---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 28 May 2002 18:06:38 -0700
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: The Devil and Mr. Hicks
The Devil and Mr. Hicks
How one of L.A.'s leading lefties joined forces with David Horowitz and
Southern California's conservative elite
by Marc Cooper
May 24 - 30, 2002
ON A RECENT WEEKEND EVENING, UNDER A gentle sea breeze, several people are
gathered on a cliff-side patio at the sleek Malibu home of David Horowitz.
Yes, that David Horowitz. The former '60s radicalturnedconservative. The
former Ramparts magazine editor who now spends much of his time touring
college campuses warning against the "treasonous" proclivities of a new
generation of radicals and railing against proposals to pay slave
reparations to American blacks. The onetime bosom buddy of Black Panther
leader Huey Newton who today publishes pamphlets depicting Noam Chomsky on
the cover done up in a turban and a beard under the title "The Ayatollah of
Anti-American Hate." Yes, that David Horowitz, totem for everything the
American left despises, and fears.
It's Horowitz's 63rd birthday party, and the guest list is intimate. His
wife, April, has put out a modest spread on the dining-room table. I stand
with a claque of Horowitz's friends and associates as we sip wine, dip
chips and gossip as the sun sinks into the ocean before us.
Although the gathering is small, a hefty slice of Southern California's
conservative power elite is here. Republican Congressman David Dreier
exchanges stories with a staff member of the Center for the Study of
Popular Culture, the $1.5-million-a-year operation that Horowitz runs in
West L.A. In one corner stands Shawn Steel, the combative chair of the
California Republican Party. In another, loquacious libertarian talk-show
host Larry Elder, the self-styled "Sage of South-Central," once the target
of an African-American boycott campaign, loudly trades one-liners with a
couple of admirers.
Then there is Joe Hicks, whose attendance at this party would strike some
of his old friends as not only odd but blasphemous. Still, the veteran
black political activist looks perfectly comfortable yakking away with
Manny Klausner, one of the most energetic advocates and a co-author of the
anti-affirmative-action Proposition 209 approved by California voters in
1996. You'd never know that Hicks had once tirelessly battled both Klausner
and his ballot initiative. What's more, Hicks not only spoke out against
209 in 1996, but has for several decades been a veritable fixture on the
L.A. multicultural left, once serving as a union publicist, later as the
ACLU spokesman, then as a leader of several civil rights organizations and
most recently as the City Hall human-relations commissioner. So what's a
guy like Hicks doing at a party for a guy like Horowitz?
For many on the left, the answer is downright haunting. Hicks isn't just
hobnobbing with Horowitz. Since last December, he's been working with
Horowitz. Joe Hicks, one of the city's most respected leftists, has
defected. Joe Hicks has switched sides.
SHORTLY AFTER GIVING UP HIS CITY HALL post this summer as a new mayor took
office, the 61-year-old Hicks accepted Horowitz's offer to take over as
executive director of his Center for the Study of Popular Culture. The news
surprised many on the left and right.
"Joe was always a gentleman with us, but frankly, I would have never
expected this," says a delighted Klausner, now general counsel for the
Individual Rights Association, closely affiliated with Horowitz. The
reaction among Hicks' former friends and allies, meanwhile, has ranged from
bewilderment among a few, to shock and angry denunciations from the many.
Hicks spent his adult life inside of "the movement," deeply enmeshed with a
host of civil rights groups. And it's only natural that his dramatic break
with those organizations has elicited a wave of negative responses. Start
compiling opinion around the ACLU, the Southern Christian Leadership
Coalition or any other activist group that Hicks was a part of, and you
could fill pages with disparaging comments. That's a given in any story
like this. No one is more detested than the apostate.
"I was simply devastated when I heard the news," says a former colleague at
"I've been depressed since the moment I heard," says another former
"I'm pissed at him," says a former Hicks ally from the Multi-Cultural
Collaborative. "Guess he just wanted to be in the winner's circle. He got
tired of fighting and sold out."
It's probably fair to say that the above sums up the current view of Hicks
among mainstream African-American activists. But none of this fazes Hicks.
