November 16, 2006

"I chose to be a writer rather than a politician for a reason."

Andrew Sullivan describes what it feels like to be nonpartisan. (If people don't believe him that he's nonpartisan... I can empathize.)

44 comments:

AJ Lynch said...

It's not like Sullivan had two choices and he chose writing; he chose writing and probably never gave any thought to a career in politics. He is like Maureen Dowd and can't write with any real objectivity anymore and that's OK cause both are pretty much columnists not reporters. But shrill and constant certainty from either side of the aisle is tiresome. I don't get that here and that's why I like it here.

John Jenkins said...

Ann,

Sullivan is non-partisan in the political party sense (Democrat v. Republican), but I don't think he (or you) can be non-partisan in the ideological sense. Everyone has one, Sullivan just lies about what his is (or is internally inconsistent, whichever).

Tim said...

Who is Andrew Sullivan, and why should we care?

Did he go to Swarthmore?

mikeski said...

Oh yes, poor poor St. Andrew of the Sacred Heartache.

Woe is him.

Sloanasaurus said...

Sullivan is a one issue individual - gay rights. He is willing to support anyone that supports his issue regardless of anything else, which is why he abandoned the conservative movement. Sullivan is worried deeply that successes by conservatives will damage his issue. Has Sullivan changed for good... who knows.

If the gay rights issues drop away, Sullivan will be back arguing for conservative causes.

chickenlittle said...

The guy sure gets bent out of shape over book reviews. He did the same thing a few weeks ago over David Brooks.

Sounds like he made a wise choice not to go into politics- he's far too thin-skinned.

Murdoch said...

I've only recently come across Sullivan but he strikes me as an interesting, perceptive, intelligent and honest writer who isn't concerned about making a fool of himself on occasion but is concerned about discovering and reporting the essence of serious and difficult questions.

This is a refreshing and valuable stance for a current writer commenting on political and social issues to take, the exact antithesis, for instance, of the worthless and partisan junk peddled by the likes of Coulter or Limbaugh or the mendacious hacks at Fox News. Indeed, it's what - properly - commentary should be (whatever the writer's inherent stance) but all too often now just isn't.

Though he's rather too right wing on occasion, and I don't always agree with his opinions, perhaps particularly on religion, I'd say he deserves his success and I hope he continues writing and challenging the inept and the venal for a very long time.

Joe Baby said...

That's crap -- he was born that way.

Simon said...

I'm sympathetic both to Sullivan and the reader whose e-mail he quotes. However, Sullivan's excuse that he grew up in England as a Tory is no excuse for unwillingness to dirty his hands with "American partisanship." I grew up in England in a Labour Party household, but Sullivan and I both moved to the United States, and the process that, in my view, immigrants to this country must undertake demands "American partisanship."

If one comes to this country, it is incumbent upon you to learn and understand America - its history, culture and principles. That does not mean supressing one's intellect or views, but it does necessarily mean reprocessing them through the lens of the Constitution and some three hundred years of the development of the American tradition. It is particularly incumbent on those who become citizens (and even upon those, I would argue, who are "citizen-track," if you will) to find a way to give force and practical effect to the citizenship oath.

One tribute to the late Chief Justice summed up his philosophy of life thusly: "decide what you believe and what you stand for, and pursue it with dedication." D. Leitch, in 119 Harv. L. Rev 1, 21. The duty of an immigrant to America is to work out what one believes America -- unique among nations in that it is defined by shared commitment to certain political principles, rather than by blood or force -- asks and demands of its citizens, and to persue that belief with dedication. Someone who is born in this country may have an excuse for apathy and disinterest in political events, or an unwillingness to dirty their hands with the practical business of politics, or declining to undertake what Sullivan describes as the "difficult task" of "finessing between party and principle." But I don't believe that either Sullivan or I have that luxury. Is the GOP a perfect vehicle? No. Of course not, and Sullivan is right to try to work to change it; I don't agree with everything in his book, but he is basically correct in his assesment that many in the party leadership have "abandoned the faith," so to speak. But at a time when the other party is basically at war with everything the immigrant is obligated, de jure and de facto, to "support and defend ... against all enemies, foreign and domestic," it is surely better than the alternative, warts and all. I think Sullivan sometimes glosses over this, and loses sight of the big picture, which is that working to change the party from the inside - and "express[ing] one's own views as honestly as one can" - are not necessarily incompatible with supporting the team and wanting them to win. Which is to say, they are not incompatible with "American partisanship."

Internet Ronin said...

