On Andrew Sullivan’s Non-Response

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 26, 2010

Yet another welcome to Andrew Sullivan readers. Read this.

Carly Simon’s famously mysterious paramour could at least claim that the song written to poke fun at his vanity really was about him. My post on Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer certainly made reference to Andrew Sullivan, but wasn’t about him; it was about Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. Sullivan, however, seems to think that he was a chief target, rather than a minor one. Either that, or he is just being a publicity hound, who doubtless wants more publicity. He can consider his wish granted with this post, and with what follows below.

Unfortunately, Sullivan is not as good at telling the truth as he is at getting publicity. He starts out by saying that I “[do my] best to profess ‘shock’ at some writers’ view that the Israeli government has been damaging US interests and its own survival by its policies for the past few years, and that the immensely influential pro-Israel lobby bears some responsibility for enabling this.” Well, no, that’s not quite the case. My “shock” and my disappointment comes from the fact that two former teachers of mine, esteemed and respected, are twisting themselves into pretzels to advance highly selective theories and highly dubious arguments on the issue of Israel, the Israel lobby, and the Middle East, and that they are at best, oblivious to the fact that their arguments are being used by anti-Semites to try to prove their noxious theories about Israel and Jews. I am also shocked and disappointed that Walt and Mearsheimer seem to be unwilling to disavow–repeatedly, if necessary–those who take their arguments, and try to advance them to make openly anti-Semitic comments on the Web, oftentimes, against people who seek to refute Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s arguments. This is similar to the shock and disappointment that I would feel if a pro-Israel supporter turned a blind eye to the propensity of Baruch Goldstein fans to use that pro-Israel supporter’s arguments to advance noxious views of their own. All of this shock and disappointment is genuine, and the details and reasons attendant to my shock and disappointment were discussed at length in my post.

I can’t do anything about it if Sullivan refuses to believe that my feelings of shock and disappointment are genuine, but I have to think that his deficiency in understanding the nature of my emotions is due to the fact that Sullivan does not have emotions so much as he has affectations of emotions, which he uses oftentimes to garner the sympathy of the credulous. Additionally, I understand that my post was a long one, and if Andrew Sullivan really finds it difficult these days to read long-form books and essays with his inside-voice, then perhaps we could pass the hat to buy him a warehouse of Chapstick the next time someone writes a lengthy piece that mentions him in part, thus improving the odds that he might just read the whole thing, and comprehend it. But just because Sullivan’s attention span is now about as short as a mayfly’s lifespan, that doesn’t justify him misrepresenting the arguments of another.

Sullivan notes that I never encountered any anti-Semitism on the part of Walt and Mearsheimer when I was a student in their classes. He ignores, however, my comment that “Walt has become exceedingly irresponsible in his rhetoric since the time that I knew him.” He doesn’t even take on examples of this irresponsibility which I provided. He covers his eyes when he gets to Walt’s slimy, well-poisoning attack against Jeffrey Goldberg. He doesn’t try to support or justify Mearsheimer’s selective abandonment of realist theory and the advocacy of realpolitik principles when it comes to Israel (though to be fair, this latter failure may stem from the fact that Sullivan understands as much about international relations theory as he does about obstetrics and gynecology). Again, all of this is understandable if one assumes that Sullivan’s attention span is inversely proportional to his monomania concerning, say, Trig Palin’s matrilineal line, or if one assumes that Sullivan simply doesn’t want to grapple with uncomfortable truths, truths that he cannot refute on his blog. But again, it bears emphasizing that in trying to wish away arguments inconvenient to his prejudices-of-the-day, Sullivan is just trying to mislead himself, and mislead his readers. The former is Sullivan’s business. The latter, is entirely contrary to the principles on which the Atlantic is founded, principles that Sullivan has done his best to cast to the winds ever since the magazine’s unfortunate decision to hire him as a blogger and a writer.

Next comes this:

There is no attempt to exonerate me from the Tablet’s and The New Republic’s baseless smears – but Google will do. What Pejman’s point boils down to is that we, as writers, must constantly berate any and all vile anti-Semites who try to exploit or co-opt our arguments, without our knowledge. I guess I thought that went without saying. But my own diligence against anti-Semitism, in all its forms, in my own church in particular, is well-documented and has gone back decades.

First off, I never wrote anywhere that writers like Sullivan ought to berate anti-Semites who try to exploit or co-opt the arguments of writers like Sullivan without the knowledge of writers like Sullivan. It’s silly to ask Sullivan to berate anti-Semites he doesn’t know about. It’s not silly to ask him to berate anti-Semites he does know about, however, and my objection is that Sullivan refuses to take on this latter role. This is clear from my post, but as we have seen, Sullivan has the propensity to either misunderstand simple points, or to misrepresent them.