In fact, he's having the time of his life. Dressed, as usual, in a dark and
dapper sport coat, crossed American and Israeli flags on his lapel, Hicks
gives Horowitz a warm birthday hug. Later that night Hicks says to me he
has never felt better. "I know, I know what some of my old friends are
gonna say," he says. "Don't matter what this guy Hicks has done on the
streets for the last 20 years, he's now persona non grata, he will now be
shunned, he's now the enemy. But that won't be my posture."
Hicks argues that he has made no great break, no radical shift. Instead, he
sees his political transformation as merely part of a long, fluid arc:
"Looking back over my history, you see some moments where I was very
consolidated in certain positions, but I was always thinking and always
re-evaluating. Internal reflection was ongoing. But every now and then
something would come along and jar my fundamental beliefs. What's going to
happen now is an interesting test. Not only of me. But of the left. Can it
overcome its dogmatic religiosity and get into a dialogue?"
No matter what one's view, it's an excellent question. Indeed, those who
might write off Hicks' defection from the left as a simple caseof selling
out or facile opportunism do so strictly at their own peril. If money or
position were all that Hicks desired, he could have used his ample
multiculti credentials -- not to mention his recent role as city
human-relations commissioner, to retire to a cushy position as diversity
czar for some corporation or government agency. But, in fact, Hicks is in
it for the same reasons he manned the barricades of the left: for the pure
passion of politics.
Perhaps Hicks just hankers to be in the middle of the political buzz, and
the middle, nowadays, is way over on the right. Maybe Hicks got so fed up
with the knee-jerk aspects of the left that he finds it satisfying to kick
back from across the divide. Or maybe Joe Hicks has simply been won over to
the conservative cause by force of argument. I don't pretend to know his
deepest motivation, and in the end what difference does it make? The left
hardly needs to agree with what Hicks is now doing, and of course, it
won't. But it ought to at least give him a listen. Falling back on the
left's default reflexes of branding its rivals as racists, Klansmen or
"fascists" won't wash in the case of Joe Hicks, who, until a few months ago
-- was considered by many to be among the most thoughtful, reflective and
complex activists that the local left has produced.
The sorts of issues that still obsess Hicks, race, class, social and
economic justice, are all those dear to the soul of the left. But too often
that same left confronts these complex issues in a frankly reactionary
manner, unwilling to as much as re-examine assumptions ossified decades ago
in a very
different America. But from even the most rigid of leftist positions, you
make a mistake if when you lose an asset like Joe Hicks, you simply slam
the book closed on him, and don't take the time to at least hear his story.
Watts '65: Journey Into Blackness
HICKS' SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS AND activism are firmly rooted in the political
geography of a segregated Los Angeles. Educated at Jefferson High in the
1950s, Hicks was rather late in coming to any sort of political belief. His
father, still alive today at age 92, was what Hicks called a "borderline
Garveyite"referring to the back-to-Africa movement of Marcus Garvey. But
the younger Hicks eschewed the call of politics and instead enrolled at
L.A. Trade Tech wanting to be a draftsman. After a year of study, Hicks had
a conversation that changed the course of his career. "One day a teacher
pulls me aside and says, 'Kid, I got to let you know. There isn't a single
black person working as an architectural draftsman in the city of Los
Angeles, and you are probably not going to be the first.'"
Hicks reluctantly turned in his T-square, packed in his studies and signed
onto a U.S. aircraft carrier courtesy of the Navy. Stationed in Japan in
the early ^A'60s, Hicks says he first was called a "nigger" not by a fellow
sailor, but by a Japanese bar girl.
By the time Hicks left the Navy in 1964, the civil rights movement was in
full bloom. He followed it in the news and, as a liberal Democrat, was
inspired by what he saw unfolding in the freedom marches. But at the time,
he says, he was just one more middle-class guy, working at the Gas Company,
married and trying to raise a family.
That all changed forever, for Hicks and the city of L.A. during a couple of
hot August nights in 1965. As the Watts riots burned through the heart of
the city, and with a curfew clamped down on the riot zone, Hicks could go
no further than his own front porch to escape the stifling summer heat. A
National Guard jeep buzzed his house, and the soldiers ordered him to go
inside. "No way," Hicks says he said to himself. A half-hour later, the
jeep was back. "And this time they pointed that .30-caliber machine gun
right at me and yelled, 'Nigger, get the fuck off the porch!'"
