Yes and NO

Mean to title this post as “Yes and No,” but the typo better sums up my feelings. Todd Defren, whose name I will not idiotically misspell this time, has a post up about the pace of news, new technology and Andrew Sullivan. If you’re too lazy to read it in full, which you should do because it’s not too long, here’s the main point:

Those of you who follow me on other social nets like Twitter or Facebookknow that I am pretty opinionated when it comes to politics.  Suffice to say that I am a card-carrying member of the “Liberal Coastal Elites.”  (I try not to over-indulge or bore folks with it; and I certainly can play nice with my right-leaning friends.)

I bring it all up only as a segue to the fact that I am a big fan of Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog.  Sullivan’s one of the big dogs in blogging; he’s been freshly-empowered by his move to the Daily Beast to experiment with new technologies; thus I increasingly look to The Dish not just for political musings but as a pioneer exploring the future of the medium.

I agree entirely about the impact of technology, the importance of generating new content (a point Todd makes in the comments) and the preeminence of the Dish as a content-producing machine. That said, I am puzzled as to how and why liberal people have any use for Andrew Sullivan.

Sully’s entire ouvre, as Driftglass often notes, is that he agrees (or comes to agree) with liberals about everything and refuses to acknowledge it. Sullivan gets trotted out constantly as an iconoclastic “conservative” because there are so few conservatives (former Republicans, really) who are willing to criticize the GOP that the ones who are willing to do so get special status. For evidence of this, look no further than David Frum, who will soon be taking his show to the Beast as well, something that is quite fitting*.

This is all well and good except for the fact that there’ve been liberal people (check through my blogroll) that have been screaming their heads off for decades about the stuff that Sully, David Frum and any of the rest of them are just now realizing. Wow, David Frum thinks that the Republican Party has gone all radical and epistemically closed and intolerant? Fantastic, except for the fact that HE WAS ADVOCATING FOR GOP POLICIES LESS THAN FIVE YEARS AGO. Andrew Sullivan has realized that the invasion of Iraq was a catastrophic, disgusting mistake? That’s terrific. If only he hadn’t been calling liberals “traitors” in real time. The recent timing of the defections of Sullivan and Frum imply that the Republican Party’s intransigence, total intellectual inconsistency and increasing radicalism is some sort of revelatory apparition, an immediate transformation and, more than anything, a recent event. That could not be further from the truth. What is true, though, is that these gents were full-throttle behind this movement until a few years ago. David Frum wrote the Axis of Evil speech, for chrissakes.

Some people might be inclined to say this is all water under the bridge. We all make mistakes (not all of our mistakes enable, in a small but not insignificant way, the launching of a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, blew trillions of dollars and left a perhaps-permanent stain on the reputation of the U.S., but there you go). If Sully has embraced liberal points of view and is advocating for those we’re better off, aren’t we?

No. We aren’t. Because no. He hasn’t. Witness the reaction to Paul Ryan’s health care plan. Sullivan praised it as brave and serious and a conversation starter and on and on and then spent a coupla weeks walking it back, prompting a truly righteous rant from John Cole. Details about the Ryan plan here.

I’ll give him a modicum of credit for publishing lots of countering arguments dissent but that doesn’t diminish the fact that several of Sully’s own posts are idiotic in the first place. This is one respect where the instantaneous pace of the Intertrons does damage because Sully will hurtle along and write something moronic only to spend the next three weeks carefully climbing back from the ledge while non-apologizing for spouting off. Of course, if he’d taken the time to think in the first place, he wouldn’t have written something so dumb.

And here’s the reason that it really, truly isn’t water under the bridge and still pisses me off: this is all a way, implicit or intended, to include people who disagree with the current conservative orthodoxy (which, despite the party affiliations of many Americans, is plainly grotesque to millions of people) while excluding the group of people who disagreed with said orthodoxy from day one. And it still matters today. It limits the debate to those who think the Simpson-Bowles co-heads’ proposal is heroicbraveSerious and those who think Simpson-Bowles is too liberal. What about the people who think Simpson-Bowles is too favorable to the wealthy, people whose taxes haven’t been this low in fifty years? What about people who discuss ending the protectionism for drug producers, who make billions in profits, rather than cutting social safety net programs? But no. No one need hear from them. Just like no one needed to before our grand adventure in 2003.

It’s nice that Sully has realized that the Republican Party has gone ’round the bend and it took him long enough having anyone with as large a platform as Sullivan being less partial to the Republicans is a good thing. But Sully was one of the leading cheerleaders (and no, that is not hyperbolic) for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When the chips were down, he was on the wrong side. Like his fellow Reasonable Conservative™ David Brooks, Sully got where he is by failing upward. I’ll look elsewhere for my political reading.

*Bruce Bartlett is one of the very few former Republicans who criticizes the GOP for it’s decades-long failures, something for which he deserves great credit.

4 thoughts on “Yes and NO

  1. I didn’t mean to imply that Sullivan’s word is gospel to me. Your criticisms are all true enough. (FWIW I only started reading the Dish in the past 2 years.)

    Then again, life is long; opinions evolve; humans are fallible; I am quick to forgive past transgressions and derive value when and where I see value.

    • All true. I agree with where his opinions have come to rest on several issues (foreign policy, drug legalization, etc). But I am still quite wary of the way in which he describes our political situation because it leads towards false equivalency.

      • To be perfectly honest, what I love best (and look for everywhere) are clear and unabashed recaps (okay, praise) of Obama’s record.

        That’s not to say I agree with Obama on everything. The civil liberties stuff, the unapproved Libya intervention (which might NOT have been blessedly quick and successful), etc. all bother me… But overall, I love Obama as prez and given the DELUGE of negativity from the Right AND the Left (ladled atop a largely clueless electorate, which blows with the wind), I celebrate clear-eyed praise of his record. It’s what I bookmark.

  2. Pingback: Sullivan on Colbert | Shadowy Silk Blog

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