I would be unfair if I said that David Brock represents everything wrong with politics. So let me say that David Brock represents almost everything wrong with politics.
The career of the silver-haired smear artist has come full circle with a report in The New York Times that Brock directed $200,000 from his political action committee empire into an effort to encourage women to go public with accusations of sexual offenses against President Donald Trump — and that one of Brock’s most devoted donors kicked in even more. (My effort to get a response from Brock for this column was unsuccessful.)
That news comes nearly a quarter-century after Brock launched his lucrative brand by walking point on the so-called Arkansas Project. Funded through a seven-figure donation by Pittsburgh billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife to the American Spectator magazine, the project sent Brock rooting through the misdeeds — whether real or fictitious did not appear to matter — of then-President Bill Clinton during his years as governor of Arkansas.
Brock’s transformation from right-wing hitman to left-wing hitman is one of the marvels of contemporary Washington, blending the credulousness of River City rubes in “The Music Man” with the political cynicism of “The Candidate.” After Brock’s scandal-mongering (and Clinton’s lies) lit the fuse on an impeachment crisis, the effects of which linger to this day, Brock confessed that the meanies on the right had blinded him to all that was good and true. He proposed to turn his guns on his former allies and set about cultivating big donors to foot the bills.
Today, Brock stands atop an empire of donor-funded political operations. Media Matters for America seeks to mirror the right-wing Media Research Center in lobbing charges of dishonesty at the press; together, the two groups have accelerated our path toward a world in which no one believes anything beyond his own biases. American Bridge performs “opposition research” against Republican candidates, a dainty phrase to describe the hostile scrutiny that has turned politics into a business that few sane humans would dare to enter. His online, um, “news” site Shareblue strives to be, in Brock’s words, a “Breitbart of the left” — as though one Breitbart were not already one too many.
There are other groups as well. In all, Brock has boasted of plans to raise $40 million to advance projects that — judging from recent Democratic failures of historic proportions in state legislatures, governor’s offices, Congress and the White House — have coincided with a low point in the fortunes of progressives, Brock himself excepted.
In her memoir of the 2016 campaign, Hillary Clinton wrote: “I didn’t think many Americans would believe that I’d sell a lifetime of principle and advocacy for any price.” But what was she doing when, shortly after leaving the White House, she feted Brock at her home in New York and encouraged her network of donors to fund the work of a confessed “hit man”?
Hacked emails from the account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta suggest that even her inner circle came to see Brock as trouble. But liberals who dream of an early end to the Trump presidency are likely to find that he is worse than that. He is now Trump’s best friend and wingman.
For a president who thrives on “fake news” and “alternative facts,” nothing could be more helpful than the revelation that partisan enemies are writing checks for his accusers. It certainly helped Bill Clinton. Back in the 1990s, when Brock was playing for the other team, Clinton defender James Carville dismissed the Arkansas Project thusly: “If you drag a $100 bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.”
Let alone $200,000.
And that brings us to Brock’s collateral damage. For all of his ostentatious feminism in support of Hillary Clinton, Brock, more than any other person I can name, is responsible for the climate in which women who bring charges of sexual misconduct have every reason to fear they will be savaged and dismissed. It was he, after all, who scored an early jackpot by describing law professor Anita Hill as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” His tawdry conduct in Arkansas gave ammunition for widespread attacks on Bill Clinton’s accusers. Now Trump toadies have a brush with which to tar any woman who might testify that the president’s long history of crude boasting is more than mere “locker room talk.”
Brock’s sales pitch to mega-donors such as George Soros and Susie Tompkins Buell has always been, essentially, that the right wing weaponized propaganda and that the only answer is to take a gun to the knife fight. But Sen. Bernie Sanders was on target in 2016 when he said of Brock: “I don’t think you hire scum of the Earth to be on your team just because the other side does it.”
It’s gross, it’s demoralizing, and — look around — it doesn’t work.
David Von Drehle is a Washington Post columnist, where he writes about national affairs and politics from a home base in the Midwest.
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