Capital Letters: Aging Radicals

In which our man in Washington witnesses a book heist and takes in a discussion.


Subj: My Dinner with David
Date: 4/10/2000 1:13:23 PM
From: mwlynch@reason.com

As I approached the bar in the ballroom at the Washington Court Hotel, a slick D.C. type, a white guy in an expensive suit, was chatting with the bartender, holding forth on the evils of Census 2000. "I'm an Asian Caucasian," he said, holding out his arm so as to expose his delicate skin. The black bartender smiled. There's a chance he enjoyed the conversation, but I doubt it. More likely, he's an employee compelled to countenance such conversation on pain of keeping his job. I ordered Perrier. The bartender asked if I wanted lime. "That's what I call Mexican style," said Slick, who probably wonders why blacks don't embrace Republicans like himself in greater numbers. I thanked the bartender—not knowing how to apologize—and left them to continue their conversation.

The $500-a-plate spectacle at hand: "An Evening with David Horowitz." Yes, that David Horowitz, the left-wing nut turned right-wing nut and, among other things, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Among the known faces in the crowd: Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Reps. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), and Bob Barr (R-Ga.). I dined with Reps. Sue Kelley (R-N.Y.), Hillary Clinton's representative, and Edward Royce (R-Ca.), an Ayn Rand enthusiast. Reps. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) shared master of ceremonies duties. Pennsylvania's junior GOP senator, Rick Santorum, made brief remarks. "Thank you, David, for being on the front line and in the trenches," he gushed, uttering the first and second of the evening's many war metaphors.

However, it was the Keystone State's senior senator, Arlen Specter, who turned out to be the evening's highlight. As I sat down to hydrate and fuel up on bite-size quiches, asparagus wrapped in high-end ham, and lox wrapped around cream cheese—I wanted to take an edge off before the steak-and-lobster dinner—Specter entered the ballroom. After talking with Horowitz just long enough for an in-house television cameraman to capture it, Specter headed straight for the exit, pausing only to inspect and walk off with one of the gift bags pre-set on the dinner table chairs.

Specter's haul for less than five minutes of presence included two Horowitz books, Radical Son and The Politics of Bad Faith, and an oversized button with Horowitz's face on it. I felt bad for some members of Specter's family and B-list friends. Clearly, we know what gifts they're getting for their next birthdays. (I felt especially bad for whoever gets stuck with the button.) I followed the senator out, figuring that he'd stop at the lobby bar to grab a handful of cigars or maybe swipe some old lady's purse.

Given Specter's shenanigans, Horowitz's talk was an anti-climax. He refers to his former life as a Marxist agitator as often as John McCain refers to his life as a P.O.W., and it gets about as tiring. "If only my communist mother could see me now," Horowitz mused, opening a sprawling, Castro-like speech—it would outlast the cheesecake dessert—that suggests he hasn't purged himself of all leftist tendencies. The quip on the former Marxist is that he's changed his ideology but not his methods, an image he doesn't try to dispel. "I find myself in the odd position of telling Republicans they need to be more totalitarian," he said at one point. His big idea is for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to take over our schools, or at least to declare them a disaster. Then, he said, Republicans should come in and propose a $150 billion federal program—a Marshall Plan for the schools!—to fix them. That's the sort of advice $500 buys you in this town.

Subj: Macho Feminism, Bra Burning & the Life of Hillary Clinton
Date: 4/10/2000 4:30:27 PM
From: mwlynch@reason.com

"I don't know what all this bullshit about gender and macho feminism is about," said feminist matriarch Betty Friedan.

Friedan was responding to assertions by Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism?, and longtime anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly. The topic was "Hillary Rodham Clinton as Feminist Heroine" and the venue was a day-long conference sponsored by The American Enterprise magazine and Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture.

Sommers had labeled Hillary a "gender feminist," one who would feel at home among angry academic feminists. Schlafly, sporting her signature beehive coif that has somehow managed to withstand decades of female advancement, declared Hillary a bore, causing someone to stomp out of the room in protest. Schlafly ended by declaring Hillary a "macho feminist," just like Thelma and Louise. Macho feminists don't just complain about men, explained Schlafly; they'd rather kill themselves than listen to one.