Is Andrew Sullivan non-partisan? In the context of American party politics, yes, he probably is. But that does not mean that he is balanced in his viewpoints, or the way he expresses them.

Even the most cursory examination of his commentary both in 2003 and today uncovers a highly partisan, absolutist mentality that demonizes those who have the temerity to disagree (however mildly) with him. He is often shrill and uncompromising in his beliefs (some view that as passion), but makes no genuine attempt to explain when he alters course in the opposite direction only to become as shrill and uncompromising in defense of his new beliefs.

For someone who chooses to engage in the rough & tumble of public political debate, he is notoriously thin-skinned, quick to preceive slights that were never intended, and rabidly vindictive.

As a blogger, he is incredibly ungracious and insecure, given his long track-record of using reader commentary without attribution lest
identification divert the reader's attention from himself. His non-stop flogging of his book on his blog says much about him. At the same time, Sullivan appears to have a Messiah-like vision of himself, that he is personally responsible for all the gains in gay rights in this country, as if none of those gains would not have happened had not he arrived on our shores.

That said, there was a time that it was quite apparent that Andrew Sullivan desperately wanted to be part of the "in group" in the GOP provided the GOP changed to fit him, just as he wanted to be part of the "in group" in organizations like the Human Rights Campaign Fund provided they changed to fit him, and just as he wants the Catholic Church to change to fit him.

To me, Andrew Sullivan is the personification of Groucho Marx's old joke, "I would never belong to a club that would have me as a member."

Anonymous said...

That both Sullivan and the reader he quotes think that Jonah Goldberg and Rush Limbaugh are administration cheerleaders totally cracks me up. It reveals that neither one ever listens to or reads much more than a soundbite from either man -- or from Ann Coulter, for that matter. All of these pundits have been known to rip the administration for stupid decisions. (Harriet Miers, anyone?)

Sullivan says: I can understand their frustration. I can understand their anger at someone exposing their cognitive dissonance and spin. But it really is their problem, not mine. But this frustration, this cognitive dissonance, is exactly his problem! He's the one insisting that black is white and up is down, and assuring us all that he has been a good conservative all along. Right, Andrew. Sure.

It is true, however, that Sullivan is non-partisan. He has devolved into a single-issue guy. He'll throw his support behind anyone who supports same sex marriage. All this business about torture and the GOP abandoning conservative principals (true enough with respect to fiscal discipline, but not nearly as catastrophic as Sullivan portrays it -- ) is just a smokescreen to cover his defection.

Also, his book-length response to Goldberg's incisive review of The Conservative Soul smacked of a hysterical response. I couldn't read it (I tried). The sheer length of it conjures up an image of Sullivan frantically, obsessively attacking his keyboard to refute Goldberg's effortless critique. The fact remains that an individual's conscience is not now and has never been the most reliable moral compass. With a wave of his hand Sullivan dismisses literally centuries' worth of theological and ethical study, not to mention cultural and religious traditions. But that's OK, because his conscience says it is. For someone who professes to be a Catholic, he should know better.

gj said...

I judge someone's non-partisan credentials by their willingness to criticize both parties and the frequency with which they do so. Andrew Sullivan is an equal opportunity critic, and so I consider him non-partisan.

Ann, I would not put you in that category. While you take liberal positions on some issues, you are not an equal opportunity critic of the political parties. You seem to jump at every opportunity to criticize Democrats, and more often than not you ignore the shortcomings of Republicans. So while you're clearly independently minded, I'd be hard-pressed to call you non-partisan.

Ann Althouse said...

gj: "Ann, I would not put you in that category. While you take liberal positions on some issues, you are not an equal opportunity critic of the political parties. You seem to jump at every opportunity to criticize Democrats, and more often than not you ignore the shortcomings of Republicans. So while you're clearly independently minded, I'd be hard-pressed to call you non-partisan."

Well, then I hope you accurately identify my party as the Democrats! If you don't, you misunderstand the way human nature manifests itself in my case. I also criticize Americans more than people from any other country. See my point???

Shanna said...

For someone who chooses to engage in the rough & tumble of public political debate, he is notoriously thin-skinned, quick to preceive slights that were never intended, and rabidly vindictive.
He can be a very good writer but he can also be very vicious and the funny thing is that he tends to go all rotweiller on people like Rush and Goldberg, while simultaneously calling them out for the same thing. I used to be a regular reader and I have some sympathy for him on his main issues, but he has become as shrill and intolerant of others on his own pet issues as the worst partisan.