That brush with imperious authority and the scenes of inflamed passion and
injustice that flickered around him drove Hicks right into the arm of the
nearest militant group, Ron Karenga's cultural nationalist US (United
Slaves), which was then in its heyday. "I was enthralled when I first
encountered Karenga," Hicks remembers with a hearty laugh. "He was doing
one of his so-called soul sessions. It started off with some music from
Smokey [Robinson] and ended up with a passionate speech from Karenga."
Hicks' three years with US branded radicalism onto his soul, but also
instilled in him what would be a lifelong discomfort with race-based
identity politics, Karenga's forte. By 1968, US locked horns with the rival
Black Panthers, and the feud bloodily culminated on the UCLA campus that
year with the
shooting of Panther leaders Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter and John Huggins.
Hicks had seen enough. "I looked at that incident. I said, 'Hey, if we are
black nationalists, and white people are the enemy, then why do we spend so
much time fighting other black folks?'"
And so began a zigzagging political trek for Hicks that continues today. He
dabbled very briefly with Islam, but his secular, atheist background was
stronger than the Koran. Then came readings in Pan-Africanism and
eventually socialism. Hicks found that class analysis made more sense than
any racial theories in explaining the divides in American society.
A girlfriend in the Communist Party accelerated Hicks' interest in Marxism.
By the late ^A'70s, Hicks was frequenting meetings of the Young Workers
Liberation League, a Communist Party front organization then run by former
City Councilman Richard Alarcon's sister. Shortly thereafter, Hicks joined
the C.P. itself where he says the party leaders were "salivating over me as
some sort of real-life ^A'young Negro leader.'" Like many others who have
passed through the C.P., Hicks says he found party life far less intriguing
and dramatic than its critics and enemies have portrayed it:
"Mostly it was unimpressive people doing unimpressive work." But Hicks used
his Communist activism to immerse himself in the Marxist classics.
Sometime in the late ^A'70s, Hicks experienced an "eye-opening,
life-changing disillusionment," triggered, predictably enough, by his first
visit to the Soviet Union. "It was dull and drab and it sucked, and I'm
walking around saying, ^A'Shit, is this what I want the U.S. to look like?'"
A visit to his Communist host's Moscow apartment deeply depressed him when
Hicks found a stash of Playboy magazines piled on the floor. Openly corrupt
and hypocritical party officials, an apolitical population and the
second-class status of Soviet women soon drove Hicks from the C.P.
But that didn't mean a disengagement from Marxism. "Instead of coming back
from Russia and coming to my senses, what do I do? I go even further to the
left," Hicks says with a hearty self-deprecating laugh. "I said socialism
wasn't the problem, the problem was the way it was administered by the
Soviets." From there, he flirted with the openly Stalinist Line of March
organization. But only briefly. After two decades on the revolutionary
express, Joe Hicks was about to get off the train.
DURING MUCH OF HIS TIME ON THE revolutionary left, Hicks was living what he
calls "an absurd double life." He had gone back to college and came out
working as an editor and writer for the magazine of the Automobile Club of
Southern California. He soon rose to running the regional PR office for
General Motors. "Talk about schizophrenia," he says. "I would leave the
G.M. corporate offices in Encino, and after work I would go to a Nicaragua
solidarity rally. Crazy, crazy stuff."
In the late '80s Hicks tried to reconcile his clashing political and
personal lives. He pushed his day job to the left, going to work for the
Service Employees International Union and simultaneously pulled his
politics away from the radical edge and toward a more liberal center,
renouncing revolution and settling into that vague slot on the political
spectrum nowadays called "progressive"what in a more politically
sophisticated country would be recognized as a social democrat.
It obviously worked for him. The ensuing decade saw Hicks move to the post
of communications director of the Southern California ACLU, to head of the
local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (the civil
rights group founded by Martin Luther King Jr.), then to founding and
leading the Multi-Cultural Collaborative, then finally to City Hall.
Politically, Hicks dove into another round of studying and introspection.
