Done in by decency
   by  Jesse Berney
 
It's difficult to judge the credibility of David Brock's new book, Blinded by the Right, the story of his rise in conservative circles as an anti-Clinton hit man and the fall that came when he lost taste for yellow journalism. It's a story about how conservatives will believe anything you tell them no matter how incredible so long as it's what they want to hear. While Brock's book is well written and seems very credible, a leftist can't help but wonder: Do I only believe this book because it's what I want to hear?
 
Let's  put these questions aside and take Blinded by the Right at face value. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the book is the small size of the world it describes. Brock paints the conservative Washington of the 80s and 90s as tight-knit community of small-minded sociopaths. They are united not by ideology (in fact, Brock shows again and again how quick they are to abandon their principles when they don't suit their purposes) but rather a lust for power and a disgust for anyone who doesn't walk the party line.
 
Plagued by hypocrisy, driven mad with rage, Washington's conservatives should provoke fear, pity, and no small amount of amusement. But for some reason, I'm jealous. As sick and irrational as the people in Brock's story are, they have built a formidable political movement unmatched by anything the left has to offer. With media outlets, think tanks, talking heads, and more misnamed organizations (like the "Concerned Women of America") than you can shake a stick at, the "vast right-wing conspiracy" (which turns out not to be so vast after all) has all the firepower it needs to change the terms of political discourse in this country.
 
The left has its share of fierce partisans. But it's impossible to doubt that there is some fundamental difference between the left and right that gives conservatives the ability to act with the hypocrisy and ferocity they do in Blinded by the Right. Take a look at the message boards of Free Republic and compare them to those on Democratic Underground. It doesn't take a lot of time to realize that there is a distinct difference. While neither board is exactly a consistently mature exchange of ideas, there's a particular nastiness to Free Republic that is missing from Democratic Underground.
While DU members don't shy away from mocking President Bush, "Freepers" call Hillary Clinton "Hitlery" even using it as a keyword for searches clearly crossing a line that people on Democratic Underground don't cross. And this is true across the left. The level of vitriol expressed toward conservatives by liberals doesn't match that expressed by conservatives toward liberals. Liberals decry hypocrisy while the right revels in it. Liberals mock while conservatives make vicious, unfounded attacks.

You can see that difference reflected in the media, as well. Anyone watching Fox News Sunday can it clearly. The conservatives spin and push right-wing ideas hard, while the "liberals" there to provide "balance" don't push left-wing ideas at all. The difference? Conservative journalists are advocates. They're less interested in discovering the truth than they are at spreading right-wing ideas. The supposed liberal journalists, on the other hand, consider themselves actual journalists, with reputations for objectivity and integrity to protect.

The discussions, therefore, are by their nature unbalanced. On the one side you have someone making an argument, and on the other, someone simply interested in uncovering facts. With that kind of one-sided discussion, liberal ideas never get the defense they deserve. And this phenomenon is reflected across the media, as so-called liberal journalists offer no argument to right-wing pundits posing as real newspeople.

(An interesting exception to this is the current incarnation of CNN's Crossfire, which has two real liberal advocates James Carville and Paul Begala, who have no notions of being journalists making arguments for the left. Conservatives, not used to seeing liberals actually make arguments on television, have responded with predictable fury and even called for boycotts of the show.)

Republican elected officials also have an advantage over their Democratic counterparts in their willingness to abandon principle for the sake of politics. The Clinton impeachment saga provided a perfect example. Republicans took the ridiculously small crime of lying under oath about an affair (one they set up, according to Blinded by the Right), and convinced themselves that it fit the Constitution's requirement of high crimes and misdemeanors. Now imagine President Bush lying under oath about something more serious, say, the influence Enron had on his administration's energy policy. Is there any doubt at all that the same Republicans who called for Clinton's head over a blow job would rush to his defense?

These people have no fear of being exposed as hypocrites, and that fearlessness is their best asset.

Even if liberals didn't have the moral backbone that keeps them from committing the same crimes as conservatives, we would still lack the most important element to forming a vast-left wing conspiracy: money. All of the organizations and publications and think tanks are funded by the same few extremely rich men. Richard Mellon Scaife, a reclusive Pittsburgh millionaire, sits at the center of this financial web, funding virtually every group dedicated to advancing the far-right agenda. (It's ironic that an ideology that claims to defend the wealth of people who have earned it has as its chief defender a man who inherited his millions.)

The left has no Richard Mellon Scaife and never will. Simply put, no leftist would ever be so bereft of decency as to fund the attacks on democracy that Scaife does. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted in his column on Blinded by the Right:
 

It's also true that in the nature of things, billionaires are more likely to be right-wing than left-wing fanatics. When billionaires do support more or less liberal causes, they usually try to help the world, not take over the U.S. political system. Not to put too fine a point on it: While George Soros was spending lavishly to promote democracy abroad, Mr. Scaife was spending lavishly to undermine it at home.

And that's the crux of the problem. The left is done in by its own decency, unable to match the hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness of those on the right. While there's no shortage of stupid or small-minded people on the left as there is in any large group of people conservatives have liberals beat when it comes to crossing lines that ought not to be crossed.

It would be an amazing accomplishment for liberals to create the kind of infrastructure that exists to push conservative ideas: think tanks to give an academic sheen to policies; TV channels, radio talk shows, magazines, and other media outlets to push ideas; a cadre of lawyers dedicated to politics at the expense of the law; and countless affiliated organizations fighting for our policies.

But multimillionaires looking to spend ridiculous amounts of money to push policies generally unfriendly to multimillionaires are few and far between. And liberals must sometimes be willing to put politics over ideology that means making compromises and occasionally kicking some ass to accomplish what we want.

 
 

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