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In honor of the greatest moralist who never lived
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker

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Following is my commentary on six highly informative and disturbing books relevant to the "vast right-wing conspiracy" so often referred to by the beleagured liberal community. It was first posted on my original website, Ivan's Blog, on August 31, 2003. I present it here without alteration. (As of this posting, 06Mar04, Ivan's Blog still has content of value.)

Since the early 1990s, America’s political discourse has been framed and dominated by the secular and Christian right. Toward understanding this phenomenon in more depth than my aging brain can recall, I recently finished some very informative books, each of which addresses some aspect of this disturbing growth in right wing political power. I list them below in publication order, with discussion of each, not necessarily in that order, following. (I’ve loaned these books out, so I’m working from memory here. Some of my comments may be somewhat jumbled in chronology or even attribution, so don’t quote me. Nevertheless, I believe that whatever "corrections" might be needed in no way detract from the significance of the various items and themes to which I refer. If you read the books, any errors I make below will be clarified without damaging my case.)

The Real Anita Hill, by David Brock. Free Press, 1994

Strange Justice: the Selling of Clarence Thomas, by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson. Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Storming the Gates: Protest Politics and the Republican Revival, by Dan Balz and Ronald Brownstein. Little, [Brown & Co.(?)] 1996.

The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, by David Brock. Free Press, 1997.

Speaking Truth to Power, by Anita Hill. Anchor, 1997.

Blinded by the Right: the Conscience of an ex-Conservative, by David Brock. Crown, 2002.


Storming the Gates is an encyclopedic description of the socio-political environment that led to the Republican takeover, orchestrated by right-wing Republican Newt Gingrich, of the House of Representatives in 1994. At the time of writing, Dan Balz was the political reporter for the Washington, D.C. bureau of the Washington Post, and Ronald Brownstein was his counterpart at the Los Angeles Times.

The authors identify the wellspring of the takeover: President Ronald Reagan’s message that the source of America’s problems is government itself. They go on to trace the rage felt by the government-hating, tax-hating true-believing right when Reagan’s successor, President George Bush Sr., went back on his campaign pledge: "read my lips -- no new taxes," and signed a large Democrat-inspired tax increase. During the Bush term, there was little the right could do but complain, so Democrat Bill Clinton’s victory over Bush came as a God-send. An informal pact was made between the various sectors of the right to patiently build its power base by disabling the Clinton presidency. Storming the Gates makes clear that Hillary Clinton’s accusation of a "vast, right-wing conspiracy" was precisely on target, and the term has now become accepted by at least some of the mainstream print media. Right-wing talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh played an essential role in promoting the anti-Clinton agenda, and anti-tax organizers like Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform worked behind the scenes. Right-wing legislators like Dick Armey; Tom DeLay , and Newt Gingrich all played key roles in Congress. David Brock, discussed below, was also a major player in the conspiracy. Even as the right became more powerful, its passions were further inflamed whenever Clinton proved himself adept at maneuvering around it, or even co-opting it in some areas.

Storming the Gates is a disturbing book. Writing before the 1996 presidential election, Balz and Brownstein do not attempt to predict what course the anti-government, anti-tax, Clinton-hating movement will take. Their narrative is worth reading today just because, at a 7-year remove, we can see clearly how the power of the right has grown. Several, if not many, of these right-wing "conspirators" are now dutifully serving in the Bush administration. Grover Norquist recently praised Bush for his three tax reductions to date, and confidently predicted both Republican House and Senate majorities through 2012, and a tax reduction package passed every year that Bush is president.

David Brock was a so-called "journalist" for the right-wing bi-monthly The American Spectator. He had become the darling of the right for breaking the "Troopergate" story, which led a woman named Paula Jones to accuse Bill Clinton, as Governor of Arkansas, of sexual harassment. The media feeding frenzy triggered by Troopergate and the Jones accusation led to the Congressional inquiry into the Clintons’ real estate investments (Whitewater); to the Republican-driven, highly pornographic investigation of Clinton’s sexual encounters with intern Monica Lewinsky; and then to Clinton’s impeachment.

Brock’s first book was The Real Anita Hill I have not read it yet (I just ordered it) but its significance has been made clear by Brock himself, as I explain below. The purpose of the book was to discredit Anita Hill, who, after much soul-searching and hesitation, accused Clarence Thomas, President Bush Sr.’s nominee for the vacant seat of retired Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, of sexually harassing her when she worked for him some 8 years earlier at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency in charge of enforcing anti-discrimination laws and of promoting fair hiring practices in the private sector. Hill’s charges against Thomas, and the fact that a large percentage of Americans polled, if not a majority, tended to believe her story over Thomas’s denials, resulted in a right-wing thirst for Hill’s blood, notwithstanding Thomas’s eventual confirmation in October 1991. (Hill did receive death threats during, and well after the hearings.) Thus, The Real Anita Hill, in which Brock coined the quip that Hill was "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty." Notwithstanding -- more likely because of -- Brock’s near-total neglect of accepted standards of journalistic integrity, the American right trembled in ecstasy as it read The Real Anita Hill. Brock’s standing as the pre-eminent "investigative hit man" of right wing "journalism" went stratospheric.

