Tea with Terrorists
Leonard Bernstein certainly knew how to throw a party. He had the wealth and the digs to make it happen, as well as the reputation and connections to make news. Bernstein, whose undoubted musical genius was enhanced by his gift for flair as conductor of the New York Philharmonic, owned a thirteen-room Park Avenue apartment which he decided to use for a fundraiser for the radical Black Panther movement. The bash, held in the late 60s, was filled with New York's literati, as well as with other powerful figures who dominated the fields of art, film, and music.
One of Bernstein's guests was author Tom Wolfe, who sneaked in a tape recorder and afterwards wrote a lengthy and eventually very famous essay for the New Yorker magazine. Wolfe coined the term "radical chic," a phrase which neatly and succinctly describes the liberal upper social class attraction to radical movements then and now.
Thanks to Wolfe, Bernstein's bash was to become one of the most famous and memorable parties in American history -- and for good reason. Liberals' initially tentative embrace of radical movements like the Black Panthers, who were and still are dedicated to violent social change, would soon become a bear hug of all things Left. The premises articulated by the Black Panthers at the Bernstein penthouse apartment would become a political orthodoxy which was to filter down to influence American media, academia, and the Democratic Party -- an orthodoxy which is the liberal equivalent of Holy Writ.
Wolfe obviously liked the ebullient and brilliant Bernstein, who expressed grave reservations about his guests' views. "Yes," Wolfe relates Bernstein as saying to the Panthers, "but a lot of us here are worried about things like threats against the lives of leaders of the established black community --"
Indeed. Death threats are a bit worrisome.
Wolfe also expressed some reservations about the combination of New York's liberal elite and a group committed to violence as a tool for social change. However, committed to the indeterminacy characteristic of the eternal cynic who exempts himself from attack by detached irony and wit, he expressed his unease uneasily:
"In fact, there is a certain perfection as the first Black Panther [Donald Cox] rises within a Park Avenue living room to lay the Panthers' 10-point program on New York Society in the age of Radical Chic."
According to Wolfe, Cox briefly outlined the Panthers 1966 manifesto, which included an educational system that "expresses the true nature of this decadent society," the exemption of all black men from military service, the freeing of all black men in jail "because they have not had fair trials," being unfairly tried instead "by predominantly middle-class, all-white juries."
Cox concluded his rousing speech by saying, "And most important of all, we want peace . . . see . . . We want peace, but there can be no peace as long as a society is racist and one part of society engages in systematic oppression of another [. . .] We want a plebiscite by the United Nations to be held in black communities, so that we can control our own destiny."
Wolfe noted, "Everyone in the room, of course, is drinking in his performance like tiger's milk."
Cox concluded his impassioned discourse by adding a final indictment of America:
We recognize that this country is the most oppressive country in the world, maybe in the history of the world. The pigs have the weapons and they are ready to use them on the people, and we recognize this as being very bad. They are ready to commit genocide against those who stand up against them, and we recognize this as being very bad.
But the Panthers weren't quite finished.
The emotional momentum was building rapidly when Ray "Masai" Hewitt, the Panthers' Minister of Education and member of the Central Committee, rose to speak. Hewitt was an intense, powerful young man and in no mood to play the diplomacy game. Some of you here, he said, may have some feelings left for the establishment, but we don't. We want to see it die. We're Maoist revolutionaries, and we have no choice but to fight to the finish. For about 30 minutes Masai Hewitt laid it on the line. He referred now and again to "that M ----- F ----- Nixon" and to how the struggle would not be easy, and that if buildings were burned and other violence ensued, that was only part of the struggle that the power structure had forced the oppressed minorities into. Hewitt's words tended to provoke an all-or-nothing reaction. A few who remembered the struggles of the Depression were profoundly moved, fired up with a kind of nostalgie de that old-time religion. But more than one Park Avenue matron was thrown into a Radical Chic confusion. The most memorable quote was: "He's a magnificent man, but suppose some simple-minded schmucks take all that business about burning down buildings seriously?