I thought the picture of Santorum on his cell phone after he lost the other day was somewhat mean.

On the plus side, the 80’s videos have brought me back in the last week or two, but I have to skip over all the quotes from his book.

Pogo said...

If only Sullivan's site had more pictures of his book on it, I would be able to recall its name and buy it in the bookstore.

Too Many Jims said...

Simon,

Interesting take on the immigrant angle. However, given the nature of "partisanship" as Sullivan was describing it, you're framing of the need for immigrants to be partisan requires immigrants to become liars whereas native citizens can choose whether or not to be liars. You as much as admitted this yourself. After the election you said something along the lines of: "Now that the election is over I can agree that GWB is the worst U.S. President in the last half century." (I didn't go find the quote but it is something along those lines.) It is the same as Rush confessing that he felt liberated and that he no longer had to carry water. I am glad I am native born and can choose not to be a liar.

I think that Sullivan is saying he would rather be treated as an apostate than being an uncritical and dishonest apologist. I think even immigrants should have the right to make that choice.

Too Many Jims said...

Joan said . . . All this business about . . .the GOP abandoning conservative principals (true enough with respect to fiscal discipline, but not nearly as catastrophic as Sullivan portrays it)

Setting aside all of Sullivan's arguments about gay marriage, catholicism, torture and the the rise of christianists, he is absolutely right about the fiscal irresponsibility of the current group of Republicans. Catastrophic? Maybe not yet, but soon.

Tristram said...

Sounds like he made a wise choice not to go into politics- he's far too thin-skinned.

Ya think!?!?!

Simon said...

Jim,
I think it stretches the meaning of the word to describe a willingness to hold (or at least moderate) your criticism of the coach while the team is on the field as a "lie."
The dictates of practical reality demanded that the GOP had to keep the Senate, that failure to do so would be a catastrophe (a prediction, I might add, which is already being borne out), and thus, that we had to do whatever was necessary and possible within the rules to keep it. We didn't, which means that now, the necessity is for a full and frank discussion of what went wrong and how to fix it next time. That is not a debate that can be held privately, and so I would expect to see it carried out publically.

Anthony said...

Sullivan epitomizes the line given by young Indiana Jones in the third movie: "Everyone's lost but me."

Pogo said...

I think he chose writing because his Heisenberg Uncertainty Party couldn't decide on a slogan, platform, or mascot.

What do we want?
We don't know!
When do we want it?
Now!

Balfegor said...

Re: Jenkins:

Sullivan is non-partisan in the political party sense (Democrat v. Republican), but I don't think he (or you) can be non-partisan in the ideological sense. Everyone has one, Sullivan just lies about what his is (or is internally inconsistent, whichever).

I don't think this is really the case -- early in the Bush administration, he was, quite fanatically, partisan for the Republicans. And now he is fanatically against the Republicans, although not really "for" the Democrats (from the little of him I read). I suppose we might conclude, from the fact that we've just watched him switch sides dramatically, that he is therefore "non-partisan." But that suggests that he takes each issue in its turn, and addresses it that way. And I don't think that's really the case.

Regarding Sloanasaurus's comment that:

Sullivan is a one issue individual - gay rights. He is willing to support anyone that supports his issue regardless of anything else, which is why he abandoned the conservative movement.

This doesn't really explain the most interesting question -- why was he in the conservative movement in the first place? Conservatism, at least in the American sense, has pretty much always been against buggery, and against sexual license in general.

I'm not so sure that this is the case in England, whence Sullivan came -- "Conservatism" has been associated with "Tories," and "Tories" with "Toffs," and "Toffs" with "Public schools," and "Public schools" with "rampant sodomy" for long enough that one suspects English Conservatism doesn't take a particularly firm line on sexual morality these days. Besides, to my knowledge, no American sex scandal has ever matched the one with the autoasphixiated MP in pantyhose with an orange in his mouth. That was a Tory, of course. I don't think sexual continence is really part of Conservatism's appeal to the British public.

In any event, though, I feel sure that Sullivan really does think of himself as a Conservative -- that is, he wants to preserve that which is good and great in the traditions to which he is heir, and so on. It's just that his conception of what that tradition is, and which bits of it happen to be worth preserving, diverges somewhat from the vast majority of his fellow conservatives.

Simon said...

