Though he tries very hard to conceal his frustration, Brock has clearly reached the point where he wants to be taken on his own terms. “I hear that people feel that I’m somehow still trying to assuage sins of the past, or that this is some form of penance,” he says the first time we meet. “I think that came with publication of Blinded by the Right. I made the apologies that needed to be made, and so I didn’t feel that Media Matters was a continuing form of saying I was sorry.”
Perhaps the simplest way that Brock could widen his lane on the left would be to impress his fellow liberals not with his indisputable strategic cunning but instead with a frank articulation of his core political beliefs. After all, Rove did not get to where he is today simply by attacking liberals; he also offered an argument about what conservatives should stand for. But despite the fact that Brock has now spent a decade firmly ensconced on the left, he remains uncomfortable talking about the political issues that define it. “I have never had a serious conversation with him about policy or public philosophy,” says one prominent Democrat. “I have absolutely no clue what his ideological moorings are. I don’t offer it as a critique of the guy, but I just literally don’t know.”
If there is a single thread that runs through Brock’s strange ideological journey, it is personal, heated antagonism. He became a conservative as a college student at Berkeley because he was appalled by political correctness. His jolt to the left was motivated by disgust, and even now, his liberalism is largely a form of anti-conservatism. His remains a politics of pique.
On a recent afternoon at Media Matters’ headquarters, I try to draw out Brock on what he is actually for. “A lot of what I think about is tolerance in the debate and trying to tamp down on the toxicity of it all,” he says after a long pause. “So, if you’re asking me why am I a progressive, those are kind of the ways that I think about it. But I also think of it frequently in opposition to what the right is doing.” The day before, he had given a pep talk at a Progressive Talent Initiative boot camp, urging the liberal-pundits-in-training to carry forth the progressive message on the airwaves. But now, as he sits on a couch and struggles to define his own beliefs, it’s clear that Brock himself is agnostic about what that message is. “I’m comfortable on the progressive side,” he continues. “But I’m still more pitched at fighting the right than I am about building a progressive platform for the future. It’s fair to say that that conversation doesn’t interest me as much.”