Radical Chic Redux

From left to right: Members of the Manson family, Susan Denise Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten.

Leslie Van Houten was a member of the Charlie Manson “family,” an infamous cult of unrepentant monsters devoted to orgies of sex, torture, and murder. In 1969, the 19-year-old Van Houten plunged a knife into Rosemary LaBianca 14 times. Van Houten made sure the last thing Rosemary witnessed before she died was the murder of her husband, Leno, by the Manson gang.

A Los Angeles jury sentenced Van Houten to death, but California law subsequently commuted her sentence to life in prison. Recently, a parole board recommended that she be freed, in large part due to decades of efforts on her behalf by Left-wing academics such as  Karlene Faith, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz’s “History of Consciousness” department, who thinks Van Houten has something to teach us. “I believe we need to pay attention to her.”

If released, she’ll undoubtedly be able to choose among job offers from the likes of Harvard and Yale.

Faith was preceded in the HistCon Department by Angela Davis, a stunningly beautiful African-American woman who had the distinction of being the third female to make  the FBI’s 10 Most-Wanted List. A Black Panther and Communist activist, Davis in 1970 had procured and supplied the weapons used by a black teenager to storm a Marin County courthouse, free two black convicts, and take the judge, prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages. The judge was killed in the shoot-out.

Davis was joined on the Most-Wanted List by Bernardine Dohrn, a leader of the violent group, Weather Underground. Dohrn had signed a declaration that formally declared war on the U.S. government, and publicly threatened to attack graduation ceremonies across the country “where the big people will come as speakers.”

Like Professor Faith, Dohrn celebrated the Manson crazies. “Offing those rich pigs with their own forks and knives, and then eating a meal in the same room, far out! The Weathermen dig Charlie Manson,” she told an audience of the Students for a Democratic Society soon after the murders. Once her own legal problems were resolved, Dohrn was hired as an adjunct professor by Northwestern University School of Law.

Dohrn’s husband, Bill Ayers, was one of the founders of the Weather Underground, and plotted to blow up police stations, the U.S. Capitol Building, and the Pentagon. In 1969, he helped plant a bomb at a statue dedicated to police casualties, and as often as the statue was rebuilt Ayers and his group blew it up again until it was moved to Chicago police headquarters.

In 1973, Ayers co-authored a book dedicated to “all who continue to fight” and “all political prisoners in the U.S.” One of the prisoners he mentioned by name was Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy’s Palestinian murderer.

Along the way, Ayers became Barack Obama’s chum and a professor at the University of Illinois education school. But he never abandoned his revolutionary fervor. In an interview with the New York Times, he said, “I don’t regret setting bombs” and “I feel we didn’t do enough.” Asked if he’d do it all again, he said, “I don’t want to discount the possibility.” The interview was published on September 11, 2001.

Ayers’ celebrity status didn’t sit well with everyone. When he was up for emeritus status at the University of Illinois, Robert Kennedy’s son, Christopher, spoke against him.

I intend to vote against conferring the honorific title of our university to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father, Robert F. Kennedy . . .  There is nothing more antithetical to the hopes for a university that is lively and yet civil . . . than to permanently seal off debate with one’s opponents by killing them.

Christopher Kennedy succeeded in denying Ayers’ demand for an emeritus professorship, but that doesn’t sit well with today’s Democrats. He is the “Kennedy Democrats don’t want” as Politico delicately put it.

If the polls are to be trusted, Kennedy has the support of the people of Illinois—but not the party leadership. They’re backing billionaire J.B. Pritzker, the brother of Obama’s Secretary of Commerce. Given a choice between a Kennedy and a crony capitalist, today’s Democrats have left the old-fashioned liberalism of the 1960s far behind them. Kennedy was told he lacks the right “personality” to represent Democrats. Trapped in an elevator by TV crews, he asked, “Have some decency. What have you become?”

Decency! When did you last hear that word? We’ve moved on, and Democrats no longer object to universities that hire killers. Trashiness has gone mainstream. Fifty years back it was self-consciously outré, like the cocktail party Leonard Bernstein threw for the Black Panthers, which Tom Wolfe mocked in “Radical Chic.” “Some of you here may have some feelings left for the Establishment,” said the Panthers, “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.”

Well, that’s cold.

It alarmed Barbara Walters, who demanded to know whether there’d be a place for her and her children, after the revolution. “Does that mean we have to go?” One of the Panther wives observed that it sounded like Barbara was afraid. “I’m not afraid of you,” Barbara retorted, “but maybe I am about my children.” How very unrevolutionary! But in his Park Avenue suite, all Bernstein had to worry about is what kind of canapés to serve a Black Panther.

The Manson family, Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, these were the freaks thrown up by the 1960s. We knew they were contemptible, and that Leonard Bernstein was ridiculous. But now they’re mainstream. We see it in the Washington Post’s fawning stories about the Antifa thugs, the support given to Leslie Van Houten, and in Chelsea Manning’s support group. Tom Wolfe called it Radical Chic when it was the province of a precious elite but now it’s gone mainstream. It’s Radical Chic Redux, and it stinks of cultural degradation.


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