If the world ended tomorrow and good and evil fought it out for keeps, I imagine that David Brock would be one of the devil's chief recruits. His public behavior in recent years gives you the strong impression that he's exactly the kind of unctuous weasel you'd expect hell to be full of--hell, of course, being a place like Washington, a pit made wretched not by any external force but by its own jockeying inhabitants. Nobody's there who doesn't want to be there, and nobody stays who isn't as slimy as the rest. The torture is self-imposed.
You may remember Brock as the author of "The Real Anita Hill," the slam-bang 1994 bestseller that so famously characterized Justice Clarence Thomas' erstwhile nemesis as "a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty." It was harsh and on the money. Textbook character assassination. It put Brock on the map and in the glaring spotlight.
He followed up in 1998 with "The Seduction of Hillary Rodham," another incendiary bit of investigative reportage that was contracted to be a hatchet job on then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. But it didn't turn out that way. Instead, Brock virtually exonerated his subject. What's more, he turned the book's poor reception and sales into an opportunity to make a very public political about face, declaring himself a reformed conservative who was emphatically no longer a "hit man" for the right wing.
Vamping his role as spurned traitor and honorary liberal, he's spent a lot of his time since then dishing his former friends and colleagues in the "vast right-wing conspiracy." He did this first in a breathless tell-all that appeared a few years ago in Esquire magazine, then in recent testimony in the confirmation hearings of Theodore B. Olson as solicitor general and now in a forthcoming book "Blinded by the Right," a galley proof of which is said to have found its way into the hands of online gossip maven Matt Drudge. According to Drudge's Web site, Brock's lawyers have threatened to sue Drudge if he spills Brock's carefully tended and secreted hill of beans before the publication date.
What to make of all this? Will this Rasputinish bad boy never die? It appears not. The ever-protean, ever-mediagenic Brock has fashioned himself into the Madonna of Capitol Hill, the consummate creature of our times, constantly morphing himself from road warrior into sacrificial lamb, star witness and finally rumormonger, so as to keep pace with the rollicking zeitgeist. And in this he's not alone. For the past decade or so, we have been awash in vindictive memoirs like Paul Theroux's "Sir Vidia's Shadow" or Norman Podhoretz's "Ex-Friends," as well as "got religion" political confessionals like Michael Lind's "Up From Conservatism," David Horowitz's "Radical Son" or Ronald Radosh's "Commies." It's fashionable and cathartic, in the Aristotelian sense, to expose the warts of one's former ways and mentors while renouncing them.
Now is the very season of the apostate. Sen. James M. Jeffords of Vermont has shocked everyone with his recently announced defection from the Republican Party. And we gasp helplessly in response. Will democracy survive?
Brock, like Jeffords, appeals to principle to explain his turn of coat. He professes a solemn change of heart, a sudden crisis of conscience that has led him out of dextral Sodom and sent him scampering toward Bethlehem to be reborn. Or some such. But is this the stuff of reformation or just more of the same?
Jeffords' move is promising if it portends the eventual rise of a viable third party. But that's about as likely as Brock's conversion being, at heart, anything more than a publicity stunt. Welcome to Washington. The ninth circle. The hub of the republic in all its labyrinthine deceit.
As unsavory a character as he may seem, Brock is a child of the Beltway snake pit, both journalistic and governmental--if the two can even be meaningfully separated on the Hill. He's the quintessential maladaptive chameleon of a brittle two-party system that is locked forever in the petty stasis of incremental gain and loss, tit and tat, quid and quo. We deserve him.