Another Commy Plot?

Against the Current, No. 31, March/April 1991

John Vandermeer

FLlPPlNG THROUGH the channels late at night has become far more interesting with cable TV. I remember the days of frustration when the only choices were Johnny Carson on one network, the current attempt to preempt him on another, and the forever awful “Nightline” on the third. The fuzzy UHF channels offered reruns of the Honeymooners or professional wrestling.

But now we have cable: not only as cable used to be, but super cable TV, with so many channels that program managers rummage everywhere seeking enough material to broadcast. The late night fare is so diverse that an expedition of channel switching can produce surprises, occasionally something actually good. (I realize that I had come to think of garbage as the normal standard, so take my value judgment with a grain of salt.)

I even encountered Noam Chomsky giving his Manufacturing Consent/Necessary illusions talk at the American University one morning.

CSPAN is one of the best. You may encounter things like congresspeople orating to empty seats. It is sometimes quite humorous to watch the bozos, and if you want some real fun, switch between them and Ralph Kramden every thirty seconds or so and play comparative anthropologist—do they come from the same culture? What icons bind them? Which is the best thespian? (Jackie Gleason usually takes it, but there are sometimes serious challenges.)

Second Thoughts, Old Ideas

One night last year I tuned in on a conference of the Second Thoughts Project, a conservative think tank boasting such membership as Robert Leiken, Bruce Cameron and the heartthrob of every middle-aged Miami anti-Castroite, Arturo Cruz, son and namesake of the famous contra banker and former lover of the ever popular Fawn Hall, whom the Lord had blessed with a beautiful body, according to Oliver North.

This time David Horowitz was talking. Remember him? He used to be one of the editors of Ramparts and at one time lauded students who burned the Bank of America in Santa Barbara (circa 1910) for their environmental awareness. David is one of those converted Bolsheviks trying to find a new day in the sun, which is not hard for new converts given the presence of the Second Thoughts Project.

His talk that night was about the Environmental Movement, specifically how it was a communist plot Being of the pinko/economy persuasion myself, and having been frustrated with the conservatism of much of the Environmental Movement, I became rather excited that I had been missing something important.

Could he be right? My frustration as a leftist environmentalist could vanish if it turns out that the Environmental Movement was a communist plot.

But alas, Horowitz’s arguments were a bit like Ralph Kramden’s pronouncements about the state of the world. Because capitalism won and communism lost, Horowitz says, all those communists are running around trying to find a better horse to bet on. The only horse left for them is the environment. That’s really all there is to it, so if he pops upon CSPAN during a channel-switching expedition you do not have to forgo a National Geographic special, or a rerun of the last Pistons game.

But the audience response was encouraging. There appeared to be a significant number of right wing looneys that agreed with him about the Environmental Movement, and that made me dare hope they were at least partially right.

The Crusades

But my cautious optimism was soon dashed when I saw a copy of Fortune magazine with the cover story “The Environment Business Joins the New Crusade.” What I had suspected was conservative all along was even more so, and the future looked bleak.

What I wish, and David Horowitz claims, to be the case was not part of Fortune’s article. Indeed the article was about how 1) companies are now environmentally conscious about their production processes (a blatant lie) and 2) the new environmentalism provides investment opportunities for clever corporations (an obvious truth).

The spark of optimism that David Horowitz had provided me was dashed by the real world of Fortune. I guess the main lesson of this is that the Second Thoughts people are not there to provide any intellectual input into the conservative cause, but rather are like the human statues at the Gatsby party in Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me.”

The converts are a testimony, a reassurance that the world works the way it is supposed to. And powerful statues they are! Much like the sinner who testifies how her life was changed when she accepted Jesus as her savior, the Second Thoughts people reaffirm what the right needs to hear. I used to be a sinner but I saw the light, conservatism is right.

I know many people on the left who began their lives as conservatives, but I know none who wear their change of mind as a badge of courage.

But the Fortune article did offer a ray of hope for David’s idea. It lamented ‘one of the nagging realities of the new environmentalism: Grassroots local groups wield increasing disruptive power. Says David Stephenson, a Boston public relations consultant who specializes in corporate environmental strategy: “The grassroots groups are concerned about the value of their homes and the health of their children. That means they are relentless. In general, unlike the mainstream environmental groups, they are not interested in compromise or mediation.”

I could not have said it better.

March-April 1991, ATC 31