Tag Archives: Andrew Sullivan

Neutral Zones

Here’s an intemperate comment from Peter Hitchens:

“If I never again had to read or write a word about homosexuals, I would be very happy. I really don’t want to know what other people do in their bedrooms. But these days they really, really want us all to know. And, more important, they insist that we approve. No longer are we allowed to keep our thoughts to ourselves, while being polite and kind . . .”

Which brings to mind Chris Dierkes’  interesting post on religion and metaphysical neutrality. To Hitchens, letting gays be and never speaking another word on the matter is a perfectly neutral position. To Andrew Sullivan, real neutrality demands gay couples’ inclusion in heterosexual institutions (ie marriage). Who’s right? I’m not really sure, but I think this spat says something about the elusiveness of a truly neutral political arrangement. People who don’t share Andrew Sullivan’s assumptions about governance aren’t going to be convinced to support gay marriage because it’s “fair.” They’re going to be convinced when you make a case for gay marriage that emphasizes positive social goods.

I think this is why conservative critics of gay marriage are more concerned with social breakdown than social equality. If you’re convinced that the other side’s definition of fairness is not – despite all their protestations to the contrary – value-neutral, procedural appeals are always going to fall upon deaf ears.

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The Last Word

Give Andrew Sullivan credit for allowing Patrick Appel to speak his mind on the Palin issue.  The Dish has always set the gold standard for airing dissent from across the political spectrum, and I hope more people favor Sullivan’s approach to online discussion over, say, RedState’s.

As to the merits of the issue, I think Appel’s take is pretty authoritative. The scope of the supposed conspiracy around Trig’s birth is ludicrous, and multiple eye-witness accounts confirm Sarah Palin’s pregnancy. Arrayed against all this is one ambiguous photo and a confusing timeline of events. Needless to say, I find Appel’s case a lot more persuasive.

However, I remain baffled by Sullivan’s willingness to pursue this issue beyond all reasonable limits. The substantive relevance of Trig’s maternity was so minimal – and the invasion of her family’s privacy so extreme – that there was never any reason to investigate Palin’s pregnancy in the first place.

I don’t dispute the fact that blogs are useful tools for keeping campaigns and traditional media outlets honest. I also understand that the pace of blogging is faster – and therefore less considered – than a conventional news cycle. But cyberspace shouldn’t make basic courtesy obsolete. I’m sure writing this will make me a hypocrite within a matter of weeks, but whatever. Consistency is for the unimaginative and all that jazz.

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Filed under The Media, Uncategorized

So What?

Andrew Sullivan’s latest on Trig Palin’s maternity is uncomfortable reading. After wading through the muck, I’m left wondering why he feels the need to badger the poor woman over the circumstances of her son’s birth. Even if everything he says is true – the pregnancy was staged to protect her daughter; the entire story is fraudulent; the press is silently complicit – I still have no idea why we should care. If Palin is lying to protect her daughter, I have nothing but sympathy for the poor woman and her family. And after all this time, the justification behind Sullivan’s one-man inquisition is still incredibly weak:

And yet in the campaign, the pregnancy and baby were offered at every moment as a reason to vote for Palin. If the Bridge To Nowhere is worth checking out, why aren’t the pregnancy’s bizarre details? Without the Down Syndrome pregnancy, Palin would not have had the rock-star appeal to the pro-life base that contributed to her selection. She made it a political issue by holding up the baby at the convention.

To suggest that a staged pregnancy is the root of Palin’s political ascendancy is absurdly reductive. Anyone following the campaign could point to ten other reasons why she immediately connected with the Republican base.

But beyond all this is the issue of basic courtesy. Politics, of course, is a full-contact sport, and when it comes to contentious issues or even personal failings that illuminate a candidate’s character, I’m all for roughing the other team up. But when it comes to someone’s family or personal life, there are certain things that simply aren’t done. As a practical matter, making politics even less palatable by propagating mindless conspiracism is a good way to discourage civic participation, but even if this weren’t the case, I think people deserve a certain degree of privacy and respect. Basic courtesy should still apply when someone decides to run for office. Sullivan, who devotes so much time and effort to defending the dignity of historically marginalized groups, ought to know better.

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Filed under Alaska, Free Speech, Politics, The Media

Ceasefire!

Speaking of Andrew Sullivan, his latest on gay marriage is quite good:

I have nothing against the voluntary and peaceful activities of any religious group, and regard these organizations as some of the greatest strengths of America. The idea that gay people somehow want to persecute these churches, that we’re out to get you, and hurt you and punish you is preposterous. The notion that there are rampaging mobs of gay people beating up on Christians is also unhinged. To take one flash-point between a radical Dominionist group deliberately trying to rub salt in the wounds of Castro Street bar patrons after closing hours – in which no one was hurt – as the harbinger of some kind of mass gay pogrom against Christians is daffy. To equate a few drunks gays with Bull Connor is deranged and offensive. There are elements on both sides who do not represent the core. That core can coexist with mutual respect in the context of legal and civil equality.