Balfegor,
In my experience, save a few, brief shining moments with Thatcher, British conservatism is best equated with a mindless, reactionary stand pat-ism. And even Thatcher lacks strong analogy in American conservatism, insofar as, where Reagan stressed federalism, Thatcher stressed centralization. I can scarcely imagine having been a conservative in Britain, not least because, whatever else it may also be, conservatism's taproot is a certain proclivity for the established order, for the tried and tested over the novel and the risky. That is one proposition in America, where the status quo can be defended on both Burkeian and purely normative grounds, but it is quite another in Britain, where the status quo is basically without intrinsic merit.

It seems to me that the closest that American conservatism has ever come to British conservatism is the last two years, wherein the feeling of endemic malaise and dissatisfaction, of scandal oozing from every piece of the woodwork, of a party that had lost its ideological moorings and its grip on events, presented an almost spooky parallel to my recollection of the mood in Britain leading into the 1997 general election, where the conservatives were given an even worse stuffing than the GOP were just given.

JohnK said...

One of the more bizzare features of Sullivans writing in the last couple of years has been his obsession with the need for everyone to publicly advertise their sexuality. Anyone who is gay and chooses to stay in the cloest is suffering from a horrible inner hypocrisy that is bound to manifest itself through immoral behavior. Yes, anyone who stays in the closet is suffereing from inner moral hypocrisy as opposed to somone who claims to be a devout Catholic and a practicing homosexual. No inner conflicts there Andrew.

Balfegor said...

In my experience, save a few, brief shining moments with Thatcher, British conservatism is best equated with a mindless, reactionary stand pat-ism.

That might describe Churchill or Heath, or even John Major, but it certainly doesn't square with what we know other Conservative luminaries like Disraeli, Lord Salisbury, or Lord Curzon to have been. Nor does it seem to be the case with more recent leaders, like William Hague. Granted, though, it may have been the case with Iain Duncan-Smith, and may be the case with that new man they've got -- in his case, however, it's standing pat with the new surveilled and thought-policed world Blair and Labour have forged.

Internet Ronin said...

Simon, one thing the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom of today certainly will never be accused of is "stand pat-ism." ;-)

Internet Ronin said...

johnk: One of the problems I have noticed in discussing many issues is that people often have hugely variant definitions of the terms.

Being in the closet is a very good example. While we disagree on a lot of things, I think downtownlad and I have similar definitions, while, to many others, such as Sullivan, it has a different meaning.

At the same time, given the tenor and content of his posts here, I confess that a comment by downtownlad about how he leads his own life was surprising, as it seemed remarkably similar to how I lead my own.

Simon said...

I would argue that it does. Disraeli, for example, pushed the Representation of the People Act 1867 because he believed that the voters that it duly enfranchised would reward the Tory party with a permanent majority (essentially the same principle that animates Democrats to push for amnesty for illegal immigrants today), not out of any particular egalitarian zeal. That seems in line with Burke's thinking, that sometimes you have to give a little to avoid being overwhelmed by the tide. Sooner or later, I think Disraeli realized, the working class was going to be given the vote, if not by the Tories, then by the liberals, and so it was really only a question of who would benefit from that. Disraeli saw that the Tories had the opportunity to benefit, and took it.

Ronin -
No, but "empty suit-ism" might apply. ;) What a damning indictment of a party's leader, that he is described as "Tony Blair, but without the substance." It's like being described as a cucumber sandwich, but without the cucumber or the bread.

reader_iam said...

a cucumber sandwich, but without the cucumber or the bread

Which leaves us with a garlicky, lemony spread with no place to put it! What a waste.

Cucumber Tea Sandwich Recipe

Cucumber sandwiches are still the quintessential tea sandwich recipe. No tea party recipe page would be complete without them.

1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced very thinly
Salt
3/4 cup soft butter
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
20 slices bread
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pepper to taste

Lightly salt the cucumber slices and place them in a colander to drain for 1 to 2 hours. Then combine the butter and garlic and apply to 1 side of each slice of bread. In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, olive oil, and pepper. Add the cucumber slices, coating them well. Arrange the cucumber on 10 of the bread slices, top with the other 10 slices, remove the crusts, and quarter. Serve immediately. Makes 40 tea sandwiches.

My mouth is now watering.

Joe Baby said...

I interpreted Sullivan's "vote Democrat or abstain" as a rather partisan command.

Revenant said...

I wouldn't describe Sullivan as "partisan" so much as "high-strung". People he likes are the source of all wonderfulness; people he hates are the source of all evil. It is anyone's guess who will fall into either category from year to year.

Really, you need look no further from how quickly Bush went from from the Second Coming of Winston Churchill to a military crypto-dictator once he came out in favor of the gay marriage amendment.

