When incurable liberals like Todd Gitlin and Eric Alterman begin using the name Whittaker Chambers as a term of approbation, we are entitled to say that there has been what the Germans call a Tendenzwende, or shift in the zeitgeist. The odd thing is that they have both chosen to compare Chambers’s Witness, a serious and dramatic memoir by any standards, to a flimsy and self-worshiping book titled Blinded by the Right, by David Brock. Meyer Schapiro, one of the moral heroes of the democratic left, once said that Whittaker Chambers was incapable of telling a lie. That might well be phrasing it too strongly, but I have now been provoked by curiosity into reading Brock, and I would say without any hesitation that he is incapable of recognizing the truth, let alone of telling it.
The whole book is an exercise in self-love, disguised as an exercise in self-abnegation. How could he, asks the author of himself, have possibly gone on so long in telling lies, smearing reputations and inventing facts? The obvious answer–that he adored the easy money and the cheap fame that this brought him–was more than enough to still his doubts for several years. However, his publisher seems to have required a more high-toned explanation before furnishing him with a fresh tranche of money and renown. And Brock’s new story–that he was taken in by a vast right-wing conspiracy–is just as much of a lie as his earlier ones.
On page 128, Brock does what many defectors do, and claims that it was his party, not he, that had changed. The tone of the 1992 Republican convention was the alleged tipping point, with its antigay, anti-1960s, Christian Coalition themes. On page 121 Brock makes the demented assertion that the GOP had "virtually launched an antigay pogrom," before sobbing, "there was far less ideological affinity between the GOP and me than when I had first come to Washington. The party had left me and many other libertarian-leaning conservatives back in Houston." So at least that fixes a date, in what is a very rambling and egocentric narrative. And the date makes it easy to demonstrate that Brock is a phony. His early hero Reagan made alliances with Jerry Falwell, fulminated against the 1960s, refused to mention the term "AIDS" in public and encouraged Jeane Kirkpatrick’s veiled attack on the "San Francisco Democrats" in 1984. As a longtime Bay Area denizen, Brock would have had a hard time missing that last reference, or any of the others. So he’s plainly still lying about his past. He’s also lying about his future: the "Troopergate" allegations appeared under his name a good while later than 1992, and sometime well after that he was billed as a featured speaker by the Christian Coalition.
Who is such a sap as to take the word of such a person? Brock masks his deep-seated mendacity from others and (perhaps) from himself by a simple if contemptible device of rhetoric. He switches between passive and active. Thus of one conservative smear-op, he tells us that "I allowed myself to get mixed up" in it. His masochism even permits him to say, at a reactionary award ceremony in far-off St. Louis, at which he somehow found himself, that "I was miserable. Yet this was how I made my living and it was who I had become. The conservatives had bought my brain." And paid well over the odds for it, I should say. Never mind, he always cheers up by letting himself be drawn in to another bad business. And here we get the same paltry narcissism in its opposite form: "I was a full-scale combatant, I had war-wounds to show for it, and I needed the thrill of another round of battle."