One Activist's Exciting Sense Of Calling Is Also His Burden

Posted: Apr 18, 2008 11:59 PM

At commencement ceremonies next month and early in June, speakers orating about glorious vistas for graduates will encounter worried minds. Many students fear that their careers will lack purpose and their jobs will be dull. Most colleges these days send out their students with a series of unconnected factoids. Some provide real education. Few if any expose their students to enough older people who have had exciting careers and are still passionate about their callings.

I've written about many passionate people over the years, and it strikes me that such folks are often driven by God or by internal forces. Either way, they—like Elijah, like Winston Churchill—are not happy, happy, happy, happy, happy all the time, and they sometimes enrage both friends and foes. Exhibit A: Michael Horowitz, whose Hudson Institute office wall exhibits plaques with names like "Wilberforce Award" that signify his frequent recognition by human-rights organizations.

Many evangelical groups have honored Horowitz, who graduated from Yale Law School in 1964. Even though he's Jewish, Southern Baptists in 1997 named him one of the top 10 Christians of the year. From his Washington roost Horowitz has built coalitions that have pushed bureaucrats to act against Sudanese and North Korean oppression and many other evil mini-empires. But at melancholy moments Horowitz questions himself: "Have I done enough? I don't know."

Last month Horowitz put together a coalition to support passage of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which could help millions of girls and women enslaved for prostitution throughout the world. Among the signatories to his petition: Gary Bauer and Tony Campolo, Janice Crouse (Concerned Women for America) and Kim Gandy (National Organization for Women), and many others from both right and left. Someone who can pull together such opposites must generate saintly goodwill, right?

Not exactly. Lots of Washingtonians who have worked with Horowitz over the past quarter-century can't stand him. That's because he quickly labels those who don't agree with his policy proposals as not just wrong but "contemptible." On the phone he badgers. He screams. His flow of sharp words rarely stops before 20 minutes have gone by. Asked why he can't just call an opponent "wrong," he says, "That's how I'm built. That's the way I am. I'm a short-timer. I can't stop now."

Horowitz's office wall also features framed front pages from 1959, when he worked in Alaska: "Congress Approves Alaska Statehood" and "We're In." But more than a sense of passing time pushes him. Horowitz has on his desk a stone from Auschwitz. He has a small volume, Holy Scriptures for Jewish Soldiers, that his uncle carried across Europe as a member of George Patton's army. Like Private Ryan in Steven Spielberg's World War II film, Horowitz seems haunted by words from long ago: "Earn it."

Could God be a loving deity willing to save Private Horowitz if he doesn't earn it? "I don't think of God like that," Horowitz says. "I envy people who do." Might he ever have confidence that he's done enough? "No. My God sets high standards. He's my superego." Horowitz then engages in what sounds a bit like bragging: "North Korea. Sexual trafficking. I've done these things. No one else has done what I've done." But a minute later comes despondency: "I'm a failure."

Horowitz, like some other passionate people, cycles rapidly through moods. He speaks of his accomplishments. Then he cycles to failure. Then he blames others: "Where are the leaders?" He names some who have sat on the sidelines. But whatever the mood, the excitement remains. The sense of calling remains. That's something, in a Washington filled with cynics. The song that concluded the college basketball season earlier this month, as it has done for two decades, resonates: "One shining moment, you knew you were alive . . . One shining moment, you reached for the sky."

We reach for the sky, and God reaches down. My thought upon leaving Horowitz's office as he finished his depression cycle: Is there ever a clearer need for the balm that Christ can bring? My words to him: "Mike, look at how many people you've helped. It's a wonderful life." Tears came to his eyes.

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