When former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said in 1998 that a "vast right-wing conspiracy" (VRWC) was trying to ruin her husband, she inadvertently created an industry.
Today the VRWC is variously a punch line, a Web site, a club, a T-shirt, a call-to-arms, a book title, a dogma, an annunciation and, in the case of one David Brock, a conscientious objection.
It is also at once true — but not in the way most people think — as well as obsolete.
To be honest, I thought the VRWC was long dead, but then there was Brock Monday morning talking on C-Span's "Washington Journal" about his latest book, "Blinded by the Right," in which he confesses that everything he wrote earlier in his career as a conservative — before his anagnorisis as a born-again liberal — was a lie.
Now we are to believe him when he says that there really was a "vast right-wing conspiracy," and that he was part of it.
Cry "Uncle" already. We believe it. The moment Hillary uttered those now-infamous words on the "Today" show, I turned to my husband and said, "She's right, you know. There truly is a well-organized network of conservatives out there who are trying to get rid of the Clintons."
Whereupon he replied with husbandly ennui: "So?"
Indeed, so what? Who didn't know? Who cared then or cares now? Can we bury this blunt instrument already?
But first, a few clarifications. What has always been amusing about the conspiracy theory is that the term itself presumes some sort of secret organization. There's nothing secret in America anymore. And there has never been anything secretive about the right's desire to evict the Clintons from the White House.
Conspiracy has a nice sinister, netherworld ring to it, but please. I've seen the VRWC and it's not sinister. Boring, yes. Too many Wonder bread eaters, yes. Bad haircuts, yes. But sinister? Which, one can't help noting, Merriam-Webster defines as "of ill omen by reason of being on the left."
In comments Monday, Brock contended that the VRWC was different, i.e. worse, than whatever we might call its liberal counterparts (Intimate Leftist Coffee Klatch?) because the conservatives were more "systematic," "single-minded" and better "organized." What Brock was describing, of course, is not a nefarious clandestine organization, but any serious outside entity that's trying earnestly to get on the inside.
During the Clinton administration, liberals didn't have to be systematic and organized because liberalism already had won. Liberals occupied the White House, and the media and Hollywood loved the Clintons. Conservatives had to organize because they were on the offensive.
Conservatives did not, however — as Brock claimed in another interview — hate the Clintons because they were "the first baby-boomer, two-career first couple" who "personified all the liberal social and cultural changes in the country that they hated since the 1960s."
I can't speak for the so-called conspirators, but my guess is they disliked the arrogance and dishonesty of the first couple, who, in fact, personified a cultural shift that seemed both threatening to the nation's traditional values as well as dangerous to national security.
Not incidentally, that cultural shift — the insidious move toward socializing institutions, the condoning through policy and example the coarsest of behaviors, the embracing of multicultural ideology at the expense of core American values — was and is worthy of sustained assault. The VRWC may have played dirty, but it wasn't all wrong.
Gazing with hindsight from the communal foxhole that 9-11 dug, it's easy to muse sympathetically about a period now ended. But let's remember that the moderate Clintons who left the White House were not the same ambitiously liberal Clintons who entered, and we may have the VRWC to thank in part for that.
Which is not to condone all the tactics of the right. Some of those tactics, beginning with the exploitation of the pathetic Paula Jones, were despicable. On the other hand, some targets just can't seem to wipe that silly bull's-eye off their tear-smudged cheek. You just gotta aim and squeeze.
As for Brock and others who can't stop talking mostly about themselves, the conspiracy is over and so is public interest. Nobody cares. Most Americans — who occupy the vast disenfranchised middle — don't give a rip whether David Brock ever gets another night's sleep or whether Clarence Thomas ever watched an X-rated movie, though assuredly, we'd rather not think about it.
What they do care about is keeping America intact and the enemy at bay. Maybe now that we have a real enemy, we can put the VRWC to rest.
(E-mail Kathleen Parker, at email@example.com.)