Book Notes by Lynn McKeown

Blinded by the Right, by David Brock. Crown Publishers, 2002, $25.95.

The events of September 11, 2001 are said by some to have changed the political landscape. The political extremes, supposedly, have been somewhat silenced or neutralized. Whether or not that is true, David Brock's Blinded by the Right, which came out earlier this year, provides a glimpse into the partisan wars -- and the less-than-admirable media participation -- in American politics of the 1980s and 90s.

The subtitle of this book, ''The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative,'' is an ironic echo of an earlier book, ''Conscience of a Conservative,'' by one of the founders of American conservatism Barry Goldwater. The present book is a story of the author's disenchantment with conservatism, at least some unsavory aspects of the Gingrich-Limbaugh era and the radical right intellectuals, the ''neocons,'' as he calls them.

Brock was the son of a conservative family who became first a liberal and then a conservative while attending the university at Berkeley, California. He was offended by some aspects of liberal behavior on campus, such as the shouting down of conservative speakers, and became an outspoken conservative writer for the student newspaper, this in spite of the fact that he was by this time openly gay.

Leaving California for the seat of power in Washington, Brock found a job writing for conservative publications -- first the Moonie-financed Washington Times and then the American Spectator, supported financially by right-wing groups and individuals such as millionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. Brock does not provide much that wasn't already known about the influence on the media and politics of such people as Scaife, just fleshes out the details (some of which have been questioned by conservative writers).

Brock first made his mark in political journalism with the book The Real Anita Hill, which defended Supreme Court appointee Clarence Thomas by attacking the credibility of Hill, whose testimony to a Senate committee accused Thomas of incidents of sexual harassment. Later, Brock added to his reputation as a political-literary ''hit man'' (his own term) by writing an article on what became known as ''Troopergate,'' in which Arkansas state troopers alleged they had aided then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in illicit sexual adventures.

Around this time, however, Brock began to have doubts about the methods of conservatives as they were ''out to get'' Clinton. (One of his associates had a portrait of Lenin in his living room, not because he agreed with Lenin's political philosophy but because he admired the Russian revolutionary's ruthless political methods.) Brock made many trips to Arkansas and began to realize that the locals with damaging stories of the Clintons seemed to be motivated by personal animosity, greed or some combination of the two, leavened with vivid imagination. He found that most of their stories didn't check out.

Based on his reputation as a Clinton-basher, Brock at this time was paid a million-dollar advance to write a book on Hillary Clinton which the publisher believed would vilify her and thus be popular with the large conservative readership. The book was written and published as The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, but by this time Brock had begun to have doubts about the whole Clinton-hating neoconservative mind-set, and the book, though critical of the First Lady in some ways, was in other respects an evenhanded view that avoided the scandal-mongering, questionable journalism he had employed in the past.

Brock had also become more and more uncomfortable as a gay man among the ranks of the often gay-bashing conservatives. (Though not the only one. He mentions a time at a party when a drunken, unnamed member of the presidential impeachment committee pursued him, trying to give him a flower.) Brock speculates that his political allegiance to the Right had been an unconscious attempt to please his conservative and disapproving father. In any case, his views began to change.

This book, as noted above, doesn't have any startling revelations for anyone familiar with political realities of the 1980s and'90s, but it adds to the picture of other books such as Jeffrey Toobin's A Vast Conspiracy. Brock fleshes out more details of what is now known as a carefully planned attempt to bring down the Clinton presidency. (He feels the term ''conspiracy'' is accurate, though he questions if it should have been termed ''vast,'' in Hillary Clinton's description.)

Brock came to see the attempt to vilify and bring down ''Bill'' and ''Hillary'' as unworthy of true conservative principles in its disregard for ethical political and legal behavior -- and sometimes just a little crazy. He doesn't spare himself in what he sees as shoddy journalism in the right wing media, shoddiness that was then mimicked by the mainstream media.

By the time of the Monica scandal Brock was out of favor with his former colleagues in the Right and was contacted by White House aide Sidney Blumenthal, to whom he passed on details of the well-funded right-wing effort to entrap the President in testimony about his sexual affairs.

Someone looking for scandal among upper level Republicans or for a personally revealing look at the author's sex life won't find much of that in this book. But it does present an interesting view of right wing politics and journalism in recent times.

Brock distinguishes between the older generation of conservatives, who he feels had higher principles, and the often shallow and unprincipled neocons, his former friends. This book provides a well-written and revealing picture of the ethically challenged world of contemporary radical conservative leaders and intellectuals.

Here is part of the author's closing reflections on the presidential impeachment effort: ''The conservative movement, in its pathological quest to expose and unseat Clinton, had succeeded only in exposing itself and unseating its own unworthy leadership. As McCarthyism had set back the anti-Communist cause, the radical conservatives had betrayed whatever of value could be found in conservative philosophy.''

Uploaded to The Zephyr website June 29, 2002

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