He was moderating his politics but still calling himself a socialist. "I
was like an alcoholic trying to give up drink," he says. "I couldn't give
up on the romance of the idea. I knew it was bad for me but just didn't
know where else to go for my political identity."
Hicks, though moving rightward, simply couldn't compute a break with "the
left." As a balm, he accelerated his reading and study.
That inner search took Hicks to a serious re-reading of the works of Dr.
King. This time, he was "bowled over" by the "race-transcendent message" he
saw in the writings of the slain civil rights leader. It was, he says,
"another one of those ah-ha moments." He found a King who wasn't arguing
for a society cleaved into racial categories, divided by competing ethnic
identities, but rather a vision of a colorblind democracy. He found
himself asking how activists had come from fighting for equal opportunity
and rights for all to divisive identity politics.
"I saw how much I had missed," he says. "While I was playing revolutionary
and running around with guns calling King an Uncle Tom, I failed to see how
much he had accomplished. He was trying to build the American Dream, while
I was trying to overthrow it."
Transformed by his re-assessment of King, Hicks began to chafe under the
traditional left-wing notion of seeing American blacks and Latinos as
primarily victimized peoples. Perhaps, 30 years ago, that was a proper
view. But to persist on that track decades after measurable inroads against
institutionalized racism had been achieved was in itself a sort of "soft
racism," he says. It was not only patronizing, he began to think, but also
damaging, to tell young people of color that their futures were de facto
And so, during the '90s, especially in the wake of the 1992 riots, Joe
Hicks emerged as a high-profile
advocate and spokesman for a new progressive politics in Los Angeles, even
as he was reformulating his racial views. Indeed, that reformulation began
to alter his day-to-day politics and made Hicks
one of the local left's most unpredictable and original voices. He was
among the very few black political activists who would publicly rebuke the
demagogy of self-appointed or media-appointed "race leaders" like Danny
Bakewell. He would stress what united different constituencies rather than
what divided them.
Appearing regularly on radio and TV and often in print, Hicks forcefully
argued for a cross-town, cross-racial left-of-center political coalition,
using rhetoric that would later be closely echoed by Antonio Villaraigosa
during his 2001 mayoral run. I knew, along with many other journalists in
this city, that if you needed a quote from a mature analyst who could evoke
a left-of-center vision that put the emphasis on class rather than race,
you called Joe Hicks first. And if you wanted to have lunch with a fellow
leftist where you could safely blow off steam about the inanities of
politically correct dogma, Hicks was the guy.
Turning Point: The David Duke Debacle
"I KNEW SIX OR SEVEN YEARS AGO THAT he was coming out," says Hicks' friend
and talk-show host Larry Elders. "I could hear this in Joe right after the
David Duke Debate." Elders just as well might have said ä the Infamous
David DukeJoe Hicks Debate Debacle, the indisputable low point of the 1996
ballot fight over affirmative action and a seminal event in Hicks' future
conversion to the right.
But telling that story requires a bit of background: When Ward Connerly,
the maverick African-American regent of the UC system, came up with the
idea of outlawing affirmative-action programs in state schools and
agencies, a notion quickly snatched up by conservatives and libertarians
and transformed into Proposition 209 -- the traditional language of the
left was appropriated for the campaign. Called the California Civil Rights
Initiative (CCRI) it cadged its rhetoric right from the lips of Martin
Luther King Jr.
When affirmative action was first initiated by the Nixon administration,
radicals and even some liberals viewed it with great suspicion, as a
program to mollify the minority middle class. But as the right chipped away
at affirmative action, broad sectors of the American left saw themselves
drawn into a sometimes dogged defense of the issue. When CCRI came along in
1996, civil rights, feminist and other liberal groups closed ranks to
defeat Prop. 209. "I didn't come up because of affirmative action, and I
was pissed I had to defend it," says prominent black civil rights lawyer
Connie Rice. "And fighting 209 was hard because it was absurd to
characterize its inspiration, Ward Connerly, a black man, as some sort of
Both Rice and Hicks hit the debate circuit to argue against CCRI. But now
Hicks, like Rice, was having second thoughts about the programs they were
publicly defending. "Dr. King had his own reservations about affirmative
action, and I agreed that it never did much for poor blacks, that it was
aimed at a few middle-class blacks, that other minority people would
forever be looked upon askance if they ascended," Hicks says. "Maybe Cornel
West was right when he said we should have never done this. That
affirmative action should have been based on class and not race."
