Classic Books: Blinded by the Right

180px-blindedbytherightAll the attacks, the hateful rhetoric, the dark alliances and strange conspiracies, an eye for an eye, nuts and sluts, defending Pinochet, throwing grenades, carpet bombing the White House, Bob Bork, Bob Tyrell, Bob Dornan, Bob Bartley, Bob Barr – it all led right here: I lost my soul.

This is a political argument, and also a personal journey. For years David Brock was a self-styled right-wing hit man, working to bring down the Clinton administration. He wrote for conservative newspapers bankrolled by a network of freemarket think tanks and bizarre cults; disseminating a steady stream of character assassinations, outright untruths and anti-liberal propaganda. His first book, The Real Anita Hill, was a hatchet job on a woman who had accused a conservative judge of sexual harrassment. He counted Ann Coulter as a personal friend and his social life glittered with representation from senior levels of the judiciary, media and politics.

Brock got into the organised Right at university. Like many students, he was a contrarian, embracing conservative views in order to stand out in a liberal community. He was angry at what he saw as attacks on free speech from the left, and his conversion was triggered by an incident where demonstrators interrupted a talk from Jeane Kirkpatrick. The usual backlash against political correctness also helped here.

Straight out of university, Brock was hired as a reporter on the Washington Times, an unprofitable conservative yellowsheet underwritten by the cultist Reverend Kim Sun Myung Moon. Brock had no journalistic credentials, and success in the right-wing press depended more on ideological commitment than talent and experience – after he broke with the movement and entered the mainstream media, Brock was stunned when an editor asked him to fact-check an article. In all his years at the Times and the American Spectator, Brock’s work had never been fact-checked.

‘We conservatives could never be happy,’ Brock wrote. ‘After a decade of conservative control of the White House, we still saw ourselves as losers.’ The oppositional tendency is associated with the left, but it appears all over the spectrum. Brock shows the American right to be lacklustre when the Republicans were actually in power – it was reduced to attacking Bush the Elder for his tax cuts. Clinton’s election galvanised the movement: united crazies of all shades and stripes around a single edifice of hate.

As the rage against Clinton cranked up, Brock found himself ploughing further and further into the swamp of conspiracy. Trying to nail Clinton for various bizarre sexual crimes, he was sent on a series of dead ends and wild goose chases including time with a group of Arkansas cops who claimed to have procured women for the then-governor’s carnal purposes; and a prostitute alleged to have given birth to the president’s illegitimate child. Clinton was also accused of gun-running, drug smuggling, and of arranging the death of former business partner Vince Foster. Brock reveals the true, incredible scale of the number of people on the political right who appear to be completely unhinged – many of whom went on to hold office in the Bush presidency.

A couple of great examples:

Of all the ‘Clinton crazies’ I would meet – the term was one that Ambrose [Evans-Pritchard] and many others openly embraced – Ambrose was the least cynical of the bunch, and perhaps the craziest… I visited Ambrose at his home in the Maryland suburbs to hear about his latest scoop. This one involved Clinton’s alleged abuse of the penal system in Arkansas, where Ambrose said that he compelled prison warders to make inmates available to him for his sexual gratification…. Ambrose drew the shades and asked if we had been followed. The CIA, he was sure, had tapped his phones, and he believed his house was under surveillance by the Clintons’ ‘death squads’. A few minutes into the conversation, it was apparent to me that poor Ambrose had lost his grip on reality.

As a mark of how effective disinformers like Ambrose were in drawing the leadership of the Republican Party into their conspiracy-mongering, the leader of the House inquiry, Dan Burton, became preoccupied with the notion that the position of the dead man’s wounds showed that they could not have been self-inflicted. To test the theory, Burton, who publicly referred to Clinton as a ‘scumbag’, reenacted the Foster death [at an official dinner] by firing a .38 caliber revolver into a watermelon.

It was this madness that led Brock to break with the conservative movement: he had come to think of its fixations ‘literally as a disease’. His homosexuality was also a problem. Brock describes addressing conferences in rooms full of stalls distributing homophobic propaganda, and was later ostracised when he finally came out as gay – a hypocritical blow considering the gulf between conservatives’ rhetoric on the family and their chaotic sex lives. Lonely and repressed, Brock paints a picture of an empty, loveless social world.

Reflecting on his political journey, Brock argues that the American Right actively undermined the values of law and order and individual freedom that it had sworn to protect – culminating in the 1998 attempt to bring down an elected president. But as I said, this is not just a polemic or period piece (although it fulfills the potential of both) it is a personal story of redemption and rebirth. Brock leads us through the nine circles of political hell, but his message transcends politics: no matter how far you are down the wrong road, it is always possible to turn back.

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One Response to “Classic Books: Blinded by the Right”

  1. ‘We came unarmed (this time)’ « Max Dunbar Says:

    […] came unarmed (this time)’ By maxdunbar Comrade Denham’s post got me thinking. A few months ago I wrote about Blinded by the Right, David Brock’s memoir about his time on the conservative […]

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