David Horowitz doesn’t have many good things to say about his old comrades in Students for a Democratic Society, but he should acknowledge that Todd Gitlin, who used to be the SDS president, is on to something.
Gitlin’s 1980 book, The Whole World is Watching, described how mass-media coverage both influenced and isolated the New Left in the 1960s. Reporters and photographers were drawn to the scruffiest and most revolutionary members of the antiwar movement; SDS members, perhaps confusing media coverage with social influence, became progressively more and more inflammatory. By the time a liberal movement against the Vietnam War arose, it was completely separate from the New Left organizations and thinkers who had been opposing the war for years—because the liberals didn’t want to be associated with people who threw shit at cops.
The New Right of the 2000s, it appears, is now trapped in the same positive-feedback cycle. Case in point: Horowitz’s review of Ann Coulter’s latest book, Treason.
When Coulter, in the wake of 9/11, opined that the US should invade Muslim countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity, she was booted from the National Review, but Horowitz invited her to continue publishing on his own FrontPage Magazine. (In the review, Horowitz says he “regarded Coulter’s phillipic as a Swiftian commentary on liberal illusions of multi-cultural outreach to people who want to rip out our hearts”. Uh-huh.) This, and similar sentiments, have won Coulter plenty of TV appearances and book sales.
But then Horowitz read Treason. He heard Coulter (on Hardball) argue that “the Democratic Party, as an entity, has become functionally treasonable … [JFK’s] heart was in the right place but he was surrounded by bad policymakers and he harm[ed] the country and its national security.” And he realized the Coulter, aside from being full of it, was Bad For The Cause:
[T]his charge—that no Democrat, apparently including Jack Kennedy, can root for America—is obviously absurd, and if conservatives do not recognize that it is absurd, nobody is going to listen to us.Kevin Drum laments:
Actually, though, it’s too bad to see that even conservatives are attacking Coulter since it means she’ll probably have to tone down her next book. I was looking forward to the third volume in her series in which we learn that Democrats from FDR forward have all been secret child molesters. Now I’ll never get to read it.
Don’t worry, Kevin—if the pattern that Gitlin observed holds true, either Coulter will continue to publish more and more outlandish “Swiftian commentaries”, or others will compete to outdo her, until the neoconservative movement generates its own versions of the SLA and the Weather Underground.
It’s gonna be one of those decades.