David Brock's bestselling Blinded by the Right is a stunning confession by someone who describes himself as a former “right-wing hit man.” David Brock spearheaded a visceral assault on Anita Hill's character and inadvertently caused Paula Jones to sue President Clinton for sexual harassment. Then he went through an internal crisis over his gayness and insuppressible liberalism, and betrayed his conservative comrades as a “neoliberal” turncoat. His memoirs, in a dramatic shift of conscience, offer a thorough reprise of all the dishonesties and sleazy gossip that his former allies committed in order to keep their fin-de-siècle attack machine going.
I have not seen any critics using Brock's book as a study into the complexities of whiteness, but the text is ripe for such a reading. Brock's ascent into the powerful circles of conservative Washington begins, as the author himself insinuates, largely because his upbringing confused him about his biological identity and gave him an outsider complex. His parents, Irish and Italian Catholics who raised him in generically “white” communities of New Jersey and Texas, were paranoid about people finding out that they had adopted him. As a young man, his relatives mocked him for looking and acting “Jewish,” which caused him to fantasize about becoming Jewish, merely to feel less conflicted over his identity.
It is precisely the disconnect between the biological and cultural definitions of whiteness that leaves Brock vulnerable to manipulation and prone to bouts of egotistical ressentiment. Obsessed with overcoming an outsider status that he has no vocabulary with which to describe or analyze, he funnels his energy into fitting a patrician mold of whiteness where class and race seem to merge, sexuality can be fudged, and an endless supply of enemies guarantee white unity. In Blinded by the Right, Brock comments that not only he, but most of the movement agitators of his age, were similarly not instinctual insiders. They too were “ethnics” from working-class or middle-class families, gripped with racialized hostility toward liberals, and struggling to make their entry into the conservative white elites of Washington seamless.
Whiteness, Brock's book would indicate, feeds on its constantly unstable and partially inaccessible status. Almost all whites have some mark—gayness, ethnicity, class—which can compromise the purely privileged station that the blank racial category would otherwise offer. The world that Brock's orphic descent reveals is full of an unspoken neurosis about the whiteness of white conservatives; as well as the constant need for white conservatives to purify themselves of any stains by attacking and de-whitening others. The fact that whiteness is not biological, I will suggest, makes the whiteness of Brock's book all the more combative and eager to prove its muster through ideological warfare. The burden of whiteness, in Brock's case, is the burden of total submission to a false morality and bad faith in order to hold onto a whiteness that is constantly slipping away.