(Editor's Note: The following is an outtake from the author's forthcoming feature on YearlyKos in the October 2007 issue of TAS.)
CHICAGO -- If you arrived at the "Left Behind By the Right" panel at YearlyKos 2007 last month hoping for a glimpse of red-headed web warrior Arianna Huffington, you were sadly out of luck. The large crowd sighed deeply, in unison, as Huffington Post Founding Editor Roy Sekoff broke the news that Arianna had been walking in New York City with Charlie Rose discussing an election year panel they were collaborating on when her high heel got stuck in a sewer grate and -- "down she went," Sekoff said, breaking her ankle.
Somebody in the audience shouted, "It's a Republican plot!" Bloomberg is not a Republican anymore, Sekoff joked. "Oh yes he is!" a small consortium from the peanut gallery hollered back.
It was perfect. Arianna would never simply break her ankle, dahling. A story of her faltering in service of her fellow man, complete with a dollop of shameless, needless name-dropping, fit the bill perfectly. It was left to Sekoff to relay the details of Huffington's conversion from the stingy right-wing dark side. "She could raise money for the opera, but she couldn't raise money for the soup kitchen," Sekoff explained, as if post-conservative Huffington has abandoned her relentless schedule of self-promotion to ladle beef stew to the downtrodden.
Former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean was on hand as well, not to beg forgiveness for his role in Watergate, but to plug his new book, Broken Government, and tell a joke about a little boy selling puppies near George W. Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch. At first the boy tells Bush the puppies are "good Republicans," but a week later when the president returns with Laura, the boy insists the litter has become progressive. The flabbergasted president asks what happened. "Well, Mr. President, they opened their eyes." The crowd warmed up, Dean went into a rambling discussion of how 30 percent of the Republican Party was made up of fascists who, "like lemmings, will go right over the edge when their leaders tell them." Republicans across the country, Dean improbably claimed, were emailing him to say, "Thank you for getting the 'A' word up on the table -- authoritarianism."
Well, of course. Who doesn't harbor a desire to be one day called an authoritarian by a man whose primary claim to fame is comparing his past criminality favorably to current criminality? His book Worse Than Watergate could just have easily been called, Worse Than Me.
Young Turks co-host Cenk Uygur, whose lack of even a minuscule understanding of politics and policy underlined his aptness for talk radio, "moderated" the panel. "I feel like this is a little bit almost like an AA meeting," he joked. AA meetings typically encourage empathy and personal responsibility for one's past actions -- two virtues in exceedingly short supply at this gathering, but...whatever. Later in a blog post about the event, Uygur writes, "I know you're dying to find out -- no, I did not get laid."
THE STAR ATTRACTION, HOWEVER, was "the highly suspect David Brock," as Michael Isikoff described him in the 1999 book, Uncovering Clinton. A former TAS reporter famous for salving a crisis of conscience over his participation in the politics of personal destruction by writing a memoir employing those tactics against his friends, Brock has parlayed his past into a full-time gig heading Media Matters For America, a liberal media "watchdog" group so unabashedly partisan it makes his "Troopergate" story look like a "Re-Elect Clinton in '96" flyer.
"It's great to be here this morning with you all, no longer blinded by the right, but surrounded by all this light and energy as a proud progressive," Brock said, as if he'd just arrived at his Dancing with the Stars audition. Brock punctuated his talk with skyward finger pokes for half-hearted emphasis, paused for gimme applause at gotcha lines and motioned theatrically for boos whenever he wowed the crowd with the name of a conservative luminary who once mistakenly trusted him. As for the topic at hand, Brock had been "so busy documenting the lies of the conservative media," he'd hardly had a moment to reflect on his evil past and the right-wing "cult" that had wickedly used his own "emotional vulnerability and fear" to enthrall him. Thus possessed, he wrote a famous "journalistically sound" piece on Bill Clinton's pre-White House mischief, as well as many lesser known bits of conservative reportage, until the evening when the scales fell from his eyes as he watched a Clinton State of the Union address in Laura Ingraham's living room with some lawyers from Ken Starr's office.
"As the camera panned Hillary Clinton, one of the lawyers from the so-called Independent Counsel's office mouthed the word 'bitch,'" Brock breathlessly related to enthralled Kossacks. "And I got up and left the room....That night, in that room, I left the bile, the hatred, the irrationality, the prejudice, the hypocrisy."
Ironically enough, a short while later when one of his fellow panelists uses Brock's story as an applause line -- i.e., "By the way, when someone used the 'B' word they were probably looking in a mirror and seeing [Laura Ingraham] not Hillary" -- Brock did not storm off stage to escape the bile, hatred, irrationality, prejudice or bad humor. He giggled. Must be all that new light and energy.
There are other discrepancies. Brock recalled how the conservative establishment disowned him when he published a biography of Hillary Clinton -- his "apostasy," as he dramatically labeled it -- that "portrayed her as a human being." (The book also noted Hillary's "intellectual rigidity, elitism, moral vanity and poor judgment," argued she was as much a victim of Bill as anyone else, and that, "in a larger moral sense, for Hillary to be put in the dock while Bill goes golfing would be a miscarriage of justice." Some endorsement.) Strangely, my copy of The Seduction of Hillary Rodham is the American Spectator Special Edition, suggesting his supposed excommunication did not go down exactly as Brock would have us believe. Then again, anyone familiar with Blinded by the Right already knows what a coarse and inaccurate caricaturist Brock is.
Times change. Today, Brock is less concerned with any "miscarriage of justice" than with the "wrongful scheme to upend the Clinton presidency that began even before Bill Clinton was elected to the presidency." Feeding the YearlyKos crowd's own paranoia before casting himself as the hero, Brock added, "And when it went to that level in 1998, I went public, I started to blow the whistle on the whole rotten scheme to misuse the legal system and subvert the Constitution."
David Brock saved the Constitution by writing a piece -- "Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man" -- for Esquire about...David Brock, martyr. Fantastic. Who knew it was so easy? (Tucker Carlson's exchange with Brock on this point in Slate is classic. Sample: "Get some ironic distance, David. You wrote some nasty magazine articles. It's not like you worked for the Mafia.") Those worried about the state of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, however, needn't fret, according to Brock. "I think it is fair to say the unprincipled, corrupt and lying conservative movement I witnessed in the 1990s is still with us today and poses an even greater threat," he said in closing, before offering one more slouched poke at the sky, adding "Together it is our mission to stop this garbage!"
If the Q&A session had gone on a bit longer, perhaps I could have asked Brock to define garbage. It was in the final pages of The Real Anita Hill, incidentally, that Brock warned us of "a political movement that calls itself liberal, but is really deeply hostile to the Western liberal tradition," comprised of "radical utopians" so self-assured they believe "anyone who opposes their agenda is not merely wrong, but wicked."
"IN WASHINGTON, WHERE CAREERS are built on fierce partisan loyalties, I had none," Brock brags at the end of Blinded by the Right. Six years later he's sitting at the Ground Zero of angry liberal ideologues, dishing gossip about old conservative allies to gain favor with his new paymasters. How is this any different from his assessment in that same aforementioned book of his time as a conservative writer? "My incompetence was compounded by an uninformed bias, by the grip of a partisan tunnel vision that was by now such a part of my nature that it distorted my work, disabling me from finding the truth, without my even knowing it." Sounds like Media Matters to a "T."
No one at YearlyKos held that against him, however. "It appears that you pretty much maintained the positions on the issues you had all along, but were turned off by the Republicans' either insanity or lack of etiquette," a questioner posited during the Q&A. Brock didn't protest the framing. He has bread to be buttered, after all.