"I don't go for this bullshit about gender feminism or macho feminism," retorted Friedan. Then the Feminine Mystique author ran off on a tangent about America's need for universal daycare for 6-month-olds. She also addressed bra burning, attempting to put that hotly contested issue to bed for good. "I've been there since the beginning of American feminism [and] nobody ever burned a bra. I would have known about it." That's not to say she's pro-bra. The bra-less style, insisted Friedan, "certainly didn't make women less sexy. Probably more sexy, to let it all hang out," she said. For all the things she touched on, Friedan somehow forgot to mention the First Lady at all.

That would change in the Q&A. "I'm just sitting here losing my mind, as I have been all day," observed a women attendee, who'd earlier declared Hillary a Maoist. Friedan had been talking about "society" without defining it. "For me, [society] is family and children," she said. "You're suggesting that if we don't rip them out of the womb we should stick them in a state-run farm."

Oxygen suddenly became scarce.

"I have nothing to do with late-term abortion," Friedan shot back. "What I am saying is that there is no one model for the family."

A columnist from the Web site Newsmax.com asked Friedan about Juanita Broaddrick. "As far as I'm concerned the Clintons have given a good role model to the country of a marriage of equals," replied Friedan.

By now, the room was buzzing and tense. Panelist Karen Burstein, a former New York judge who had earlier declared Hillary her hero, said she didn't find Broaddrick's allegation credible. "If I thought that this man was a rapist, I would want to put him in jail."

"Who's Juanita Broaddrick? I've never heard of her," said a confused Friedan.

"It's the woman Bill Clinton raped," replied a woman in the front row.

"He raped her in the White House?" said an incredulous Friedan.

Somebody pointed out that we live in different worlds. Finally, a comment that made sense.

Subj: AOL's change of heart
Date: 4/20/2000 4:29:11 PM
From: mwlynch@reason.com

Just returned from a tasty lunch and panel discussion. The topic was "open access," the issue of whether Internet Service Providers such as America Online should get free roam of cable lines the way they currently do with telephone lines. Prior to the big AOL-Time Warner merger announced earlier this year, AOL had been in the vanguard of those demanding access to cable lines, even (and perhaps especially) those owned by AT&T, which currently has an exclusive deal with its own Internet service, Excite@home.

AOL, largely through the actions of George Vradenburg, the company's in-house high-dollar fixer, has spent the past year and a half begging various government bodies—the Federal Communications Commission, Congress, even city councils—to condition AT&T's merger with MediaOne on its providing AOL access to AT&T's high-speed lines.

Had Vradenburg's views spontaneously "evolved" once AOL announced its purchase of Time Warner, which just happens to be the second-biggest cable provider in the U.S. of A.? Inquiring minds wanted to know and a representative from Disney asked Vradenburg whether he still thought government at the federal and local level had the authority to condition cable company mergers on the granting of open access.

"Certainly at the federal level there's not much question," the silver-haired, pink-faced Vradenburg responded in a silky-smooth baritone. Then, assuming the posture of a disinterested bystander, he opined that the courts will decide at the local level.

"My question is, What's your company's view on that local authority?" interrupted the dude from Disney.

"It's not a view one way or the other," responded Vradenburg, who blathered on until interrupted a third time.

"Does that mean you don't have a position?" asked Disney Man.

The world of power-brokering is a cozy community, and Vradenburg knew his heckler. "My argument, Preston, is that it's not just the local authority. If you want to achieve choice in your communities, you should allow us to proceed as we are, and allow the cable industry to, to, to, to roll out the open-access model." Translation: Leave us alone.

The FCC's Robert Pepper, the panel's moderator, stopped smirking and stepped in to wrap things up. "What I'm hearing today is very different from what I heard six months ago, let alone a year ago," said Pepper. "The question, George, that I want to ask you is: Should we condition your merger approval on open access?"

Such directness is not considered polite in this town—we'd all just enjoyed a splendid lunch, why ruin it? So Pepper quickly added, "Don't worry, I won't ask you." Vradenburg shrugged and the room erupted in laughter.

Read Michael W. Lynch's "The Battle After Seattle," a special Capital Letter available online at https://reason.com/archives/2000/04/17/the-battle-after-seattle.