This is a terrible book, reads the first line of David Brocks newest book. Hes right. And its all downhill for the next 287 pages. But its not a complete loss. Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative is a pretty damn good train wreck.
I read through it rather lasciviously wondering if Brock -- the now repentant former bad-boy ink-slinger of the Gingrich Revolution who smeared Anita Hill and helped invent the Troopergate story -- could reveal himself to have been any more cynical, calculating, craven and corrupt. No disappointment on that issue. Nor was I ever able to find any further evidence of that conscience he mentioned in the subtitle.
What I found instead was the rather staggering story of a little snot who as soon as he enrolled at UC Berkeley in 1981 came up with a plan to trade his soul for recognition and cash; managed to do so just about on schedule; and now -- facing middle age -- has deployed Plan B, which is to garner an equal amount of cash by confessing what a shit he was. Like he said, its a terrible book.
Though I suppose for hardcore Bill Clinton lovers -- those soft-headed among you who actually still believe that Slick Willy was a victim, that he was caught in a perjury trap and that it was only about sex -- this is a great book. Here are all your bogeymen, all the major players of the vast right-wing conspiracy, revealed by ex-co-conspirator Brock to be just the conniving, double-dealing, amoral Clinton haters you always knew they were.
Brock begins his narrative as a 1981 UC scrub, predictably liberal, but starting to tire of the ambiance of political correctness. When President Reagan, two years later, invades the tiny island of Grenada, Brock senses an angle. He knows very little about international politics, but that doesnt stop him from writing a flay-em-and-hang-em paean to the Gippers imperialist intervention in the campus paper, the Daily Cal. Brock is subsequently reviled by most of his peers, but wins the adoration of the campus conservative clique.
I had no deep understanding of conservative ideology, Brock writes. So deeper he plunges into the right; he hasnt found a calling so much as a niche market. From the Daily Cal, Brocks rise is meteoric. He helps found the neocon Berkeley Journal. And at age 23, hes drafted into the granite publishing heart of the Republican right, the Moonie-backed Washington Times. Brock lays on the detail how -- as a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution -- he does his part by slanting copy, fabricating facts, besmirching the reputation of his rivals, polishing his bosses apples to score promotions, apologizing for the contras, lionizing Pinochet and dutifully keeping his gay personal politics tightly corseted in the closet, lest he offend his right-wing patrons.
The formula came easy to me, he says in describing his ability to crank out the unfounded, partisan smear pieces demanded by his editors. Further rewards come when hes picked up -- with a fat salary -- by the tendentious and reckless American Spectator. That shop, oiled by cash from Clintonphobe Richard Mellon Scaife, dedicates itself wholly to trashing the Democrats. And Brocks first big assignment is to destroy the character of Anita Hill, which he does in a magazine hit piece followed by his first best-seller, The Real Anita Hill. Brock kind of figures she was telling the truth, but what the hell.
Ditto with the Troopergate story -- which he more or less invents. The lurid sex tales spilling from the lips of Governor Clintons former bodyguards all seem rather fishy to Brock, but he soldiers on with that hit piece as well. And, along the way, pockets five grand in payola from a GOP partisan investor named Peter Smith. I was a whore for the cash, Brock explains.
And the cash is raining down. His trash-jobs for the Spectator run the circulation through the roof, and Brocks salary crosses into six figures. Another half-million-dollar bonus is doled out after the Hill piece comes out. Brock, now a luminary in the counter-intelligentsia, is spending his nights boozing with right-wing screamers Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, while showing off his new Georgetown flat and freshly acquired black Mercedes.
By the time the Gingrich Revolution sweeps to power in 1994, Brock feels secure enough to come out of the closet. (And anyway, by then, hes sussed out the shocker that the right is just riddled with other closeted queenies.) Its the sumptuous imperial phase of the Gingrich era, as Jim Pinkerton called it.
My most vivid memories of the period, writes Brock, are of glamorous socializing of a kind unknown to Washingtons rumpled right-wing environs. An article in National Review noted the alarming discovery that conservatives may be having fun. And to make her point, writer Jennifer Grossman described an intimate supper at my home, where over a catered feast of three-pepper soup and pecan-encrusted snapper, guests took turns doing dramatic readings from Gennifer Flowers steamy memoir, Passion and Betrayal. . . . National Review quoted me as an expert on the new conservative nightlife: Losers dont have good parties. Part of what energizes the Washington social scene is being in power.
Who said this kid aint smart? The fun quotient is increased by a whopping million-dollar advance for Brocks next endeavor, a book on the Dragon Lady herself, Hillary. Now, I have to make my own confession here and say that somewhere in this part of the book, Brock claims to be having some sort of crisis of conscience, but I could never really grasp it.
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Theres something about a couple of New Yorker pieces taking his reporting apart, and something about a book defending Anita Hill that shakes his view of his hit job on her. But mostly, it seems, the Gingrich wave was crashing, and it might just have been the best time to bail.
Bottom line: Brock does what he does best. He lies. Or at least he deceives his editors, to whom he has more or less promised that he will wipe out Hillary. Instead, Brock does some real reporting and comes out with a fairly balanced if totally forgettable book, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, a book that so infuriates Brocks right-wing cronies, they begin to ostracize him.
And so begins, we are told, Brocks still-unfolding transition away from the right and toward the light. Dont look for any political explanations here -- there are none. And while you can certainly get the boy out of the sleaze, you can never really get the sleaze out of the boy. This book brims with the same vitriol and ad hominem that fueled the first part of his career. Ann Coulter, Arianna Huffington and Laura Ingraham, who seemingly were silly enough at one point to care about this brats psychic well-being, are, just to cite one example, repaid by being branded as fag hags. Matt Drudge, who has publicly denied being gay, but who also showed some kindness to Brock, is described as an aspiring fuck buddy.
Little wonder that when Brock changes sides, the first endearing friendship he forges is with his veritable alter ego, Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal, a whiz-kid scribe who started out on the left, seamlessly transitioned to the center and then right into the center of power when he joined the White House staff and became Bill Clintons designated character assassin. I can just picture the two new amigos -- Brock and Blumenthal -- clinking their chardonnay and agreeing that, above all, Losers dont have good parties.