As poorly as David Horowitz performed in his debate last Thursday at George Washington University against Colorado University's Ward Churchill, he still won. The fact that hundreds of people would gather on the campus of a major university to watch a serious debate on the merits of a bill as insane as Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights," which would allow students to sue their professors and mandate the hiring of one right-wing professor for each professor who assigns supposedly left-wing material, was a victory in itself for the right's favorite red diaper baby.
The debate (audio here) was promoted and staged safely within the right's intellectual hothouse by Young Americans for Freedom, ensuring that at least most of the crowd would give serious consideration to Horowitz's conspiratorial maledictions against academia. "The education schools today teach social justice, which is a code for socialism or communism," Horowitz declared. "The social work department... is about an indictment of free market capitalism."
"I don't know if I'm qualified to speak to how one would teach social work, but I think your credentials are pretty suspect, too," Churchill responded, provoking laughter from scattered areas of the crowd apparently unoccupied by Horowitz's cadres.
Horowitz maintained an uncharacteristically civil posture throughout the debate, posing as the high-minded defender of academic objectivity. After Churchill recounted how he was given detention for voting socialist in a mock election in his elementary school in 1960 ("I didn't even know what a socialist was. I just thought it was cool," he said), Horowitz claimed, "Had I run Students for Academic Freedom in 1960, I would have defended Mr. Churchill." Nevermind that Churchill is today listed as a "Totalitarian Radical" on Horowitz's Discover the Network(s) website, a self-proclaimed "guide to the political left" which originally alleged a political link between Mohammed Atta and Roger Ebert.
Because Churchill agreed to serve as Horowitz's intellectual foil for the evening, he was forced to debate on Horowitz's terms. By his mere presence on stage across from Horowitz, he tacitly prevented himself from pointing out the underlying dishonesty of Horowitz's argument for the banishment of politics from the classroom. Questioning Horowitz's motives would have undermined the entire premise of the debate.
Despite his pretensions, Horowitz wants more politicization of the academy -- so long as the process of "indoctrinating" young, malleable minds is overseen by conservative ideologues. Why else would he demand, as I saw him do while speaking at the 2005 College Republican National Convention, that college history students be assigned the discredited work of Victor David Hanson? Why else would Richard Mellon-Scaife and John Olin have heaped so many millions on Horowitz in the past two decades? And how else would such a mediocre mind have gained such a large platform except by feeding at the trough of right-wing sugardaddies?
After the debate, I watched Horowitz and Churchill film an episode of Hannity and Colmes. Hannity homed in on Churchill, largely ignoring the elfin Horowitz, who had to stand on a suitcase to fit in the screen beside his towering debate opponent. All I could hear was a stentorian tone emitting from Churchill's earpiece -- probably Hannity working himself into a petulant frenzy over Churchill's infamous "Little Eichmanns" comment -- and Churchill bellowing, "Sodomy with a flashlight? How about sodomy with a flashlight, Sean? Are you appalled?"
Once the cameras shut off, the real show began. As a small crowd gathered around Horowitz, a friend who attended the debate with me asked him what he thought of my piece "Princeton Tilts Right," about Princeton's Professor Robert George and his right-wing Potemkin Village otherwise known as the James Madison Program. Realizing I had yet to introduce myself to Horowitz, I braced myself for his response.
"He needs to get his facts straight," Horowitz said of me. "That kid is a chip off the scuzzy old block."
Horowitz was visibly shaken when I finally made an introduction. "You compared me to Hitler once, didn't you?" he exclaimed. I asked him if he'd like to insult me to my face. Horowitz stared at me with bewilderment for a few long seconds, then snapped, "Grow up."