old Type: In Blinded By the Right, you state that, " Political movements arise from the spadework of intellectuals, not politicians." At several points, you also mention conservative intellectuals for whom you seem to have had considerable respect (Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoertz, George Will, etc.). Is it fair to say that there is a disparity between the intellectual faction of the GOP and the party's nationally elected representatives who are widely regarded as less intellectually ambitious (i.e. Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Quayle, Bush Jr., etc.)? If so, how does that happen?
David Brock: The point I was making is that conservatives understand that the political culture must be shaped before electoral victories are possible. They made a concerted, well-funded effort to do this, beginning in the early 1970s, and it is still bearing fruit today. I go on to explain that much of the intellectual work was really high-toned public relations. Kristol was the central figure in making it happen. Interestingly, he is an ex-Trotskyite, and as such, he understood the strategy of taking power by infiltrating the culture ideologically. The electoral victories flowed from that predominance.
BT: The GOP's platform is that of a party which wants to keep government out of people's lives yet they often promote legislation that seems intent on governing individual morality (i.e. Sodomy laws, anti-drug legalization, abortion rights, etc). How do party insiders rationalize this dichotomy?
DB: In my experience, most of the conservative elite in Washington would probably be more comfortable with a simple anti-government platform of the type preferred by Barry Goldwater. But as the country became culturally divided in the 1960s and 1970s, Republicans saw a burgeoning electoral constituency in, to use shorthand, the Moral Majority types. So, conservative ideology adapted to accommodate this political opportunity.
BT: When Trent Lott recently made news by defending Strom Thurmond's segregationist policies of the '60s, President Clinton more or less said that the senator's words reflect the way Republican's feel but Mr. Lott made the mistake of showing the general public the proverbial secret handshake. Based on your experiences, was that an accurate assessment by Mr. Clinton?
DB: With the exception of an editorial writer at the Washington Times, where I once worked, I don't think I worked with any overt racists in the conservative movement in Washington. But there's no question that hostility to civil rights was and still is a crucial component of conservative movement ideology. Over the years, conservatives learned to talk about race in a code that allowed them to escape being tagged as racists yet garner support from racist sentiment in the grass roots of the movement. Clinton was right. In the Lott case, the mask slipped, which is why conservatives lead the charge to get rid of him.
BT: Do you find it odd that Trent Lott was pressured for supporting Strom Thurmond's comments while Thurmond himself, who is still a senator, has remained a member of the US senate for nearly half a century?
DB: Yes it is odd. The mainstream press corps virtually canonized Thurmond before Lott's comments were made. Through longevity, more than anything else, Thurmond was able to rehabilitate himself with a press corps that largely didn't live through the segregation era and took it for granted that Thurmond had repudiated his former views, when in fact the evidence that he had changed was thin at best. Everbody forgot their history until Lott came along.
BT: Is the modern day Republican party driven by ideology or theology?
DB: A toxic combination of both.
BT: In the 2000 presidential election, we saw the continuation of a long standing trend in which the nation's more integrated areas voted largely for Democrats while the more country's more homogenous, rural sectors leaned heavily toward Republican candidates. To what extent has the GOP consciously pursued heterosexual white Christian voters with their positions on such issues as affirmative action, Martin Luther King Day, the Confederate flag, homosexuality, etc.?
DB: With the exception of his appearance at Bob Jones University, in the 2000 campaign, Bush did a fairly good job of obscuring the fact that these cultural wedge issues are an important part of the GOP's electoral strategy. My view is that these issues are still potent enough to provide margins of victory for the Republicans but are losing their power over the longer term. After all, Bush did lose the election, as had Bob Dole and his father before him. Then 9/11 came along, scrambling the political landscape and giving the Republicans a new script to work with.
BT: Have the Democrats deliberately scared and spun minority voters into their camp or is the Democratic appeal to minority voters a de facto reaction to the far right?
DB: Minority voters are like any other voters: they support the candidates who speak to their concerns and interests. Because of their experiences with racism, they are least susceptible to the kind of window-dressing that apparently convinced large numbers of independent swing voters that the Republican Party had suddenly become compassionate overnight just because it said it was. Bush got the lowest percentage of the African-American vote of any Republican candidate for president in decades. They get it.
BT: In your book, you often refer to the Republican propensity for invoking a by-any-means- necessary approach in pursuit of what they think to be a greater good. There are points where you also imply a vindictiveness within the party that steps outside the lines of fair play. Do you personally have any concern that your expose of the conservative movement's inner-circle, not to mention your having named names, has given you some powerful and spiteful enemies?
DB: I'm really not worried about that, because now that I've left the movement, they no longer have the power to discipline me or hold back my career. I think people outside the conservative movement who have read the book find it quite credible and convincing, so the right's attacks on it have had little impact. Since the process of breaking ranks was a long one, over five years, I've had a long time to adjust to their enmity.
BT: What was your primary motivation for writing this book? Is it an apology?
DB: Everyone makes mistakes in life. I made mine in public, through writings that were widely read and had a discernable and unfortunate political influence. Once I realized how corrupt and dishonest the conservative movement was, I felt compelled to share my story with the public. Part of the motivation was to correct the record on subjects I had previously written on. I also felt very strongly that the Clinton period could not be properly understood, even by historians, without a first-hand account of the opposition movement against him-the vast right-wing conspiracy. I knew there was such a conspiracy, because I was in it, and I knew no one could document its operations as fully as I could.
BT: Do you now consider yourself a Democrat?
DB: I'm a registered independent and I voted for Al Gore in 2000. The Democratic Party is a closer expression of my values and views than the Republican Party. I started out in college as a Democrat, then I went down a wrong path for about 15 years, and now I feel like I've recovered the political and moral conscience that always there, but was suppressed for so long.
BT: If you could personally choose the next president, who would it be and why (non-politicians included)?
DB: I don't think I'd put a non-politician in office. Any of the major Democrats running for the presidency would be an improvement over Bush. Al Gore would have been a great president. I'd support repeal of the 22nd Amendment and bringing Clinton back for another term. And Hillary Clinton would be an inspired choice.
BT: If elected to the presidency, would David Brock serve?
DB: I guess my prohibition on non-politicians would rule me out, too, but I'd consult with the putative First Man before turning it down.
BT: Thank you, David.
|Photo credit: Diana Walker|