of Blinded by the Right, by David Brock
Sexuality and Culture. Spring, 2003: 79-83
Howard S. Schwartz
During the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings
I sent an email message to a friend in
A bit of history will help us to begin.
Adopted into a middle class family, Brock spent his early years in
He chose to attend
Upon graduation, his talent and connections brought him to Washington, where he quickly became part of the conservative journalistic establishment, working variously at the Washington Times, Insight magazine, the Heritage Foundation, and finally at the American Spectator magazine. His early work was as a political commentator, but after a while, he found this round of work insufficient:
I kept my head down, and did my work, just like all the other young conservative scribes. Why this wasn’t enough for me, I’m still not sure, but I do know that my move in the opposite direction wasn’t a decision; it was an emotional impulse…. I felt confined and bored by the staid form of the essay and the op-ed; I wanted to get my hands dirty, to do some real reporting. (p.76)
Yet his shift to “real reporting” also had much to do, as he tells it, with his personal emotional configuration. Specifically, his dual marginality as a conservative homosexual, together with the break of a long-term relationship, left him feeling socially isolated and quite forlorn:
I was furious and depressed about being left alone in D.C. I had no real friends or meaningful relationships of my own… Andrew was all I had in the world. With him out of the picture, I tried to suppress all traces of gayness and poured all my energies into my career. With the benefit of hindsight it’s clear that I had set myself up, once again, to displace my emotional life and channel my personal misery into my writing. Rather than relaxing over dinner with Andrew in the evening and maybe going to a gay bar for a beer, every night I sat alone in that rickety house… brooding about a life I knew was out there but couldn’t have as I feverishly pecked away on the computer. A mad dog, an emotional monster, was about to be unleashed.
For all these reasons, in some combination, I was rather suddenly draw to the psychic thrill of relentless partisan attack, and to an altogether new genre of malicious right-wing muckraking. (p.78)
Brock’s first assay into
this genre consisted in an article, soon turned into a best-selling book, that attempted to destroy Hill and made Brock into a
national figure. It was followed by similar muckraking against the
As time went by, though, the precariousness of Brock’s position as a homosexual on the right, which was moderated but not extinguished by conservative support for him when he revealed this aspect of himself, proved too much for the maintenance of his identity as a conservative. Taken together with his recognition of excesses, his own and those of others, in the pursuit of these political goals, it led to Brock’s estrangement from his conservative identity and finally its abandonment. Sadder but wiser, to hear him tell it, he turned his talents as a hit man against his former friends on the right, using as his material every confidence that had been bestowed upon him. The product is the book that is now the focus of our attention.
In the wake of the book’s appearance, the most frequent question that arose in its assessment was whether Brock was lying. He, after all, openly and nonchalantly acknowledges a history of lying in the book itself and there is good evidence that even in the book he lies about some important details (e.g. Noah, 2002).
Yet if we let our thought be framed by the issue of whether or not Brock is a liar, we run the risk of looking for a simple understanding of a matter that is actually quite complex. For the interesting question about Brock is not whether he is telling the truth, but what the truth means to him. My assessment is that whether he is telling the literal truth or not is simply not important in his mind. The question that is important to him is not so much what is true and false, but who is good and bad. And this was so, evidently, right from the beginning of his journalistic career – for example when he said in his high school yearbook that the journalist should be an advocate.
The fact is that there is not very much in the way of purportedly factual reporting in Brock’s book. Most of it is slur. This person is a bigot, that person is a hypocrite, the other person is just flat evil, and so on. The characteristic thing about his approach is the way he elides between fact and denigration, as if defamations are objective in the same way that reports of someone’s shoe size are objective.
David Brock is what you get when you take away the boundary between the personal and the political. This is true in a number of senses. For one thing, it is evident that the energy behind his politics has often come from his sense of personal grievance. But the fact that the personal became a source of energy for the political is only part of the story. The other part is that the essentially competitive nature of the political has corrupted and degraded the personal.
Personal growth requires the recognition of the otherness of the other. We all begin life with the narcissistic assumption that the world revolves around us and that others exist to love us. In order to develop, we must get beyond this idea and understand that others have their own agenda and will love us, if they ever do, for reasons of their own. Development involves coming to understand the ambivalence or even indifference others have toward us and in that way learning how to live in the same world they live in.
This process is always fraught. It is always experienced as a threat to our narcissism, as indeed it is. Still, difficult and painful as it is, it is the way we grow and deepen our understanding of others and ourselves.
But when the personal is interpreted as political, it gives us what appears to be a way of truncating this difficult process of development. Instead of understanding that others are others, we can see their ambivalence as intolerable and as a threat to the moral order of the universe. Their independence becomes a casus belli. And just as we and those with whom we identify are experienced as a single moral force, so those who make us feel uncomfortable are also seen as a single moral force, though one which is wholly bad just as our own is wholly good. So it is with Brock and it is this that gives this book its peculiar flavor. There simply is no room in Brock’s understanding for the recognition that anyone who does not love him entirely can have any legitimacy, or even identity, as a human being. They are all part of an undifferentiated malevolent force. None of them can have anything good about them. Like a villain in a comic book, their motives can involve nothing other than a sheer will to do evil.
This tragedy compounds itself. Having become degraded by subordination to politics, this warped idea of the personal now becomes the model for a complementary degradation of the political. Politics becomes identity politics, defined by petty resentments and humiliations, transforming the snit into high principle and organizing the energy of petty grievance into political activity. In this activity, no holds are barred. The sphere of the private disappears. Nothing is out of line; even the most personal activities and feelings can be used as weapons in this great moral struggle. This is what gives a special place to that most sensitive realm of feelings, the sexual. And when revenge against personal slights is taken as high calling, it cannot help but be that humiliation of the other will be the tactic of choice. Hence, David Brock.
What should be clear in
all of this is that the mutual corruption of the personal and the political has
little to do with the distinction between left and right, at least as these are
commonly understood. Brock switched sides when he moved from smearing Anita
Hill to smearing his friends on the right, but he remained identically David
Brock. And when he says that much of the motivation for the right’s attempt to
In closing, I have to say that I cannot muster much sympathy for Mr. Brock, but I will not gainsay him a measure of pity. This is clearly a man who is deeply unhappy. His grandiosity ensures that. Yet rather than choosing a course of self-understanding that would help him to put himself into perspective, he has chosen to lash out at the world for bringing the message of his limitation. He will not destroy the world, but only his possibility of being reconciled with it. In that way he will render ever more remote the possibility of his own happiness.
Noah, Timothy (2002) “Brock Crock Watch: An occasional feature scrutinizing the veracity of
liberal-turned-conservative-turned-liberal David Brock”