I should have realized at the time this was not going to be a long-lived reunion. It came to an end almost a year later when Wasserman finally asked me to write for the review. He wanted me to join a “symposium” on the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto. My contribution was to be 250 words, and I made the mistake of assuming the others would be equally brief. When I opened the issue, however, I saw not only that he had cut my two paragraphs to one, but that the symposium opened with a 3,000-word illustrated spread celebrating Marx’s genius and contemporary relevance. It was written by Eric Hobsbawm, a member of the Communist Party for 50 years and recidivist Marxist. Hobsbawm’s most recent book had been a 500-page defense of the Marxist left in the Cold War, which I had taken on in a lengthy review in the Weekly Standard. His defense of Marxism was an insult to the historical record and to everything that people like Chambers and I had stood for in our lives. In featuring Hobsbawm on this occasion, Wasserman had revealed the standard by which he lived (and his real opinion of me). Why not ask David Duke to write a paean to the continuing relevance of Mein Kampf on its anniversary, I asked, in an acid note I sent to him.
I could not let the matter rest, and decided eventually to take it up with the top editors at the Times. Both of them were men of the (soft) left who listened politely and ignored my concern. I also wrote a letter to the Times’ newly appointed publisher and CEO, Mark Willes, who had previously been an executive at General Mills. I had met Willes at a Times Christmas party at the Hancock Park mansion of its editorial page editor, Janet Clayton, whose living room was tellingly adorned with an iconic portrait of Jesse Jackson. Except for the passage of 30 years, the party in fact could have been organized by Ramparts, the radical magazine Scheer and I edited in the 1960s. Clayton’s living room was filled with the glittering names of the Los Angeles left. Scheer was there, gnashing his teeth at me because of what I had written about him in my autobiography “Radical Son,” and Tom Hayden made an appearance along with the ACLU’s Ramona Ripston, and black extremist (and Times contributor) Earl Ofari Hutchinson. In fact, the only other person not of the left I encountered that whole evening was Paula Jones’ spokeswoman Susan Carpenter McMillan.
It occurred to me to appeal to Willes because he had already made a few gestures indicating an intention to introduce some balance at the Times. He had even demoted several left-wing editors who had climbed the affirmative-action ladder to the top of the paper. In my letter, I challenged the rationale behind pitching the book section of a major metropolitan newspaper to what was essentially a Nation audience. I made it clear that I had no problem with the representation of left-wing authors in the paper. It was the exclusion of conservative perspectives with which I was concerned.
But I had misjudged Willes, whose reason for demoting the editors was related more to the Times’ poor economic performance than its sometimes extreme political postures. Like many businessmen, Willes showed little political sense when it came to the issues of left and right. Shortly after my appeal, Willes was publicly embarrassed by a leaked internal memo in which he demanded that Times reporters include culturally diverse sources in all articles, regardless of subject matter or context. This was too much even for the quota-oppressed Times staff and its politically correct editors. Instead of answering my letter, Willes handed it over to its target, Wasserman, whose reply was understandably terse, and which revealed that our relationship was effectively over.
Of course the left is not a monolith. But then it never has been — not even in the days of Lenin and Stalin. Today, the left includes civilized social democrats, but also ideological fascists who will shout down a conservative speaker and threaten opponents with verbal terrorism, and even physical violence. Ward Connerly, a trustee of the University of California who has led the fight against racial preferences, has been prevented from speaking at three major universities by leftist gangs this year. These acts of incivility have been abetted by cowardly administrators who do not share the witch-hunting mentality of the demonstrators but are also unwilling to stand up to them.
Every conservative faculty member without tenure at an American university lives in fear of being terminated for his or her politically incorrect views. Steve Wasserman may be a nuanced radical whose socializing generously includes political pariahs like myself, but he will still enforce their marginality in the pages of his own magazine, or at festivals he organizes. And Russell Jacoby may be capable of composing book-length critiques of his fellow PC leftists, but writing in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, he will casually dismiss as a paranoid delusion the view of one of America’s leading conservative thinkers that he inhabits a culture of hostile antagonists.