Further examination of the Black Panther movement would cause some unease among the liberal Jewish community. Wolfe noted, "many Jewish leaders regarded the anti-Zionist stances of groups like the Panthers as a veiled American-brand anti-Semitism, tied up with such less theoretical matters as extortion, robbery and mayhem by blacks against Jews in ghetto areas. They cited things like the August 30, 1969, issue of Black Panther, which carried an article entitled "Zionism (Kosher Nationalism) + Imperialism = Fascism" and spoke of "the fascist pigs." The June, 1967, issue of another Panther publication, Black Power, had carried a poem titled "Jew-Land," which said:
Jew-Land, On a summer afternoon, Really, Couldn't kill the Jews too soon,
Now dig. The Jews have stolen our bread
Their filthy women tricked our men into bed
So I won't rest until the Jews are dead . . .
In Jew-Land, Don't be a Tom on Israel's side
Really, Cause that's where Christ was crucified
A Time magazine article, published on December 21, 1970, and titled "Fish in the Brandy Snifter," wondered openly about the juxtaposition of liberalism and the radical principles espoused by the Black Panthers.
But how is a good Jewish liberal to take a group that cheerfully talks about destroying his society and is, at the very least, linked to gang shakedowns of Jewish merchants in the ghetto and black nationalist propaganda against Israel?
"When a TIME reporter recently asked a minister of the Panther Party's shadow government about the truthfulness of Wolfe's Radical Chic account, the reply was ominous: 'You mean that dirty, blatant, lying, racist dog who wrote that fascist disgusting thing in New York magazine?' "
So there we have it. Bernstein's guests' opinions encapsulated the now firmly established political doctrines of the Left. Tenets celebrated at a party for the "oppressed" now have become orthodox expressions of Progressive faith. The term "party politics" took on a new meaning.
It was all there: the encouragement of class warfare, the willful exacerbation of racial tensions, the excoriating of America as the most oppressive nation in the world, the justification of the destruction of irretrievably corrupt American institutions, the indictment of capitalism as noxious and oppressive, the separatist demands, the cry for redress against white Americans, and the vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel vitriol.
There are many lessons to be learned from the Bernstein party and its aftermath.
One is that well-intentioned and goodhearted people should know the views of their guests before they invite them into their homes and give them publicity and money. It might be helpful to know the guests you have invited into your living room for tea and scones are determined to destroy your house, your people, and your nation.
Another is that it might be helpful to understand immigration policy in terms of inviting people into the living room of the United States. Are we inviting people here who are determined to destroy us as a people and nation? Are we giving tea and sympathy to those who claim oppression but who are actively seeking to oppress us? Do we continue to invite people from terrorist nations into our public living rooms, be they the spaces cleared for the Boston Marathon, our sports stadia and our parks? Do we allow the living rooms of the public to be targets for people determined to destroy the occupants?
Yet another would be to take a look at foreign policy. Who are we supporting by donations of arms and monies? Are we giving a party for those who are inimically opposed to us and our allies, including Israel? Are we feeding and giving succor as well as sympathetic publicity to the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist crowd who are clamoring for Israel's elimination? Why are we handing out party favors like F-16 jets and billions of dollars to nations who are led by oppressive tyrants?
Wolfe describes Bernstein, who appears to have been well-intentioned but not entirely comprehending of the radically violent views of the guests who expressed hatred for him and his people:
Lenny stands here in his own home radiating the charm and grace that make him an easy host for leaders of the oppressed . . .
To some extent, the goodhearted U.S. has been an easy host for people who cry, "Oppression!" Some are oppressed. Some aren't. Some are oppressors. Wolfe's observation is salutary: not everyone who cries "oppression" is dedicated to the succor of the truly oppressed. Some are wolves in sheep's clothing, committed to an orthodox Leftist creed advocating constant destruction and radical transformation that does violence to our country.
America and Americans must stop giving parties for terrorists -- and the party-giving must stop at the top. America must stop giving cups of tea and sandwiches to wolves who want to devour their houses, their very selves, and their nation.
Fay Voshell is a contributor to American Thinker as well as to National Review. She holds a M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her the Charles Hodge Prize for excellence in systematic theology. She was selected as one of the Delaware GOP's "Winning Women," class of 2008. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org