The problem was that Brock was gay, and that in the face of the vehement homophobia of the people whose agenda he served so enthusiastically, he had not "come out." (The story of how he became a gay right-winger, and how he reconciled his work for the virulently homophobic community are best explained by Brock himself in Blinded by the Right, discussed below.) Either just before, or just after, publication of The Real Anita Hill, Brock was forced to reveal his sexual orientation. Instead of being ostracized, as he expected and feared, he was warmly embraced by those who had no problem bashing gays in general, or promoting anti-gay legislation. Hugs all around, literally. Nevertheless, Brock had begun to have some doubts about his work: doubts about his methods – he did no comprehensive research, and according to him, the Spectator’s editor never checked a single item he presented as a "fact" – and even about the goals of those whose approval he had so assiduously sought and won.

Also in 1994, Wall Street Journal reporters Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson published Strange Justice, about the packaging of Supreme Court Justice nominee Thomas by the right wing conspiracy and the Bush administration. Strange Justice makes clear that virtually all of Hill’s confirmable charges, including the charge that Thomas was an avid consumer of pornography, were true. This made the plausibility of her unconfirmable charges -- unwitnessed episodes of harassment -- pretty much bullet-proof. Indeed, when Strange Justice came out, one of Clinton’s "best haters," a woman who played a significant role in the vast conspiracy, immediately called Brock to say "He [Thomas] did it, didn’t he?"

Strange Justice shook Brock to the core, because he had deluded himself that even if his journalistic methods were well below par, he at least was reporting the truth. Nevertheless, Strange Justice called for refutation, and Brock went to work. Brock ultimately failed to refute Mayer’s and Abramson’s meticulously researched work, and he became even more disillusioned with his own unscrupulousness.

But, the glory brought by the success of The Real Anita Hill led Brock to write his second book, The Seduction of Hillary Rodham, . Seduction was intended to "demolish" Hillary Rodham Clinton just as Anita Hill had been "demolished." Unfortunately for the right, Brock had by now decided to be a journalist with some measure of integrity, and Seduction was published as a balanced, generally well-received biography of a woman of truly awesome power; and with deeply-held, humanitarian instincts solidly based on liberal Christian values. My own reading of Seduction left me much impressed with Brock’s display of fair, sensitive, and perceptive treatment of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Luckily for Brock, the advance he had received from the publisher was not refundable, and publication was guaranteed.

Finally, where Brock’s homosexuality had not turned his homophobic right-wing fans and patrons against him, his gift to them of a book that presented Hillary Rodham Clinton as a flesh and blood human being, instead of a vampire, was too much for them. Brock was disowned by his former "friends," and he soon re-registered as an Independent. In his article The Fire This TimeI started it by introducing Paula Jones to the world. Now I’m trying to stop it, (Esquire Magazine, April 1, 1998), Brock apologized to President Clinton for his past knavish motives and methods. Brock closes his mea culpa with the words ".. If sexual witch-hunts become the way to win in politics, if they become our politics altogether, we can and will destroy everyone in public life."

Speaking Truth to Power is Anita Hill’s account of her sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas, and of her later ordeal suffered in the Hill/Thomas Senate hearings. The Republicans on the hearing committee were out to destroy her, and committee Democrats, the majority party, essentially rolled over for them. Hill comes across as a serious woman of high integrity. She presents nicely written explanations of the culture of sexual harassment and the devastating effects it has on its victims. She is at her best in discussing the law prohibiting sexual harassment.

In Blinded by the Right, Brock completes his metamorphosis from right-wing attack dog to real human being. He describes how he became a gay right-winger; how he had suppressed his earlier, more basic liberal, humanitarian values; and how those values finally resurfaced. Blinded by the Right, and its author, were trashed by both the right and the left, but mainstream commentators generally accepted the book, as I do, as a sincere effort to make amends. For example, Brock explains how his scurvy efforts to refute Strange Justice led to his decision to be fair to Hillary Clinton in The Seduction of Hillary Rodham. On another level, Blinded by the Right is important because it confirms, through an insider, the fundamental message of Storming the Gates, written 6 years earlier. Brock’s change of heart justifies the hope that all may not be lost to America’s liberal community. Nevertheless, Blinded by the Right is also a disturbing book, in its description of a superbly organized, well-funded, and increasingly dangerous political right wing.

March 7, 2004

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