How Low Can You Go?


"Integrity is everything," Groucho Marx once said. "If you can fake integrity, you've got it made." David Brock and Elizabeth McCaughey intuitively appreciate that point.

Poor David. Poor Betsy. Both had been doing so well. Brock had made it big as a writer in right-wing circles with his book The Real Anita Hill, then his sensational anti-Clinton stories in the American Spectator. It was Brock who broadcast charges by Arkansas state troopers that, as governor, Clinton had used them to arrange illicit meetingscharges that one trooper has since admitted were based on no direct knowledge and were made in the hope of big money.

McCaughey, a policy researcher at a conservative think tank, had made her splash with a 1993 New Republic article charging that the Clinton health plan would allow people "no exit"no ability to pay money for care outside a health plana charge flatly contradicted by the legislation. So infatuated were Republicans with McCaughey that although she had no political experience, she was chosen by George Pataki to be his running mate and ended up as lieutenant governor of New York in 1994.

Then both Brock and McCaughey stumbled, and their right-wing friends ostracized them. Poor David. Poor Betsy. Last year Brock's book, The Seduction of Hillary Clinton, didn't deliver the damage his friends had been hoping for. Suddenly he was being told he wasn't wanted at conservative meetings and dinner parties. In a memoir in Esquire last July, Brock began: "I kill liberals for a living. Or at least I used to." Conservatives, he had discovered, had a "neo-Stalinist thought police" with no tolerance for honest journalists like him. His old friends had wanted him to dissemble when Gary Alrich's ludicrous charges against Clinton in Unlimited Access came out, but he couldn't. "Now I do want out. David Brock the Road Warrior of the Right is dead." After all, he's a man of integrity. And if you can fake integrity, you've got it made.

McCaughey's line could have been, "I kill liberal policies for a living. Or at least I used to." As lieutenant governor, she quickly alienated nearly everybody in her own administration. Her public conduct bordered on the bizarre. During Pataki's "state of the state" address to the legislature, she refused to sit down, standing the entire time behind him. Like Brock, she was soon being locked out of meetings. And like Brock, she decided to take refuge in high principle. If everything else fails, why not try integrity? The Republicans, she began to say, weren't really interested in better health care or improving the lives of children.

When McCaughey announced she was planning to run for office in the future as a Democrat, the Democratic Party leader in New York suggested she aim at lower office. One almost expected Democrats to send her literature on the Socialist Workers Party just to make sure she explored all her options. After all, there's no telling how low, or how wild, her aim will be. Poor Betsy. Poor Democrats.

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