It troubled Hicks that he and the rest of the left were smarting so much
over CCRI's use of King's colorblind language. If King had used it, then
why was it "unfair" for the advocates of Prop. 209 to do it too? Hicks
agonized over these questions but then allowed himself to be catapulted
into the campaign spotlight. Students at Cal State Northridge offered
former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke a $4,000 fee to come argue
against affirmative action. Hicks was offered the same amount to defend it.
And he took it.
Connie Rice and David Horowitz had offered to do the debate for free, but
the student sponsors wanted fireworks. They got them. I was a reporter at
the sellout event on September 26, 1996, and I saw tickets being scalped
for more than $200. The debate opened in a frankly carnival-like
atmosphere, and Duke was dragged out onstage as a sort of King Kong to be
reviled and jeered by a predominantly hostile student audience of more than
But there was no joy in it for Hicks: "Even as the debate began, I'm
sitting up onstage asking myself just what am I doing up here with this
clown. I mean, even in the middle of the debate I'm thinking this is like
an out-of-body experience for me. I'm supposed to be up here dealing
seriously with the complex questions of equal opportunity and justice for
all, and instead I'm up here with a joker that even conservative
Republicans disavowed." Indeed, the proponents of Prop. 209, legitimately
fearing they would be smeared, reached an agreement with Duke that he would
never directly mention the ballot initiative during the debate. But the
anti-209 campaign was intent on the opposite.
"It was a very, very ugly campaign, so much that it made me feel I'd never
again be part of one," remembers Ramona Ripston, executive director of the
Southern California ACLU and at the time a close ally with Hicks. "Somebody
suggested that [Democratic consultant] Bob Shrum be hired to run our media
campaign against 209, and it was his idea to brand the supporters of 209 as
racists. Shrum thought it was the only way we could win."
The morning of the debate, Hicks was encouraged by his anti-209 campaign
allies to call Shrum on the phone for any last-minute tips. All Shrum did
was instruct Hicks to do everything he could to get Duke to say the words
"Prop. 209" during the course of the debate.
Hicks accomplished that mission. But it only came back to haunt him. Within
days, much to Hicks' horror, the anti-209 campaign was running TV ads
featuring burning crosses, hooded Klansmen and Duke mumbling the words
"I assume full responsibility for all of this," Hicks says. "I thought the
debate would bring a lot of TV coverage to our campaign. But I was
outraged. And I was used. No one wanted a real debate. They only wanted to
get Duke to say those words and get that ad up on the air. I don't think it
changed many minds."
Apparently not. CCRI was approved, and affirmative action was banned by
California voters six weeks later by a margin of 54 to 46 percent.
Horowitz and Hicks: Yin and Yang?
DISGUSTED BY THE DUKE DEBACLE, Hicks accelerated his flight from the left.
After publicly criticizing Richard Riordan during his first term, he
endorsed Riordan for re-election in 1997. Riordan returned the favor by
naming Hicks as L.A.'s human-relations commissioner. Hicks was still
considered, nevertheless, to be somewhere on the left, even as he worked in
the moderate Riordan administration. But during the late ^A'90s, his private
conversation turned ever more critical of his traditional comrades.
Over a couple of informal lunches together while he was still working in
City Hall, I remember Hicks saying he was contemplating writing a book
critical of "multicultural orthodoxy." During New Year's 1999, I saw Hicks
at David Horowitz's yearly retreat for movement conservatives. I was there
as a reporter for The Nation; just what Hicks was doing there wasn't yet
clear. At the beginning of last year, he mentioned to me in passing that
after he left City Hall, he might unleash a "political surprise." By then I
could have guessed where all this was leading.
For behind the scenes, he'd spent the previous two years being slowly
courted by David Horowitz. Horowitz says he was intrigued by Hicks'
willingness to question leftist orthodoxy but was still cautious about
aggressively trying to recruit him. "I was ambivalent," says Horowitz. "I
didn't want to bring an enemy into my house."
