No Rest for the Righteous

Exhilarated at being spat at without result, David Horowitz bulled into Chicago last week with his message on the 60s, that “decade whose half-life continues to contaminate our own.”

It’s a message that infuriates not only the usual suspects–the aging crowd dismissed by Horowitz and his writing partner Peter Collier as unreconstructed radicals–but also such unlikely parties as the leadership of the Chicago Tribune. Personally reviewing their new book Destructive Generation this past Sunday, editor Jim Squires sneered that “every page challenges its readers with a question the book refuses to answer: ‘Why am I reading this?'”

Squires complained that Collier and Horowitz, a couple of major New Left journalists (they edited Ramparts together) turned neoconservative, “seem to take the people they write about as seriously now as they did then, incredibly imbuing the anti-Vietnam War protests with the same intellectual credence as the great revolutions of history. Some Bolsheviks, these juvenile delinquents . . .”

We’d say the book’s fascination with these JDs accounts for much of its appeal. By ignoring 90 percent of what went on back then (all those little marching people, and the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King as distinct from the one of Huey Newton), and reducing the Movement to the shenanigans of such nihilist luminaries as George Jackson and Bernardine Dohrn, Destructive Generation recapitulates the era as a sort of hysterical rock concert climaxing in the self-obliteration of its superstars. Which after tucking in the kids and changing the litter box is how we sometimes like to remember it.

Horowitz, who does most of the talking for the partnership, told us by phone from the Ritz-Carlton, “Our book is not really about Americans who were drawn into these demonstrations for pragmatic reasons [i.e., to stop the war and save their asses]. Our book has a quarrel with people who were spelling America with a K, who wanted to bring the system with a capital S down.” Destructive Generation argues that these people have burrowed into the system and are as dangerous to America as ever.

Horowitz and Collier go so far as to identify themselves with Whittaker Chambers’s forlorn remark to his wife when he abandoned Communism in 1938: “You know, we are leaving the winning world for the losing world.” The authors ask, “Why was this so then, and why should it still seem so now? Why, despite its monstrous record of criminality and failure, should the revolutionary cause continue to prosper?”

Prosper? Have these guys checked out the real world lately? “Peter and I went back and forth on that a lot,” Horowitz conceded. “I would say I do feel democracy right now is triumphant . . . [But] I would hold to what we said in the long run. I see the intelligentsia is constantly pushing for socialized solutions despite the fact socialism has caused such misery in its history.”

That’s a serious charge, laid out in graceful polemics in the book, but Horowitz lacks the conversational finesse to sell it in ideologically mixed company, About that spitting . . . Back in New York, he’d finished a TV interview and found book editor David Rieff waiting for him in the green room. Rieff was steaming. Destructive Generation ends with a dig at Rieff’s mother, author Susan Sontag, plus a gratuitous mention of Rieff “chatting possessively about his author Mario Vargas Llosa, while at the same time ridiculing the conservative Peruvian novelist’s attempts to rally his country against a bloody guerrilla movement.”

“Did you ever know an editor who didn’t talk about his or her writers?” asked Rieff in the green room. And Horowitz told him, “No, but I had to get you.” (This is Rieff’s account, but it’s pretty much how Horowitz remembers it too.) Rieff said airily, “You care only about politics and I care about art,” and Horowitz shot back, “If you had decent politics, you wouldn’t be an accomplice of the murderers in Managua. You’d support the contras like me.” Rieff thought to himself, I’ve just been called a murderer!

“Given he was 15 years older than I am and half a foot shorter, I couldn’t very well hit him. So I spit at him,” said Rieff. The glob sailed high. “Not having ever spit at anyone before, it turns out to be a little trickier kinetically than I thought.”

Said Horowitz, “It grazed the too of my head and he was gone before I could do anything.”

“Passions,” he reflected from the Ritz, “are running high.”

As he spoke, he and Collier awaited the first confrontation on the Chicago leg of their book tour–interview, hotel, Marilyn Katz, Daily Herald, said their schedule. Who was she? Back in New York, they’d taped an interview for a piece the USA Today TV show was putting together, and they’d been asked to respond to various sallies from a Marilyn Katz of Chicago, some former radical, apparently, who’d already been interviewed. Now here she was.

