Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Political Conversion as Intrapersonal Argument: Self-Dissociation in David Brock's Blinded by the Right

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Political Conversion as Intrapersonal Argument: Self-Dissociation in David Brock's Blinded by the Right

Article excerpt

"The choice of a social identity rarely occurs in tranquility.... The crisis may culminate finally in political disassociation, and the displacement of previous associations by a different configuration of social attachments, sometimes a new invention, sometimes a rehabilitated memory."

--Edwin Black

Wherever one looks in current affairs, there are political converts who leverage arguments about personal change toward public causes. Political converts and party-switchers such as Ronald Reagan, David Horowitz, Arianna Huffington, James Jeffords, and Dennis Miller--to name only a few of these types of advocates have both produced and been influenced by discursive webs of social transformation. More than simply expressive claims about one's party preferences, political conversion narratives are nexus points between identities and movements. These stories justify and extend one's political change as support for larger collectives and interests. In 2004, for example, the Republican Party had former Democratic Governor Zell Miller deliver its keynote address at the Republican National Convention to buttress President George W. Bush's campaign and policies (Files, 2004).

Political converts stand before the public as persuasive models and embodied arguments, wedding their experiences of change with political purpose. They also play indirect roles in politics. In recent years, many former Marxists like David Horowitz, a conservative journalist and activist, turned up on George W. Bush's doorstep, as "team members assembled to help craft and carry out President Bush's governing philosophy" of turning the Republican party into "the party of caring" (Kosterlitz, 2001, pp. 1296, 1303). Indeed, terms like "compassionate conservatism" would never have even been created without the intellectual resources and experiences drawn from these converted elites (p. 1297).

As argument forms with public consequence, this essay examines the right-to-left political conversion of Washington insider and journalist David Brock. Brock was a conservative journalist (in)famous for his coverage of Anita Hill during the Senate hearings over the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, and another series of writings that set in motion conservative campaigns to unseat President Clinton from office in the 1990s (Bruni, 2002, para. 1). Yet just two years after Brock (2002) wrote his tell-all conversion autobiography, Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative, former President Clinton (2004) was publicly praising him for recanting conservatism (p. 565). The text was also celebrated by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), who threw a book release party with James Carville, Paul Begala, and other Democrats, publically declaring: "To any Republicans out there: If you are willing to disavow your past and change your ways we'll throw a party for you as well!" (as cited in Grove, 2003, p. C03).

In this analysis, I demonstrate that conversion narratives can be constructed through an interpenetrating framework of self-dissociative argumentation. This finding demonstrates how identity transformation is an argumentative process. Brock's dissociative discourse gradually presents an unveiling of a moral, authentic gay identity in the author's shift between political movements. Although Brock certainly makes his conversion rhetoric public, the story is framed as a process occurring within and about the self, particularly through Brock's "internal" struggle to maintain allegiance to a conservative movement hostile to his gay identity (Brock, 2002, p. 44).

Whether they are presented in a book, on a television appearance, or in a speech to party faithful, conversion narratives are rituals with rhetorical significance in American political life. They thus give us critical insight into how political identity can be formed through self-targeting arguments that reinforce or extend particular political paradigms. …

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