Hicks had similar trepidations: "My connection to David has gone from
derision to alliance. Like most on the left, I thought David was the
breathing embodiment of evil. I started out being tough on David, angry
with David, despising David."
"The first times I met Joe I was afraid he was going to kill me," Horowitz
remembers. "He just glared at me."
The thaw began one day about four years ago when the two decided to chat
after a joint panel appearance. Horowitz followed up by sending Hicks a
copy of his memoir, Radical Son. A well-written autobiography, but flush
with self-recrimination and harsh attacks on his former political comrades,
Horowitz's book details his own political journey which took him from the
activist left to the confrontational right, from Ramparts to Reagan.
After reading the memoir, Hicks called up Horowitz, complimenting him on a
confessional that so deeply resonated with his own second thoughts. This
led to a series of lunches and meetings. By last summer, both men had
agreed that after leaving City Hall, Hicks would become the new executive
director of Horowitz's activist and fund-raising Center for the Study of
The question that goes begging here is not Hicks' disillusionment with the
left. Because for anyone who's blown a Friday night sitting through some
torturously correct meeting of this or that solidarity committee can
understand a certain level of discouragement and weariness. But that's a
long way from accepting wholesale the conservative world-view, not to
mention joining up with David Horowitz.
Is Hicks' switchover, then, really more about rejecting the left than fully
embracing the right? He strongly denies either notion. And that, in turn,
raises a host of intriguing questions about how the scope and future of his
alliance with Horowitz will be defined. Hicks still describes himself as
"adamantly pro-choice and progay rights" (but then again, so does
Horowitz). Hicks voted for Villaraigosa last year (I doubt Horowitz did the
What both men do have in common is a conviction that current multicultural
liberal principles and programs are a failure. "The multiculturalists place
victimhood before everything else," Hicks argues. "And this has become the
biggest obstacle to people moving out of poverty. As racism has declined,
as discrimination has declined in America, we have actually seen a rise in
multicultural victimhood. We hear rhetoric everyday from the left that
discrimination against women, against blacks, against gays is worse than ever!
"The problem with the left is that it always tells its story in the most
exaggerated way, in the most draconian terms," Hicks continues. "That
attitude keeps you from ever recognizing any victories or any progress. If
things are always worse, then how can you win?"
I have to admit that much of this argument even resonates with someone on
the left like myself. You don't have to be on the right to agree that the
left often luxuriates in the self-marginalizing ritual of proclaiming that
we live in a fascist dictatorship where all people of color, all women and
all lesbian-bi-gay-transgenders, for example, are ipso facto oppressed,
that we are only moments away from repression, genocide and gas chambers.
But this fails to answer the larger question of how far to the right Hicks
has really ventured.
When I press the question, Hicks doesn't blink. The transition is total, he
says. Not only has he moved to more traditionally conservative positions on
economic and national-security issues but mostly, he says, he's reveling in
a newfound intellectual freedom. The left has just become too intolerant,
he insists: "I feel the left keeps distilling down and down and down and is
no longer a way of arguing. It's become a sort of righteous religiosity
where you believe those who disagree with you are all evil, that they want
to kick homeless people into the streets, take food out of the mouth of
babies, and send all black folks back out to pick cotton." He interrupts
with a series of belly laughs. "I think this really demarcates the left
from the right, with the exception of a few religious fundamentalists. Most
of my new circle of friends are willing to acknowledge they have
differences with others but not think them evil."
Hicks says he wants to be a "bridge," to "jump-start" a dialogue between
left and right, finding "people who want to take the arguments on civilly,
not personalize it, not Satanize the other, not name call."
It's a noble sentiment. But one that brings us squarely back to the
question of how David Horowitz fits into the equation. Horowitz (who in
person is rather quiet and even self-effacing) proudly maintains a public
persona of a brawling, in-your-face provocateur, to say the least. In fact,
Horowitz relishes his bad-boy image. As a longtime friend says, "The
happiest day of David's life was when The Nation magazine recently did a
cover story hit piece on him."
