John Schwenkler wades through the muck so you don’t have to. All I can think to write is that I’m genuinely saddened by Sullivan’s descent into tabloid trash. The Daily Dish was my introduction to the blogosphere. Although Sullivan has become incredibly link-happy of late, he remains one of the better writers out there (despite some notable lapses). I also admire him for forthrightly admitting his mistakes on Iraq and, at a time when he could have coasted on the strength of his traffic numbers, endorsing a “fringe” presidential candidate because of his anti-war convictions. His writings on torture are absolutely indispensable.
The fast pace of blogging doesn’t lend itself to self-censorship or careful reevaluation, so my threshold for outrage or disgust is substantially higher than it would be otherwise. But the Palin pick has driven Sullivan into hysterics. After a tentatively favorable initial reaction, he abruptly decided that Palin represented a continuation of the worst aspects of the Bush Administration. All things considered, this isn’t an unreasonable take, but the attacks on her personal life are tasteless and entirely irrelevant to her conduct as a public official.
I read and enjoy a lot of bloggers, but Sullivan’s diary had a profound influence on my own political worldview. The Daily Dish is almost single-handedly responsible for introducing me to dissident conservatism and libertarianism. I imagine there are a lot of other people out there like me, who – disenchanted with conventional liberalism and disgusted by the excesses of the Bush Administration – were looking for a Third Way. For me, Sullivan was the Third Way for quite some time.
So yeah, I’ll still read The Dish. But it pains me to find myself nodding along to The Corner whenever they tut-tut Sullivan for his latest attack on Palin’s personal life (The implicit message being, of course, that they were right all along about his “hysterical” response to torture, the war etc.). For what it’s worth, I heartily endorse this old post from Alan Jacobs at The American Scene in the fervent hope that one of my favorite authors will soon come to his senses:
So I’d love for Andrew to make a New Year’s resolution: to develop a scale of disagreement, instead of simply writing people off once they cross that invisible line; to (this is putting the same point in another way) respond to people’s actual ideas rather than caricaturing them with simplistic all-purpose terms of abuse. Given his great (and well-earned) influence, he could provide a real service to his readers and to the public sphere by abandoning this one bad habit.
UPDATE II: Sullivan sallies forth to defend his honor:
I know this puts me out of the mainstream of acceptable Washington opinion. But let me just remind Alex that doubting the existence of Saddam’s WMDs put some people out of the mainstream of acceptable Washington opinion. Would the world be a better place if those people had refused to be silenced or intimidated? Would America be a better place if reporters and bloggers resistant to the universal consensus brought all their questions to the table and refused to shut up and kow-tow to the forces of Rove and his acolyte, Schmidt?
It should go without saying that comparing tasteless, irrelevant speculation about Palin’s personal life to the WMD fraud trivializes the failures of the Bush Administration. I should also mention that politics is a full-contact sport, and that the Obama campaign is guilty of its fair share of whoppers.
The worst part about this mindless rumor-mongering is that it detracts from the real case against Palin. No, she’s not a pathological liar, but she is incredibly inexperienced, has few fully-formed opinions on several crucial issues, and is evidently willing to mindlessly absorb the McCain camp’s worst talking-points. Isn’t that reason enough to question her fitness for the vice-presidency?