“Who are the players here?” asked Horowitz in confusion. For Katz did not come alone. No, here was reporter Tom Valeo introducing himself as the actual interviewer and another guy as the photographer. As for Katz, Valeo explained that he’d asked Summit Books to send her a book because he wanted her along to round out the conversation. Today, Marilyn Katz is a media consultant who did a lot of work for the city while Harold Washington was mayor. For a while in the 60s she belonged to Students for a Democratic Society. Bernardine Dohrn was a friend.

“I lost control of the interview,” Valeo told us the next day. “There”s nothing on the tape except screaming.”

Katz hated Destructive Generation. “I found it insulting, racist, sexist . . . They don’t even mention Malcolm X, and there’s ten pages of Bernardine Dohrn’s sexual activities. . . . They miss the whole point of the 60s, activists like me who thought if you wanted to be a human being you had to respond to what we felt was an aberration in American society. . . . We thought we were being real Americans. That’s who the New Left was, not a bunch of 50s intellectuals like Horowitz and Collier kids like me just turning 21!”

At every turn in Chicago, the authors collided with old activists eager to rip them and their book in the argot of psychodrama. Heather Booth, who left SDS in ’67 “because it was getting wild” and now runs the grassroots organization Citizen Action, went up against them on Milt Rosenberg’s radio show determined to stay positive. “Because they are hostile, vindictive, and filled with hate, I thought whoever debated them should not be,” Booth says. Michael James, another old SDSer who now runs the Heartland Cafe, saw Horowitz as “kind of an old Stalinist himself.” (Horowitz’s parents belonged to the Communist Party and he learned his estrangement at home.) Channel Two’s Don Johnson told us somewhat mystically, “They let their ideas come out of their mutilation of their former selves.”

Johnson had booked the pair onto a show he produces called Common Ground. But the authors stormed out before the taping, accusing Channel Two of sandbagging them. Summit Books had told them they’d go on alone. Instead, they found themselves confronting Michael James and, yet again, Marilyn Katz.

“In the halls they began to characterize [Katz and James] as terrorists, that’s a quote, and bomb throwers, unquote,” Johnson told us. “It wasn’t the proudest moment of Lefties for Reagan.”

Horowitz called us just before they left town. He couldn’t get over Marilyn Katz. “How did this woman insinuate herself into the show? She was not a writer! She was nothing in the 60s! All she was was a Weather groupie!”

The why of it is easy. Don Johnson knew her and called her. Tom Valeo and a USA Today producer got her name from Abe Peck, Chicago’s official clearinghouse of 60s memories. The who of it is pretty simple too.

If the 60s hadn’t rescued her, Katz told us, “I’d be a little housewife or a little sociologist writing arcane papers no one cares about. I remember the day I was in the dorm and Dr. King was stopped in Selma and I said ‘You can’t just write about it. You have to be part of it.'”

In other words, Katz is a type of radical unknown to Destructive Generation: someone who went on with her life without drifting into either apostasy or fifth columnism or irrelevance.

Trib Distributors Win One

A year ago, we described how the Tribune was changing its distribution system. After decades of being delivered by independent middlemen, it was buying up their subscription lists for “a fair market value” so that “agents” who’d be paid a flat fee could take over the routes.

The independent distributors who were willing to take the price the Tribune offered were welcome to come on board as agents. If they didn’t want to take it, they could let a private arbitrator fix the price. But the Tribune would seize their lists regardless, and they would never get to deliver the Tribune again.

About 70 of the 109 distributors opted for the arbitration anyway. A few days ago the first of these cases was settled. Two brothers who owned a suburban distributorship, for which the Tribune had offered $170,000, were awarded $424,885.

“It’s an incredible process,” said Peter Meyers, the brothers’ lawyer in the case, “but I think the Tribune will wind up paying a lot more than they expected to when all is said and done. These distributorships had tremendous economic value.”

The brothers had tried to make a go of it delivering just the Sun-Times, but after a month they closed up shop. “We were lifers in the business,” one of them told us. Once their father had driven a Tribune delivery truck.

Self-conscious about the money he’d come into, this owner asked us not to identify him by name. Not that he was excited. “My wife and Peter think it’s great,” he said. “But my career’s gone. A lot of the other guys are unemployed and searching.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Darrow Montgomery.