Sunday, February 24, 2002

This past weekend's NY TImes Magazine carried an excellent piece by Frank Rich (Ding, Dong, the Cultural Witch Hunt Is Dead). The hook is David Brock's new book, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative. But really, the article is Rich dancing about on the grave of butthead far right patisanship of the previous decade.

I know some hate Rich on principle, but everyone should read this if for no other reason than to find out what much (some? half?) of the country thought of Newt, moral majority hypocrites and their vacant rhetoric but didn't know how to express it (or were too scared to put into words). Yeah, I know, liberals were guilty of partisan snipping too. But since the conservative talk radio/cable news cabal rarely offers their perspective, this is worth checking out.

About Brock, Rich writes: His story exemplifies a decade of post-ideological drift and spitball politics in Washington: a cynical, highly pragmatic struggle over power more than ideas that opened with the Thomas-Hill confrontation of 1991, reached its climax with the impeachment drive and now seems to have been interred with so much else in the rubble of Sept. 11. It was a time of take-no-prisoners mudslinging, in which the Republican right, with no Communists to unmask, found a new kind of enemy within that it tried to bring down by means of a disingenuously holier-than-thou moral crusade fueled by a gossip machine of which Brock was an early and influential cog. The hottest partisan battles revolved around Long Dong Silver and Paula Jones, not Stalin.

For the right, the principal means of battle was a kind of cultural profiling that slick (and entirely secular) political operatives adapted from their allies in the religious right. If Anita Hill could be painted as nutty and slutty, if the Democratic leader Tom Foley could be called gay (even if he wasn't) and if Bill Clinton could be branded as a pot-smoking libertine from Day 1 of his presidency, then liberals in general and Democrats in particular could be dubbed, as Newt Gingrich would have it, ''the enemy of normal Americans,'' responsible for every moral breach in the nation. In Gingrich's formulation, ''The left-wing Democrats will represent the party of total hedonism, total exhibitionism, total bizarreness, total weirdness.'' On his way to becoming speaker of the House, he even grandfathered Susan Smith's 1994 drowning of her two children in South Carolina into 60's hedonism, as an example of the ''pattern'' of ''the counterculture and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.''

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