You can't underestimate Horowitz's knack for the inflammatory gesture. He
boasts of how he now turns the confrontational tactics he learned on the
radical left back on his old comrades. Horowitz, in spite of recent health
problems, has been maintaining a breakneck schedule of visiting as many
college campuses as possible, the more liberal the better, prodding,
provoking and enraging student audiences with his fiery denunciations of
feminists, leftist professors, student protesters, multiculties, Democrats
The Web site he maintains, and which Hicks now oversees (frontpagemag.com),
seems calculated to cause maximum outrage per byte, freely demonizing
opponents to the left, even wishy-washy liberal Democrats. And some of
Horowitz's most recent publications are among his most controversial ever,
including a new book denouncing black "hate crimes" against whites.
Plenty of Hicks' old friends predict that the radical difference in style
between him and Horowitz is destined to erupt sooner, rather than later,
into a parting of the ways. But so far, a half-year into the new alliance,
both seem immensely comfortable with each other. Horowitz himself doesn't
hesitate from recognizing the difference in approaches between him and
Hicks. "He's a yin for my yang," says Horowitz. "Joe is much more
diplomatic than I am. He can make the sort of alliances I can't; he can
work the community connections better than I can."
In this sort of good copbad cop partnership, Horowitz clearly sees in
Hicks an instant inoculation against charges of racism. But Horowitz also
has more practical expectations for Hicks. He's hoping Hicks can bring
order and tighter management to Horowitz's center, the day-to-day business
of which has often been pushed aside by its leader's guerrilla antics.
Hicks, meanwhile, seems totally at peace as he slowly becomes the public
face for Horowitz's organization. A few months ago, he formally registered
into the Republican Party in a rather awkward scene staged at the state
party convention (proving that it's still easier for blacks to join the GOP
than it is for the GOP to join with blacks). He's started running the
Wednesday Morning Club luncheons that Horowitz's center uses to showcase
conservative speakers. And in a couple of those gatherings, Hicks had to
contend with a red-meat crowd far to the right of where he seems to be. And
yet, on those occasions he didn't flinch from praising Horowitz for his
ongoing campus rabble-rousing or from voicing what are now his own strongly
conservative views on issues ranging from education to national defense.
There's no question that Hicks can more effectively carry this political
message into certain venues. And he's already doing so, penetrating into
territory that would be verboten to Horowitz. Hicks was the lone
conservative at a recent USC panel on the 1992 riots. And he recently
participated in a debate over reparations on Earl Ofari Hutchinson's KPFK
radio show. In both cases, the exchanges were respectful, shedding more
light than heat. If it had been Horowitz participating, both events would
likely have degraded into shouting matches (in part because Horowitz is
such a skilled provocateur and in part because leftists seem
constitutionally incapable of responding to Horowitz in anything less than
Hicks' more diplomatic tone is a special challenge to the left. It's the
left, after all, that lays claim to independent and critical thinking. It
should welcome Hicks' polemics as one more invitation to reflect and
rethink. Not to run up a white flag and surrender to the right, nor to whip
out a sledgehammer and try to beat Hicksor Horowitz for that matter, into
the ground. But rather to rise to the debate and confront some of the
thornier issues raised by Hicks' apostasy. Must the narrative of the left
remain rooted in victimization? Can race politics be transcended without
abandoning a critique of racism? Can the left, in short, get past the dusty
cant of the last 30 years and conjure a proactive vision with popular appeal?
Hicks must also face the challenges inherent in his newly adopted political
position. For those of us who have known Hicks over the years and have
watched him courageously buck the stale orthodoxies of the left while still
being a part of it, the question now is this: Can he pull off the same
trick within the right? It would be a loss to all if Hicks becomes one more
dogma-ridden conservative hack. But if he's willing to challenge his
newfound friends on the right, while raising all those arguments that make
the left squirm, he'll only raise the quality of L.A.'s political debate.
Some of his old allies on the left are at least willing to give him a
chance. "I'm not dismayed by this," says civil rights lawyer Connie Rice.
"This could be productive if Joe carries this out in a transformative way.
Horowitz is too angry, his goal is only to provoke and vent. But Joe can
really expand the dialogue if he does this right. Some of us do it behind
the scenes. Some of us out in front of it."
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue May 28 2002 - 21:41:07 EDT