David Horowitz and his Front Page Magazine have been taking on left-wing academics in a series of online debates. The first was Michael Berube of Penn State. The third will be with Timothy Burke of Swarthmore College. Today, Front Page published a “debate” with Robert Jensen of the University of Texas at Austin.
What was notable to me about the exchange was Horowitz’s aggressive assertions about what Jensen “doesn’t want” or “doesn’t like”–as though he could get into Jensen’s head. A former leftist himself, Horowitz (here and elsewhere) seems to take the position that he can know what leftists think or intend. This is an extremely difficult stance to counter without resorting to the same sort of device, but Jensen does acquit himself well (even on the page of Horowitz’s own website).
Here is a sampling of the exchange:
[Jensen:] Because the site is literally incoherent, I assume it was constructed for propaganda purposes. It’s worth noting that if you asked people with even minimal political knowledge and experience in any other part of the world to evaluate the site, you would have to wait quite some time for the laughter to subside — they would assume the site is a joke….
Let’s take the category of “anti-American radicals.” This is simply a rejection of any meaningful conception of democracy. I’ve made the point before, as have many others: To accuse someone who criticizes U.S. policy of being “anti-American” is to reject any meaningful role for citizens in a democracy….
[Horowitz:] I think he reflects what all leftists who have reacted to the site feel. They don’t want a light shined on their activities, agendas, and destructive achievements. They don’t want to be accountable for what they have done and for who they are. That’s why they don’t like DiscoverTheNetwork.org.
Horowitz is, as usual, telling how we leftists react! And then he expands from what Jensen said to contend that we on the left “don’t want a light shined” on our “destructive achievements” (how’s that for an oxymoron?). My goodness! I guess that’s why we hide on the net. One of the things I like best about the leftist blogs is that they force us to act in the light and with accountability for our words. Our agendas are not hidden. I wonder if Horowitz can honestly say the same about his? Horowitz continues, once again by describing Jensen’s attitudes:
They are not merely critical of an aspect of American policy but of America in its very constitution and structure. They condemn America in its essence. If America defends dictators, America is wrong; if America overthrows dictators it is wrong. Even when America does right, it does right for the wrong reason. This is a viewpoint reasonably described as “anti-American.”…
[Jensen:] If I say, “I think the U.S. attack on Iraq was illegal” or if I point to features of corporate capitalism and state power that I think harm people, I am critiquing a policy, systems, or institutions. I am not condemning America but am trying to help create a more just world. If democracy is a meaningful term, then no one policy, system, or institution is above critique. So, I agree that it is accurate to call me anti-war or anti-capitalist, but not anti-American….
[Horowitz:] In denying that he is anti-American, Professor Jensen is just seeking to avoid the plain meaning of his positions. He has publicly wished for America’s defeat in Iraq. He has described the liberation of Iraq as an imperialist occupation.
Here, Horowitz is purposely conflating actions and beings. What he is doing is like claiming that because someone dislikes what is happening in journalism, that the same person hates journalists. He doesn’t seem to understand that very Christian concept of “hate the sin, love the sinner”–which is how the vast majority of us on the left feel about the United States.