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The Disaffection of Tammy Bruce

Once a Leader in the National Organization for Women and a Voice for Gay-Lesbian Rights, Today the Former Talk-Show Host Is Politically Homeless--Though You Wouldn't Know It From the Hugs She's Giving David Horowitz, Larry Elder and Other Conservatives.

June 02, 2002|FRED DICKEY

Had Tammy Bruce been with Sherman on his march, it would have been Georgians, not the general, who would have said, "War is hell." As former head of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, Bruce was a true believer who spent the first half of the '90s raising hell locally and nationally. She organized the marches, licked the stamps and harangued the politicians for women's and gay rights. She was a media personality whose outspoken views were broadcast widely on a talk show on L.A. station KFI, one of the few radio commentators representing the progressive movement.

Her most notable undertaking was in trying to make life miserable for O.J. Simpson following his 1995 acquittal. Bruce and her followers kicked up clouds of media dust with condemnations that loudly named Simpson the archvillain of domestic violence because he had abused his murdered ex-wife, Nicole.

Today, Bruce stands on the outside, fired from her radio job, a non-person to the NOW power structure and in some gay-lesbian activist circles, close to being labeled a racist, even--this is the cruelest cut--a conservative. What changed? Not her, she says.

Tammy Bruce blends into the smart-set camouflage of the mid-Wilshire neighborhood where she shares a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. She is 39, slim and mod, and she worries about her weight. She is also a penny-pinching May graduate from USC, where she was on full scholarship while earning her B.A. in political science.

Seems strange that this well-known activist is just getting her degree at a time when some of her peers are starting to check 401(k)s and thinking of early retirement. That's because she entered life's race from a standing start--she grew up poor, a "Northridge street kid," a girl who never knew her father and seldom saw her mom. Her mother, now deceased, worked as a store clerk, and dad was . . . somewhere. She never saw his face and doesn't even know his name. If she had gotten into drugs at 15 and become a wasted life at 18, no social worker would have blinked. However, what saved her was a quick mind and strong constitution. So, in 1990, as a proud lesbian in her late 20s, she emerged from a series of minor public relations jobs to become perhaps the highest-profile woman in L.A., if only for a brief time.

On a recent Saturday evening, Bruce drives north on the Pacific Coast Highway, headed to the Malibu home of neoconservative activist and writer David Horowitz. He is a man just as flinty-eyed for his cause as she ever was for hers. Nestled in her bag is a gift-wrapped Waterford pen for Horowitz, who is celebrating his 63rd birthday.

Horowitz has met her only twice, but he greets her as though she were the only surviving Goldwater voter. He accepts the gift and hugs her. In years past, these two would have frisked each other before shaking hands, but it's different tonight. The reason is Bruce's recently published book, which gives calamitous voice to her smoldering grievances with the "New Left," as she characterizes the feminist, gay and black civil rights organizations with which she is now feuding.

Her conflicts arose from her vociferous opinion about Simpson, then culminated with her defense of talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger when the psychologist was attacked for allegedly being a homophobe. Bruce's book, "The New Thought Police," has left many of her former liberal cohorts gasping and fuming. Bruce is at Horowitz's tonight to check out the other side, to test the truth of the old saying: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. She's also trying to fill a void. "Because I never had a father, I guess I'm always looking for family, wanting to find where I belong. Is that a weakness? I believe I'm destined to be alone politically, but I keep hoping there's someplace where there can be differences without it being dangerous."

Horowitz's airy living room is windowed for the ocean view, and it's starting to fill up with what will become a group of about 40. Bruce soon encounters KABC talk-show host Larry Elder, a libertarian black man known to have his own group-identity spats. He is friendly, bright and at ease here. When he sees Bruce, whom he has met before, he smiles. He busses her on the cheek, then says impishly, "Girl, give me one night--just one night--and I'll turn you around."

Bruce smiles and blushes. "What do I tell my girlfriend?" she asks, a little at a loss for words.

This is a heaven-sent response for the quick-witted Elder. "Bring her along!" he says, with a booming laugh.

Two or three people are idly listening. Joking or not, if this were most feminist or gay groups, Elder would have just committed a gross impropriety. These listeners, however, chuckle without taking offense and meander toward the food table.

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