Winston Churchill once remarked that there was nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result. Perhaps that’s why he enjoyed being a conservative — it guaranteed he would frequently be a target.
Recently, I dodged my own political bullet when columnist Jack White smeared me as a “racist” in Time magazine. In fact, it was only a week ago that I was able to pinch flesh and confirm that I had survived, when a favorable review in Time of my new book on race, “Hating Whitey,” called it “indignant sanity.” This was a kind of imprimatur that allowed me to be readmitted to Time’s definition of decent society.
But even as I was savoring my resurrection, I opened the New York Times Magazine a week ago to see myself smeared by author Jacob Weisberg as one of a group of conservatives on an alleged mission to rehabilitate Joe McCarthy. After the epithet “racist,” the term “McCarthyite” is the one most likely to inflict mortal wounds in our political culture.
Weisberg’s article was, in fact, almost a carbon copy of a piece by Joshua Micah Marshall that had appeared in the American Prospect a year earlier. His screed, called “Exhuming McCarthy,” slandered the same small group — Ronald Radosh, Harvey Klehr, John Haynes, Allen Weinstein and me — labeling us “New McCarthyites.” Like Weisberg’s piece, it failed to provide the slightest evidence for this charge.
The occasion for these attacks is the controversy surrounding the efforts of a few conservative scholars to bring to light new documentary evidence of domestic Communist spying contained in the recently released Venona transcripts and in Soviet archives. Haynes and Klehr are engaged in a series of groundbreaking studies in this field for Yale University Press; Radosh has co-written definitive books on the Rosenberg and Amerasia spy cases, and is writing a study of the Spanish Civil War based on the new sources; Weinstein is the author of the definitive book on Alger Hiss’ guilt and has published a voluminous text on domestic Communist spies called “The Haunted Wood.”
Weisberg added another conservative, Arthur Herman, who has just published a book, “Joe McCarthy: Re-examining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator,” which also relies on the new sources.
But me? I have never claimed to be a scholar in the area of Soviet agents and Cold War spying, nor have I written anything about spy cases. I’ve never even read the Venona transcripts, nor visited the Soviet archives. What am I doing in this piece?
I had put this question to Weisberg when he’d called me for an interview for his piece. His answer had been hesitant and vague in a way that aroused my suspicions at the time, but he did say that the article would not be merely about the controversy, so I agreed to cooperate.
When the article appeared, however, it was obvious that Weisberg had lied to me. My inclusion was solely for the purpose of smearing the other four authors — or, more precisely, making the smear of them seem plausible. My utility lay in the fact that I am known as a tough moral critic of the left, and have made a point of answering attacks from that quarter in the same uncompromising language as the attacks themselves.
That I write in a polemical, in-your-face style, rather than in a scholarly, hedge-your-bets style, helped provide the necessary “gotcha” quotes that Weisberg was seeking.
In preparing his American Prospect piece last year, Marshall hadn’t read enough of my actual work to come up with a clinching quote, but he introduced me as “the prime example” of someone who “excoriate[s] the entire progressive tradition for the misdeeds of the extreme left.” Weisberg (who found one) merely varies this description: “Having despised liberals from the left, Horowitz came to hate them just as violently from the right.”
In other words, I was a good candidate for the McCarthy stand-in that Weisberg was looking for. This authorial device produces an irony that eludes both writers. Odd, is it not, that two men who claim to be horrified at attempts to conflate the innocent with the guilty should lump together three non-ideological scholars (Haynes, Klehr and Weinstein), a social democrat (Radosh), a traditional conservative (Herman) and a libertarian conservative (me), to accuse them of working together to rehabilitate McCarthyism?!
Weisberg’s profile of what he alleges to be my libero-phobia may puzzle many readers of Salon. Gripped by such demons, why would I want to write columns for a Web site founded by liberals and leftists, and why would I defend them (as I have) from attacks by the right? Surely this is strange behavior for an ideologue possessed by undiscriminating hatred of all things left.