- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2001

NEW YORK One of Heather MacDonald's more memorable Christmases occurred at her home in Los Angeles during the 1960s when her brother, a budding revolutionary at the University of California at Berkeley, brought home a bunch of Chairman Mao posters as family gifts.

"It was the classic idiotic rebellion," she says ruefully. "I was, by default, a liberal because in this culture, if you're not affirmatively conservative, you're a liberal without thought."

Miss Mac Donald is one of the most potent voices for conservative intellectual thought in the country, commenting on everything from the Rev. Al Sharpton to welfare cheats.

Her new book, "The Burden of Bad Ideas" (Ivan R. Dee, 2000), is a collection of her essays that appeared in the City Journal, a quarterly publication of the Manhattan Institute. The book has caught the attention of urban planners, academics and especially politicians.

According to columnist George Will: "No journalist now writing about urban problems has produced a body of work matching that of Heather MacDonald."

Hudson Institute President Herb London says, "Like so many of us, she's a liberal who was intellectually mugged by reality."

Miss Mac Donald, 44, is not a member of the leggy blonde brigade that serves up volumes of verbiage on TV talk shows. A tall, dark-haired, slim woman with no makeup, she appears occasionally on television, but more often writes unseen, working at her desk on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

In conversation, she has the wide-eyed look of one who is perpetually amazed by what she considers the philosophical lunacy of mainstream culture.

"I wasn't a movement conservative," she says, "but then I sat down to write about welfare, talked to people and saw how it had totally destroyed their lives."

When she began her studies in linguistics and comparative literature at Yale University in the 1970s, soon-to-be-popular theories on race, gender and diversity were already in full sway.

"To me, the greatest good in life was to be an academic, to be able to study in the great libraries and read German romantic poetry and Wordsworth," she says. Instead, "post-structuralism" (alternately known as deconstructionism or post-modernism) prevailed, a theory that held truth as illusive, at best. "Text" was all that mattered, went the mantra, and the search for facts was a futile exercise.

So pervasive is the influence of the deconstructionist/relativist ideology that an essayist in the New York Observer last month concluded that President-elect George W. Bush (Yale, class of '68) is a post-modernist. Why? Because he opposed recounting the Florida ballots, thereby exhibiting a distrust of ever knowing the truth.

After studying apostles of deconstructionist thought, such as Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida, Miss Mac Donald graduated summa cum laude from Yale in 1978. Two years later, when she received her master's degree in English on a Mellon fellowship at Cambridge University, the transition from deconstructive language to identity politics already had been made.

"I finally realized that my whole college education had been a waste," she said in a recent interview. "Now you have literature professors bragging they never read books. People write law review articles about the stiffness of their hair. It's all, 'Let's beat up on the whites because they enslaved people of color.' "

She briefly returned to Yale in 1980 for graduate work, only to be repelled by the growing radical feminism and race-baiting there. In an effort to explore further the meaning of "texts" what words and authors actually mean she studied for a law degree at Stanford University, writing for the law review.

Although she studied with former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, she also encountered courses like Critical Race Theory and Feminist Jurisprudence, dominant academic theories that defined reason as a tool of male oppression. For instance, she says, one of her professors believed that every job in a law school should be rotated, so that even the janitors would get a crack at teaching law.

After clerking for a federal judge in Los Angeles, she worked as a lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency in the District. When she moved to New York in 1987, she already had articles published in the New Criterion, a conservative magazine, one of which scathingly analyzed a multiculturalism report sponsored by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Fourteen years later, she is described unabashedly by the Manhattan Institute where she is a senior fellow as a "star" whose "specialty is examining the real-world consequences of elite intellectual fads."

Miss Mac Donald is known for her cold eye and intellectual rigor in her attacks on American institutions, including the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, the Smithsonian Institution and the New York Times. She faults the latter for "its unwillingness to render judgment on self-destructive behavior, [which] is part of a moral climate that has done real and lasting harm to the poor."

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's administration in particular has often relied on her harsh assessments of liberal policy. But in an article entitled "How to Train Cops," a response to attacks on the New York Police Department in the wake of the Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo scandals, the prickly conservative skewered the diversity trainers brought into the New York Police Academy to teach cops "cultural-competence." There, recruits are obliged to spend hours talking about "oppression."

Confronting one instructor, Miss Mac Donald asked if black racism is discussed in class.

" 'Of course there is no such thing as black racism,' she replies, flabbergasted at my ignorance, " Miss Mac Donald later wrote. "Racism is power and prejudice, so blacks by definition can't be racist… . Tell that to Korean and Jewish store owners, Chinese deliverymen and Mexicans working in fast-food restaurants in Harlem."

Former Democratic Mayor Ed Koch scorns her reasoning.

"I don't know if you can compare too much sensitivity with too many shots at an innocent person," he says, referring to the Diallo affair. "She's saying diversity training is more of a problem than use of excessive force. But that's not true. It's no longer a few bad apples in the NYPD. It's a significant number."

But one of Mr. Giuliani's top guns, Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota, believes that Miss Mac Donald is an extraordinary thinker who writes about the concept of individual freedom as though she lived in the era of Robespierre.

"Even though she lives and works in a academic environment, she understands the practical side of government," he says. "She has core principles, namely that government should steer you in the right direction, but not row for you."

The Rev. Al Sharpton, whom Miss Mac Donald has described as "a brazen racial provocateur," says he has never met the scholar, but calls her "pretty shrill."

The tough-minded Miss Mac Donald eschews her critics.

"Ultimately, I would like to win," she says. "To persuade people that the attack on Western culture is going to kill this society."

The subject of her next piece? Racial profiling.

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