Payback from a Former Conservative

  • Share
  • Read Later
The Roman poet Horace once observed that you can change your skies but not your soul, and David Brock is living proof. The extreme right-wing's foremost practitioner of "journalistic thuggery," the man who trashed Anita Hill and introduced America to Troopergate and Paula Jones, has recanted his liberal-bashing ways in a self-serving new memoir entitled "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative" (Crown Publishers; 336 pages; $25.95).

The book tells the archetypal story of an idealistic young man seduced by the idea of revolution into betraying his ideals for a seditious cause, selling his soul in the process. It's a familiar American tale, recognizable in outline from memoirs as old as Whitaker Chambers' "Witness" and as recent as David Horowitz's "Radical Son." The twist is that, unlike Chambers and Horowitz, who traded leftist politics for right-wing conservatism, Brock's ideological pilgrimage took him in the opposite direction.

A young man whose early political idol was Robert Kennedy, David Brock was converted by what he perceived to be the oppressively PC culture at Berkeley in the early 1980s into a "hateful" conservative journalist with a need for approval and talents for invective and ingratiating himself with powerful men who could further his career. His rise in the field of right-wing muckraking was spectacular: after publishing pieces in Policy Review and the Wall Street Journal while still an undergraduate, Brock was hired by the Washington Times as a news reporter for its weekly magazine, Insight, quickly becoming a senior writer. From there he moved on to a fellowship at the Heritage Foundation, and wound up at the American Spectator, where he wrote the vicious, partisan articles on Anita Hill and Troopergate that made him infamous. He was barely out of his twenties, a best-selling author for his book attacking Anita Hill, when he began to be disturbed by the fact that the righteous right-wing conservatives who espoused conservative family values weren't always practicing what they preached. The problem is that, while Brock takes pains to insist that he's no longer the same unprincipled ideological hatchet man he was before he saw the light, his own prose keeps tripping him up. Brock delights in portraying the conservatives he used to consort with as being either a little bit nutty or a little bit slutty.

There's hardly a conservative in the book who comes off as recognizably human. His first boss, John Podhoretz (who once apologized in the editorial pages of the New York Post for having given Brock his first break in journalism, calling him a "disgrace") is described as "an overbearing know-it-all with the looks, manners, and all the subtlety of John Belushi" who is "obsessed with homosexuality." Robert Bartley, editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, has "the beady eyes of someone who never saw daylight." Tom Wolfe is portrayed as being genteelly anti-Semitic, Ann Coulter "virulently" so. William F. Buckley's wife Pat is characterized as "mummified," and both conservative talk-show host Armstrong Williams and cyber-sleazemonger Matt Drudge are depicted as closeted homosexuals who find the openly gay Brock irresistible. He writes of right-wing commentator Laura Ingraham that "her one desire in life was to leave her law firm and get herself on television as a political pundit, despite the fact that she was the only person I knew who didn't appear to own a book or regularly read a newspaper." It's hard not to conclude from all this gratuitous sniping that Brock's methods haven't changed at all — merely his targets.

To make things worse, his prose style is an unwieldy farrago of clichs. He writes of a Washington where "scribes" go to "watering holes," and where people emerge from "the depths of depravity and desolation," and he indulges in the hack writer ploy of describing his characters by comparing them to celebrities. "My father looked like the 1970s talk show host Mike Douglas," he writes, and his mother "could have been the somewhat more imposing sister of the actress Olympia Dukakis." An early boyfriend is a stud "of the Brad Pitt variety," an acquaintance's girlfriend is "a Laura Linney type," and a right-wing mentor "looked like the Hannibal Lecter character in the film 'The Silence of the Lambs.'" He states that the Christian Coalition "grew like topsy [sic]," apparently unaware that Topsy is a character in Uncle Tom's Cabin, and mentions a dinner with liberal journalist Sidney Blumenthal where "the conversation reminded me of a Socratic dialogue" with the serene confidence of a man who appears never to have read one.

The shame is that all of Brock's opportunistic backstabbing and hamfisted cultural references obscure what might otherwise be a compelling story. He was, by his own account, present at the creation of a right-wing conspiracy to destroy the presidency of Bill Clinton. "The Arkansas Project," funded primarily by billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, was a cabal of right-wing extremists, obsessed with the political annihilation of the Clintons, that did everything in their power to entrap the president into committing an impeachable offense, and which came close to achieving their goal of removing him from office. This has to be one of the most important stories of the past decade, but Brock's single-minded desire to inflict as much damage on his former friends as possible indicates that in his heart, and certainly in his tactics, he's still a hatchet man. The worst part is that the book lacks an index, so that if any of Brock's former colleagues on the right want to find out whether, or, more likely, how badly they've been trashed, they can't just flip to the back to see which pages they're discussed on, but will have to plow through the entire book. This just might be the unkindest cut of all.