Internet Ronin said...

Thanks for the recipe! Sounds wonderful, but I just finished a bowl of chicken soup.

OddD said...

Did anyone else have the urge to look up Murdoch's IP and see if it originated from a small Time-magazine-sponsored office in Washington D.C.?

Too Many Jims said...

Simon,

Perhaps "lies" is too strong. How about "less than entirely forthcoming"?

Joe said...

interesting to count the number of times the words "shrill," "hysterical," "emotional," etc., get attached to mr. sullivan--not just in this comment thread, but in just about every comment thread i've ever read where he was the discussed topic.

it reminds me of the old feminist trope, that the behavior that we call "strong" in a man, makes us think a woman is a "b****"

is it possible for ANY gay man to express a forceful opinion without being called shrill? i honestly wonder.

Simon said...

Too Many Jims said...
"Perhaps 'lies' is too strong. How about 'less than entirely forthcoming'?"

That doesn't really hold up, either, because at no point was I less than forthcoming when asked about my views on ways in which this administration. In point of fact, fact, I think I've always been quite bluff about answering questions directly and honestly, both here and elsewhere.

It's a question of emphasis. In campaign season, the emphasis is on how much worse the other team is. Out-of-season, the emphasis is on ways that we need to improve our own team. That's scarcely duplicitous or dishonest.

pr9000 (paul) said...

"is it possible for ANY gay man to express a forceful opinion without being called shrill? i honestly wonder."

yes, jim, it is. in this case, though, sullivan is, has been and probably always will be shrill.

sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

pr9000 (paul) said...

darn it ... i meant joe, not jim.

LoafingOaf said...

I interpreted Sullivan's "vote Democrat or abstain" as a rather partisan command.

Good point. For this last election, Sullivan was just like Hugh Hewitt but for the Democrats. Hewitt's mantra was that a vote for any Democrat in any race is bad for the country. Sullivan's was the same in the other direction. For example, he attacked InstaPundit for voting for Corker without particularly caring about InstaPundit's compare-and-contrast of Corker vs Ford as candidates. InstaPundit was "wrong" because it was "wrong" to vote for any Republican.

But, in contrast with Hewitt, Sullivan isn't actually a Democrat and took this view just for short-term purposes.

LoafingOaf said...

Sullivan's style - particularly his self-righteousness - is almost impossible to take except in small doses. I hope after Bush is gone he'll calm down. I do think he means well and that the way he wants the country and world to be is mostly how I want the country and world to be. Just remind me never to get into a foxhole with him. When the going gets tough he'll bail on you.....

Internet Ronin said...

Hi Joe: I think it is possible for a gay man to have strong opinions and not be considered shrill. Barney Frank is a good example.

I used two of those words to describe Andrew Sullivan today, and not because he is a gay man. Sullivan is often shrill. (He demonizes his perceived enemies.) Sullivan is often emotional. (see Catholic Church, Glenn Reynolds, 2004 elections) I can even understand why some people think he verges on the hysterical (see his comments on 2006 elections and torture).

Too Many Jims said...

Simon,

I included you in the group of "partisans" and perhaps I shouldn't have. I am not about to go back and check but I take you at your word about where your comments fell. I apologize to the extent I made it personal, it was not my intent.

There were other partisans though (as there are on the left) who became unthinking shills for all things republican. Hugh Hewitt defending the Miers nomination leaps to mind but I could find other examples.

I just found it odd that under your view Sullivan apparently can't root against the team because he is an immigrant. Is a non-immigrant (e.g. Richard Viguerie) allowed to root against the team if the team is wrong?

Gerry said...

Ann,

I do believe you are not partisan. Andrew, though, strikes me as nearly completely partisan, even if his partisan allegiance is not static.

FWIW

Revenant said...

is it possible for ANY gay man to express a forceful opinion without being called shrill?

There are a number of gay men who comment here, quite forcefully, without earning a consensus opinion that they are generally hysterical, shrill, or emotional. At the national level there have been several gay men discussed in the "outing" threads, such as Foley and whoever that evangelist was, who were sharply criticized without resorting to those labels as well.

Sullivan gets those labels because he is shrill and prone to emotional hysterics -- describing America as "a thinly-veiled military dictatorship", declaring the American religious right to be the Christian equivalent of Islamists, etc.

He's a good writer, but he's never been much of a rational thinker. He's a bit like Ann Coulter or Michael Moore, only I'm pretty sure that those two are faking it.