Jan Ting, 7/7/2014 [Archive]

From Right-Wing Hit Man to Powerful Liberal

By Jan Ting

I noticed an article in the New York Times earlier this year about David Brock, the founder of the left-wing media watchdog Media Matters for America. At one time, Brock was a "right-wing hit man" who authored successful but misleading political attacks on Anita Hill after she testified in 1992 against the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, and also against President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton.

I knew Brock had recanted his earlier writing, but I was surprised to read details of his current involvement in many organizations actively supporting Hillary Clinton's developing candidacy for president, including Priorities USA Action and Ready for Hillary.

That got me wondering how someone makes a seemingly sudden transformation from extreme conservative activist to extreme liberal activist, and led me to Brock's 2002 book "Blinded by the Right", in which he offers a detailed, interesting, and plausible explanation.

Brock was raised in a Catholic home and attended Catholic schools in New Jersey until moving in 1977 with his family to a suburb of Dallas, Texas, where he attended and graduated from a public high school. As an act of adolescent rebellion against his upbringing, he enrolled in 1981 as a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, which seemed like the right place for a gay liberal who had cast his first vote in 1980 for Jimmy Carter instead of Ronald Reagan.

As a student reporter for the Daily Californian he witnessed and reported on the shouting down of Reagan's U.N. ambassador, the former professor Jeane Kirkpatrick, who had been invited to deliver a prestigious lecture, but whose appeal to be allowed to speak drew no response from the Berkeley administrators who had invited and introduced her. As a member of the student newspaper's editorial board, he published an op-ed supporting the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, which attracted indignant attacks from the left and the realization that Brock's only defenders were on the right.

As a student journalist he had articles published in the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation's Policy Review, which lead to employment after graduation at the conservative Washington Times and then the American Spectator, which were part of the new conservative movement in Washington supporting and inspired by the Reagan administration.

He claims initially to have felt unthreatened as a gay conservative and that he knew many gay people in the conservative movement, though few were openly so. He welcomed the adoration and financial rewards bestowed on him by the conservative movement for his attacks on Anita Hill for her 1992 testimony and on President and Mrs. Clinton, which he now admits compromised his journalistic integrity.

Brock presents what I thought was an original explanation of why the Republican party turned from mainstream to aggressively conservative. He suggests that during the Cold War, anti-communism was a priority concern for Republicans which held their party together. But after the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the U.S. was believed to have triumphed, Republicans needed new enemies to motivate their political base.

Their solution was to unleash a culture war against liberal defenders of legal abortion, pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relations, homosexuality, and dependence on public welfare. Liberals replaced communists as the enemy.

Brock explains his rationalizations for participating in this movement, and names names of those who profited from the new conservatism without actually practicing conservative values themselves, or without actually believing in them because it was so profitable financially and politically to merely profess them. Many of those names are still politically active today and appearing regularly on television, radio, and other media.

I consider myself an independent critic of many Obama administration policies, particularly his disastrous policies of lax immigration enforcement and his advocacy of amnesty which are encouraging illegal immigration. But Brock's vivid and detailed portrait of the movement of hate which was directed against the Clintons, bears some resemblance to the similar movement of personal invective directed at the Obamas today.

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©Copyright 2014 Jan Ting, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Jan Ting is a Professor of Law at Temple University's Beasley School of Law and a former Assistant Commissioner for Refugees, Asylum and Parole, Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Department of Justice. Jan can be reached at janting@temple.edu.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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