavery is, ipso facto, insane. Now you say: No American legislative body is going to vote taxpayer money to Americans claiming redress for the centuries-old wrongs of chattel slavery, so what's the problem? The problem is the moral delicacy of certain academic liberals. They may know nothing is going to happen; still, they want no one saying it shouldn't. When Horowitz submitted to college newspapers his full-page ad, "10 Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a Bad Idea -- and Racist, Too,'' most turned him down flatly. The Daily Californian at the University of California at Berkeley printed the ad. Subsequently, for the sin of permitting free speech, the editors donned sackcloth. Sorry, oh, so sorry! When Horowitz spoke on campus, protesters tried to shout him down. At Brown University, students stole and destroyed copies of the newspaper carrying the ad. (Brown's administration courageously stood behind the editors.) At the University of Texas, campus police damped down enthusiasm to riot; but outraged comments were heard in plenty. Ah, the '60s! Here we go again? Wreck the dean's office? Off the pigs? I'd be a little surprised if so. I don't detect the same level of ideological passion as marred the rotten old '60s. What I see happening is a slide into general passivity while a relative handful -- holding the larger society hostage by means of unmodulated hostility -- dictates the terms of public expression, as at Berkeley. Free speech is supposed to be our national passion. I don't see it. The Senate debates a bill to stifle free political speech through federal control of campaign finance, and respectable organs of opinion nod in agreement. At Harvard, a reputed temple of intellectual inquiry, editors of the Crimson wallowed in self-abasement recently for publishing a satirical article by an Asian student, upbraiding fellow Asians for self-segregation. The article excited waves of outrage on the part of students who missed, or didn't like, the writer's point. And, yes, the editors apologized. Can't have outrage, can we? Well, within bounds we can. What are those bounds? Roughly these, I would venture: You can heckle and castigate representatives of the old, pre-'60s order, such as "fundamentalist'' Christians and white Southerners. (The New Republic this week does quite a job on Texans who done come up to Washington City with that there "W'' feller, bringin' with 'em their "bizarre state pride.'' Boy, oh, boy.) You can ridicule Republicans (e.g., "W'' himself ) as drop-dead dumb (because if they weren't dumb, they'd be liberals, right?). And, of course, you can lambaste or patronize men. Make that heterosexual men. What you can't do is bruise, presumptively, the feelings of any member of a pre-1964 "outsider'' culture (e.g., women and, ah, nonheterosexual men). Yes, reparations for slavery is a nutty notion. But -- shhhhh -- we're not supposed to say so when Johnnie Cochran finally gets around to filing his federal lawsuit demanding big bucks for what folks in Charleston did a century and a half ago. None of this really requires congressional investigation. All it requires is something Horowitz has in spades: moxie. Frankly, most of the country could benefit from a moxie transplant. I wonder if we could put an ad to that effect in the Crimson. It's a great place to start, that's for sure.