Reading this account of David Brock’s journey from the “bigoted” right to a left-liberal politics that allows him to embrace his homosexuality was no kind of pleasure.  Luminous observations in the book are few and far between, while betwixt them are ponderous revelations pertaining to David’s sexual awakening, his relations with a “blond blue-eyed dreamboat of the Brad Pitt variety,” and those (mostly tortured, except perhaps in the case of liberal Democratic scandalmonger Sidney Blumenthal, whom Brock profoundly but inexplicably respects) involving other acquaintances.  By the end of his confessions, the only people who appear likable are David’s parents—decent ethnic Catholics who made the mistake of adopting him and subsequently puzzled over whom or what they had reared.

The “right” that blinded Brock was in fact exclusively neoconservative.  His eyesight started to fail with the onset of his sympathy for Jeane Kirkpatrick, who had been prevented by student activists from speaking at Berkeley during Brock’s student days there, and with his discovery of the “intellectual vigor and fiery polemics” in Commentary (contrasting with the “foppish Anglophile bent of National Review and American Spectator”).  Brock’s connection to Laura Ingraham, a wannabe neocon TV personality who had been Dinesh D’Souza’s girlfriend at Dartmouth, seems to border on the erotic but never quite makes it there.  (Apparently, Brock broke with Ingraham partly or entirely because of an anti-gay screed she had published while in college.)  The minicons whom Brock describes, though geeks, are not comfortable with “ideas.”  The world of the Washington Times, into which Brock was plunged at the age of 23, closely corresponds to my memories of the same “movement” publication in the middle and late 80’s.  Particularly apt is Brock’s description of the vain, aging editor, Arnaud de Borchgrave, a “name-dropping” Belgian with a much younger wife, who spent hours each day in his sumptuous office doing sit-ups and crisping his face in front of a tanning lamp.  John Podhoretz, for whom Brock went to work at Insight, was “a big disappointment, a know-it-all with the looks, manners, and all the subtlety of John Belushi.”  While his neocon contemporaries at the Times and elsewhere were proud of their smarts, Brock finds no evidence that they had any.  They lived in a rumor mill inhabited by “our people,” and, from 1992 forward, “practiced a brand of attack politics that required no alternative vision to Clintonism.”

Particularly interesting are the passages Brock devotes to James Atlas’s February 1995 cover story for the New York Times Magazine on the “new conservative elite.”  In “Look Who’s the ‘Opinion Elite’ Now,” Atlas, after consultation with Brock, talked up the minicons in a story featuring the tagline “They’re young, brainy, and ambitious—an adversarial band of conservatives winning the war against liberalism and having a grand old time.”  In this narrative with accompanying photos, which eventually found its way, with minor variations, into Fortune and the National Enquirer, Atlas depicted a rising generation of neocon journalists, publishing-house editors, and Republican speechwriters who allegedly were moving American politics rightward.  Atlas declared the “culture of the conservative elite” to be “a lot more like [that of] the liberal elite than the fundamentalist heartland [they] fronted for.”  At the time, Brock luxuriated in this culture of “professional women, Jews, and gays,” though as early as 1995, he indicates, he was unhappy with the “meanness” he discerned among them.  Eventually, the cumulative effect of their attack-dog techniques and sneering homophobic remarks drove him over to the other side of the Beltway’s ideological divide.

The account of the rising conservative “opinion elite” that Atlas provided, with assistance from Brock, is uniformly flattering, including the pretentious photos that decorate this puff piece.  If Brock and Atlas, as they claimed, harbored misgivings about their partly shared circle, these are not apparent from the Times cover story—nor from the spinoffs in other liberal newspapers.  Brock fitted hand-in-glove with what he confesses to have been his exclusive company; even now, he cannot resist mentioning how “honored” and “grateful” he feels that such “sober venues” as Commentary and the Wall Street Journal deigned to publish him.  For all his assertions about his erstwhile colleagues, there is nothing here to suggest that Brock noticed their cerebral deficiency until he had changed sides.  Equally significant, he misrepresents his connection to the Washington Times Corporation, which supplied him with a sinecure while he was writing his exposé of Anita Hill.  There, Brock was never, like most of the other young staff members, a drudge but the protégé of the neocon magnates who ran—and still run—the Times establishment.  His swipes at the Reverend Moon, as the mad theocrat on whom the editors of the Times fawned, are for effect only: Although the Unification Church pays expenses and salaries at the Washington Times Corporation, neither Moon nor his “church” does anything more than foot the bills, as Sam Francis and I learned while working there.  Neocons relentlessly run everything else.

Finally, the term “third generation,” which Brock and his pals bandy about, is a glaring misnomer.  It is hard to figure out what third generation they could represent, except possibly as descendants of immigrants arrived at Ellis Island.  Brock’s copains certainly do not represent the third generation of any discernible “conservative movement” tracing back to the 1950’s; rather, their political views place them considerably to the left of most self-identified liberals 50 years ago.  Least of all do these youths speak as the third generation of an anti-New Deal or McCarthyite right, which they would repudiate as neo-Nazi.  Rather, they are the scions and hangers-on of the neoconservatives who took over and transformed American conservatism in the late 70’s and early 80’s. 

Pathetically, Brock and his ilk lament that they have not (yet) produced “classics” on the order of Irving Kristol’s and Norman Podhoretz’s writings, while swooning over Midge Decter (“as formidable a thinker and writer as Norman”).  You might conclude from such encomia that the “classics” referred to are on a level with the works of Plato and Aristotle.  But then, such judgments may be relative.  After plodding through David Brock’s yammering, even I might be inclined to mistake the temper tantrums of Norman or Midge for timeless thought.


[Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, by David Brock (New York: Crown) 336 pp., $25.95]