Nat Hentoff's Greatest Hits

Excerpts from his first 50 years at the Voice

Then came Cruising. . . .

On August 13, the Village Independent Democrats—not only a pioneer reform club, but for years a center of freely clashing ideas—passed its resolution on Cruising after a two-hour debate. The vote was close, but what carried is a rather obscene parody of the trimming liberal. . . .

"Whereas the filming of Cruising on Christopher Street, an acknowledged center of gay activity, as presently scheduled, would be gratuitously inflammatory,


50 Years of Pissing People Off
Allen Barra celebrates Nat Hentoff

"Therefore be it resolved, the Village Independent Democrats urge the Mayor and the City's Office of Motion Pictures to withdraw support of the film shooting on Christopher St."

This one street, then, on the thoroughly stupid premise that it is the exclusive property of any sector of the community, must be protected by the government from any "inflammatory" filmmaking that that sector does not like. Why not, then, Mulberry and other Italian streets? And all the streets on which Chasidim live? And certain streets in black, Albanian and Irish neighborhoods?

I asked the question of the president of the VID, and he was somewhat discomfited by the remorseless logic of what he and his fellow "reformers" had set in motion.

"Well, you see," he explained, "we didn't want to offend the homosexual community."

Nice people. I mean, if you have to choose between gentility and the First Amendment, only a churl would prefer free speech for all of us.

[ July 16, 1985]

As the pro-life movement slowly becomes more heterogeneous, members of the Left within it are underlining the contradictions of the majority of pro-lifers on the Right while also illuminating the contradictions of the pro-choice Left on the other side of the barricades.

That's what I intend to keep on doing too. For instance, I recently discovered that one of the oldest and most consistently honorable antiwar organizations in the United States—the War Resisters League—has a pro-abortion policy. Their sign is a broken rifle, which surely signifies a preference for life. Yet the WRL comes down on the side of "choice" in the matter of abortion, and one of those two choices is death. . . .

Another member of the Left who has spoken against the cheapening of human life through abortion-as-convenience is Elizabeth Moore, who organized Feminists for Life in the Washington, D.C., area. Recalling her life in the South during segregation, Moore said, "I knew first-hand the effects of legal nonprotection under the Constitution, and from my point of view, the basic value upon which just law must rest is not 'choice' but equality. I cannot tolerate the destruction of life in a society where I find myself among the expendable."

Elizabeth Moore also believes that the pro-choice argument based on a woman's right to control her own body is a right-wing concept that puts property rights over the right to live. . . .

Let me show you the naked lunch at the end of the fork.

Much has been made of Dr. Bernard Nathanson's The Silent Scream, a film of the killing by abortion of a 12-week-old unborn child. I've seen all of it once, and parts of it several times. I do not see everything he says I should see. I also think, as I have told Nathanson, that he deflects the impact of the film by focusing on the question of whether the fetus can feel pain and did indeed scream, silently. There are experts on both sides of that argument, and the debates obscure the main issue. The question of fetal pain is less important than the actual dismemberment of this living being. . . .

Ah, but good liberal pro-choice folk deny that this was really a human being. In 1973, the Supreme Court had said it was not. Just as in 1857, the Supreme Court had said that people of African descent had "Never been regarded as a part of the people or citizens of the State, nor supposed to possess any political rights which the dominant race might not withhold. . . . "

The majority of the Supreme Court, back then, had actually seen these black people but did not see them as human. They saw them as property to be disposed of in any way the owner chose. And now, although the Supreme Court and the other pro-choicers can see into the womb through ultrasound—or have seen color photographs of what's in there in widely available books—they do not see the unborn as human, and they strongly advocate the killing go on and on.

If only the pro-choice Left could think of the fetus as a baby seal, in utero.

[ February 21, 1995]

Mario Marquez, 36, was executed at 12:21 a.m. on January 18 by the state of Texas in Huntsville. Official killings have become so common there that—as a reporter for the Huntsville Item told Nightline—"The first few executions probably got people's attention, but you know, when you get to 86 or 87, it just doesn't have the impact it used to."

And a resident of the death town added: "It's like you get up and eat breakfast every day. It's just something that happens that nobody pays attention to, I guess."

And that deadly apathy will soon take root in New York.

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