It occurs to me that this sort of arrangement would require a great deal of restraint from both sides. No more frivolous lawsuits forcing eHarmony to open its doors to gay users. No more purportedly conservative bills that foist a one-size-fits-all definition of matrimony on the states. Can our political consensus embrace an ethic of restraint? Some hardened traditionalists have resigned themselves to the prospect of gay marriage – what they’re really worried about is preserving a sphere of autonomy to protect their deeply-held religious beliefs. I don’t think this is at all unreasonable, but it requires us to allow the other side a little breathing room.

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From Milton Friedman to Larry Kudlow

I think Nate Silver is a bit closer to unraveling the conservative psyche than Andrew Sullivan:

This might be the key passage of my interview with John Ziegler on Tuesday, for it is, in a nutshell, why conservatives don’t win elections anymore. It is not that conservatism generally permits less nuance than liberalism (in terms of political messaging, that is probably one of conservatism’s strengths). Rather, the key lies in the second passage that I highlighted. There are a certain segment of conservatives who literally cannot believe that anybody would see the world differently than the way they do. They have not just forgotten how to persuade; they have forgotten about the necessity of persuasion.

There’s a lot of truth to this, and I think it goes back to the origins of the conservative/libertarian counter-revolution. When you read something like Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style in American Politics – or even Perlstein’s excellent Before the Storm – you begin to understand how the “conservatives as outsiders” theme developed in the 1950s and ’60s. Managerial liberalism had reached its apogee; conservatism was literally thought of as a conspiratorial mindset; and most people blithely assumed that a benign liberal technocracy would persist for the indefinite future. We’re accustomed to looking back at the Civil Rights backlash and Barry Goldwater’s campaign as harbingers of Reagan and Gingrich, but to contemporaries these movements were fringe.

Conservatives have long lamented their exclusion from establishment organizations (academia, journalism etc). This isn’t an original observation, but exclusion resulted in a series of parallel conservative institutions meant to challenge the Left’s ideological dominance. For a time, these organizations flourished as intelligent, vibrant alternatives to liberal dogma. Now, however, our institutions have ossified. They’ve become accustomed to preaching to the choir rather than defending their arguments over unfavorable cultural terrain. Silver notes that Ziegler – an accomplished radio host – is usually quite poised in the studio. No surprise there – he’s talking to an audience that largely agrees with him. This is why McCain’s strategy felt so unbelievably ham-handed – attacking Obama over his purportedly socialist leanings is something that plays well in a Republican primary, not the general election. Obama is not and will never be Michael Dukakis circa 1988. The central plank of his economic recovery plan was a middle class tax cut, for God’s sake.

Contra Sullivan, these tendencies are not unique to evangelicals or a result of Bush’s noxious brand of faith-based politics. They overtake any movement whose ideas are exhausted, whose thinkers are largely uninterested in outside criticism, whose leaders are unaccustomed or unwilling to defend their ideas. In fact, the GOP’s current plight bears a striking resemblance to the disoriented Democratic Party of the 1980s. Getting outside the cocoon, acclimating ourselves to preaching at an undecided congregation rather than the ever-faithful choir, and actually grappling with constructive criticism are the best ways to correct this problem. But kicking religious voters to the curb isn’t going to do a thing to persuade undecideds that the GOP offers substantive solutions to real political problems.

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Self-Promotion

The trouble with being linked to by the Daily Dish is that my three latest posts discuss Will Smith, Greek basketball, and Morrissey (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If you’re interested in something a bit more serious, I recommend these passable entries on secession, the future of the Republican Party, and the Iraq War’s political implications (or lack thereof).

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Five Thirty Eight

Andrew Sullivan pimps Nate Silver and Co. of fivethirtyeight.com, and rightly so. Silver was an invaluable resource for polling junkies, and I hope he finds a way to repurpose his website now that the election’s over. Sullivan sees Five Thirty Eight’s success as the triumph of new media, and I suppose there’s some truth to this. I have a hard time imagining a newspaper or television network combining polling statistics, state-by-state vignettes, and razor-sharp commentary into one awesome political website. That said, it’s also worth remembering that Silver’s statistical model was entirely dependent on other people’s polling data. This doesn’t detract from his accomplishment – it’s just a healthy reminder that even new media gurus depend on traditional reporting more than we’d like to admit. It’s a fairly banal observation, but the future of internet-based media probably involves some sort of symbiotic relationship with traditional outlets. Which is basically a long way of saying that you should still subscribe to newspapers.

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Filed under The Media