Book exposes Washington's conservative elite
Review by Lance Selfa | May 31, 2002 | Page 9
BOOKS: David Brock, Blinded by the Right. Crown Publishers, 2002, 336 pages, $25.95.
IT'S HARD to believe that only four years ago, official Washington was whipped up into a frenzy over President Bill Clinton's affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. Despite popular majorities opposing impeachment, right-wing Republicans and their media echo chamber nearly drove Clinton from office.
The Lewinsky affair marked the culmination of a concerted eight-year campaign of right-wing operatives to find any scandal--real or imagined--to attach to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Only a handful of liberal journalists actually documented this. With the publication of David Brock's Blinded by the Right, they have--if not exactly a "smoking gun"--at least confirmation of this network of schemers.
Although now excommunicated from the Washington conservative elite, Brock was once one of its brightest stars. A writer for right-wing rag American Spectator, Brock won notoriety for his scandalous 1992 Spectator "exposé," "The Real Anita Hill." In it, and later his best-selling book, he presented Hill--the law professor whose charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas nearly derailed his 1990 Supreme Court confirmation--as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty."
Brock later discovered that Hill told the truth about Thomas.
But in 1993, when right-wing millionaires Peter Smith and Richard Mellon Scaife came looking for a journalist to peddle dirt against the Clintons, Brock eagerly responded. Brock's 1994 Spectator article "His Cheatin' Heart" forced into the mainstream a story that Clinton, as governor of Arkansas, had used state troopers to guard his extramarital affairs--even to procure women for him.
"Troopergate" was one of a constant stream of scandals--from Whitewater to the Zippergate--that the right wing hung around the Clintons' necks.
The Clintons weren't saints. Like most politicians, they indulged in petty corruption. Yet, as Blinded By the Right shows, Clinton's right-wing opponents either concocted or puffed up most of the scandals--and fed them to a willing media. The troopers later retracted their stories. Congressional Whitewater investigations found nothing.
The linchpin of all the scandals proved to be Paula Jones' lawsuit charging sexual harassment against Clinton. A group of conservative lawyers--financed by characters like Mellon Scaife--set out to ensnare Clinton as early as 1994.
They didn't care about sexual harassment--and, as Brock tells it, they actually doubted Jones' charges--but they wanted to use her case "to grill Clinton under oath about his consensual sex life, and hopefully catch him lying about it."
When Clinton lied about his relationship with Lewinsky, Whitewater Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr used this as grounds for Clinton's impeachment.
Brock provides some delicious details about the mindset and obsessions of Washington's conservative elite. Political organizer Grover Norquist, who hung a portrait of Lenin in his living room, fed his pet boa constrictor live mice named after liberal Democrat David Bonior. "I wasn't sure if I was at a lunch, or in a séance," Brock notes.
Ann Coulter, the racist right-wing pundit, tells Brock, a social acquaintance, that she left a New York law firm "to get away from all these Jews."
And Brock names the right-wing hypocrites: the "family values" politicians carrying on extramarital affairs, the preachers of "personal responsibility" who spent millionaire patrons' money on expensive cars and parties.
More importantly, through Brock's account, we get a look at a conservative Washington establishment that sought to gain through impeachment what it couldn't win in public opinion or at the ballot box.
Blinded By the Right exposes the political bankruptcy of a conservative elite that had no positive program, but banked on scandal mongering and moralizing to prop up its support. The Clinton scandals weren't simply the delusions of "Clinton crazies" who imagined the Clintons guilty of every crime from running drugs to faking the 1993 suicide of aide Vincent Foster. Pillars of the Washington establishment--including federal judges and Solicitor General Ted Olson--were up to their eyeballs in the scandal machine.
Conservatives have tried to ignore the book. They've challenged Brock's credibility. And they've mocked it as little more than a "kiss-and-tell" celebrity exposé. Still, no one in the highly effective right-wing media machine has systematically dismantled Brock's central points.
Perhaps they have more important concerns, as Brock explains: "The Federalist Society of right-wing lawyers who had been at the heart of the anti-Clinton conspiracy turned out to be a virtual Bush government in exile; the new administration's policies of tax cuts for the wealthy, slashing environmental protections, and rolling back civil rights bore the Society's stamp, as did many of Bush's nominees to the federal bench."