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Turncoat and Airhead

May 3, 2002

Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative (NY: Crown Publishers, 2002) is one of those books that you buy for the index. The advance word on it was that David Brock, the author of scathing books and articles on Anita Hill and Bill Clinton in the 1990s, had turned against his own to rat out the conservative-movement slime that crawl around Capitol Hill.

Would Brock's legendary skill as a writer and polemicist be turned against the third-generation neocons? What joy awaits as we watch the skewing of the overpaid hacks who delude themselves into thinking that they are saving civilization by writing op-eds between drinking binges! The idea of such a book is to blast through the index, looking up your favorite political personalities and seeing what dirt Brock has to dish on them.

Alas, the publisher didn't include an index. It's probably a marketing ploy to force DC-based book stack browsers to actually buy the thing. The tragedy is that the rest of us then have to read the book. Thus were two evenings of mine burned up by turning page after page of this absurd and petty tract of unparalleled, self-important blather.

Apart from his nasty revelations concerning DC conservative operatives, this chronicle of his rise and fall (or the reverse, depending on your point of view) is insufferable, from his first descent into a conservative movement that, he now says, "plotted in the shadows, disregarded the law, and abused power to win even greater power," to his horrified realization in the end that (you'd better sit down for this) "Washington is above all a political town." Hardly a page goes by when you don't encounter a passage that makes you want to shout, "Hey, buddy, no one cares!"

In his effort to sling mud on former friends, he might have used a light touch and written a funny send-up of all the bozos he worked with during the nineties — like a gossip book about Hollywood. Instead, the tone is ponderous and self-loathing. "The process of breaking ranks from a tight-knit political movement has been slow and tortuous," he writes in what could be a good description of this book. The only possible merit here, once you get behind all the pretension and infantile psychobabble, is to show readers just how craven, shallow, unprincipled, and deluded Washington conservative activists are. Unfortunately, Brock spoils this effect by coming across as an even less sympathetic figure than those he attacks.

We begin with his childhood when he nastily attacks his parents and implicitly blames them for all that follows ("I was taught to defer to what others did and to tailor my behavior accordingly"). At Berkeley, he began to hate the Left because they were harassing unpopular speakers like Jeanne Kirkpatrick. After being caught in brazen lies in the newsroom of the campus newspaper, he landed in 1986 in his natural DC home, writing for the Washington Times, hanging out at Heritage, partying at Grover Norquist's house, becoming a self-conscious minicon neocon, and ultimately writing his two hilarious investigative reports on Anita Hill and Bill Clinton for the American Spectator magazine.

Recall that Brock was the one who took apart Hill's testimony and scavenged through her life to show that she was "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty." He was also the one who revealed all the sex escapades of Bill Clinton as reported to him by the Arkansas State Troopers. The question on everybody's mind is, Does Brock now repudiate those two reports? The answer is, not really. While he repudiates having written them, he doesn't say that what he wrote is untrue.

On Anita Hill, he says that his reporting was unbalanced, that he ignored evidence contrary to his thesis. No kidding. He now says there was probably truth in what she said in Congressional testimony about Clarence Thomas. Indeed, it's entirely possible that Brock was right about Anita and Anita was right about Thomas, just as Brock was right about the Left then and is right about the Right now. There are plenty of lies to go around.

On Clinton, Brock now says that his revelations were not untrue, but "not fit to print." Besides, he says piously, "no evidence had emerged to connect Clinton's personal life with his performance as president." Even more pathetically: "Clinton merely had been caught being a human being."

Spare us, Brock! All your reporting was good fun. True, it distracted people in DC from taking a principled stand against Bill Clinton's politics, but there was little hope of that anyway. Most of them have as much intellectual depth as Brock himself, who, judging by his own account, became a conservative without having read anything other than a few months of Commentary magazine. At one point, he even admits that he knew nothing of the history of conservatism before Reagan became president.

The picture he paints of Washington conservative circles is inadvertently hilarious. It is packed with intellectual lightweights with few real-world responsibilities who plod from job to job between bouts of sexual excess, fueled by more liquor than anyone in the business world could ever get away with consuming. Making it worse, they believe that what they do really matters. They really do. Time and again, Brock, like others in the movement, confuses his cat fights with grand occasions when "the country was divided."

Some people say that Brock is trying to remake himself so as to be presentable to the mainstream media crowd. Now, why would anyone think that? Can we possibly doubt the sincerity of someone who pens the following: "Only as I gave up my cherished place in the movement, which allowed me to confront the false right-wing ideology of exclusion, intolerance, prejudice, and hate that I had advanced so blindly, did I find my conscience and principles underneath."

A Maoist training camp couldn't have created a better puppet.

And yet, there's a point to such people, as when they let loose with all sorts of naughty revelations against the DC minicon crowd:

One night, after downing several cocktails and snorting an unidentifiable white powder an acquaintance had given me — which turned out to be the cat tranquilizer Ketamine — I was sick in the bathroom for several hours trying to get my bearings as Laura [Ingraham], in a drunken stupor, crawled through the packed two-story dance club on her hands and knees looking for me. Her purse had been locked in my car trunk, causing her to call a friend in the wee hours of the morning to rescue her. In the meantime, she had managed to leave me a series of violent messages, threatening to "break every window in my house" if I didn't return the keys immediately.

Sniffing an unidentifiable powder that turns out to be cat tranquilizer? What planet is this? No regular person behaves this way in the real world. But Brock tells the story as if to rat out Laura, oblivious as to how it makes him look.

He also turns out to be a hit-and-run criminal:

During the months of drunken carousing before I settled down to work on the book [on Hillary], I crashed my Mercedes into another car while attempting to park it near my house. Very drunk and scared, I raced my car across Washington's Key Bridge to my office at the Spectator in Virginia and parked it in the magazine's underground garage. I stumbled back to Georgetown on foot. I called Mark [Paoletta] at home and told him what had happened. He suggested that I move my car to the lowest floor in the garage, backing it in to hide the dent, leave it there for ten days or so, then whisk it to a nearby auto body shop for repairs. I followed his advice, and from that day forward wondered if Mark was capable of holding the incident over me as a way of keeping me in line ideologically. I was compromised.

Hey, buddy, what about your neighbor's car you caused untold thousands of dollars of damage to? Any compensation due there? Did you share your million-dollar book advance with the car owner?

About every three pages, Brock reminds the reader that he is gay. Sometimes he's closeted, sometimes he's not, and he apparently thinks readers are going to take great interest in this supposed drama, but it's hard to follow and it's deadly dull. By his own account, people treated him no differently either way. Only after he turned from Right to Left did his former friends stop inviting him to parties. You know what he attributes his shunning to? You guessed it: homophobia ("I had been wrong to think that the movement had accepted me as a gay man.")

Remember, now: these are the people, the DC intellectuals, in whom we are supposed to trust to lead us onward to the light. I don't doubt that everything DC conservatives say about Brock is true: he is vicious and opportunistic. Neither do I doubt anything he says about them: they are equally so. May all these people forever spend their time writing books exposing each other, and leave the rest of us alone.

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