Secondly, Sullivan’s “diligence against anti-Semitism . . . in [his] own church in particular” smacks less of philo-Semitism these days, and more of “the enemy (read: Jews) of my enemy (read: the Catholic Church)–or, at the very least, my sometime adversary (read again: the Catholic Church)–is my friend in certain blog posts.” We Jews are grateful for help, but temporary, selective help is just that and nothing more. It’s not “Righteous Amongst Nations” behavior. Sullivan balances his supposed attempt to be a chaver for the Jews by attacking “those neocons” who disagree with him on Israel as people who “have almost uniformly backed this foreign government against their own president.” Curiously, enough, some of those “neocons” are Jews, and are therefore caught up in Sullivan’s not-so-subtle intimation that they are traitors to their own country merely for disagreeing with Barack Obama and Andrew Sullivan. I am sure that Sullivan will howl with rage if one points out that his nauseating statement brings up the “dual loyalties” libel and slander used against Jews for so many centuries, but Sullivan has no one to blame but himself for the fact that his rhetoric oftentimes makes people of enlightened sensibilities feel queasy, and disgusted. Oh, and as blogospheric old-timers are aware, Sullivan has a propensity for engaging in McCarthyite smears.

Finally, we get a supposed statement of moral courage:

I will not be intimidated from examining and criticizing both the actions of the Israeli government and the lobby that does so much to enable it, against what I believe are the long-term interests of the US and the West. Neither, I suspect, will the others now routinely targeted with these lies and smears.

Recall that when Jeff Goldberg got actual, anti-Semitic hate mail, and pointed out the obvious fact that he gets said hate mail whenever the likes of Stephen Walt and Glenn Greenwald happen to link to him, Sullivan’s response was “[l]ook: I know it’s awful to read bigoted emails. And relatively new bloggers may be unused to the routine bile. But you need to accept it as part of a new media with no filters.” I didn’t devote much space to Andrew Sullivan in my post on Walt and Mearsheimer, and I stated that when it came to Sullivan, Greenwald, and Philip Weiss, “the state of their souls means very little to me.” I certainly did criticize Sullivan to the extent that I discussed him, and I was rough on him. Deservedly so, I think. But I never called him names, I never made bigoted statements about him, and I didn’t wish hateful things on him. I don’t expect a medal for acting civilized, but it is worth emphasizing that tough criticism aimed at Andrew Sullivan which does not entail any name-calling or the like, is still “intimidation” by Sullivan’s reckoning, and is therefore ripe for denunciation in melodramatic fashion on the pages of the Daily Dish without even the merest attempt to engage the substance of the criticism, and to present it honestly. Meanwhile, according to Sullivan, Jeff Goldberg is supposed to grin and bear it when Jew-haters crawl out of their sewers, and into his inbox. George Orwell, whose statement Sullivan was once pleased to feature at the top of his blog, could very easily have been describing Sullivan’s own plight when he wrote that “[t]o see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.” Thanks to Sullivan’s moral and intellectual myopia, everything even a nanometer past his nose is now engulfed by fog and mist.

  • vanderleun

    This is too much attention and concern about Sullivan. After all, you're not really dealing with much of a man here or much of an anything really.

  • BradyMoss

    I don't know if this has helped matters, Pejman. Seems Sullivan has dug his heels in deeper.

    I think Sullivan, like M & W, is a smart man who can get really sloppy really quickly in his effort to be “provocative.” His handling of Israel and race are two examples, in my view, yet his flogging of “The Bell Curve” made him a hero on the right. I hope at least some of the N.L.'s writers treated Sullivan's “Bell Curve”-related work as critically as they treat his writing on Israel, and I hope critics of Sullivan's “Bell Curve” stuff are not as “Liberal Racialist Whiners,” or somesuch thing. In turn, this relates to the audiences writers attract. Since you brought up that topic, I'd like to point out that a commenter called “vanderleun” has posted right under this article, and he sounds like the same “Vanderleun” known for making viciously misogynistic jokes (http://bit.ly/diW0U1), so excuse me if the N.L. strikes me as a conventional right-wing publication that wouldn't devote nearly as much space to the sloppiness of “The Bell Curve” as it does to the sloppiness of Stephen Walt.

    Relatedly, do you worry when Birthers try to latch on to the arguments of the mainstream right, or are those who think this President is a Kenyan Communist merely “people who disagree with Barack Obama?”

    Finally, there is a link to Sullivan's “fifth column” comment. I read that the day he wrote it and was steamed, but your link strikes me as little more than a sop to the left. After all, as a longtime Sullivan reader, I remember how you two gave each other mutual links and praise when he was Blogging independently, with that god-awful purple background. Did A.S.'s overheated rhetoric bother you when you both were on better terms?

  • kindness

    Got bigotry?

    Yes you do. That's very big of you. I'm sure your family is very proud.

  • vanderleun

    Whatever are you talking about? Do you have some rare insight to share? If so, “kindness” let it rip.

    Sullivan remains what he clearly is and as he clearly demonstrates in every single word that he or his minions post.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/HVUSSIWCTMFDIZ7QMQVB2DJBAU Kris

    “though to be fair, this latter failure may stem from the fact that Sullivan understands as much about international relations theory as he does about obstetrics and gynecology”

    Disgusting homophobia.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/HVUSSIWCTMFDIZ7QMQVB2DJBAU Kris

    On second thought, perhaps you were referring to his obsession with Trig Palin, but be careful in publicly mocking a gay man for his lack of gynecological knowledge.

  • crashfr0g

    So, just to sum up this incredible work of argument – Sullivan is gay, and dumb, and hysteric, and he was mean once a few years ago. Oh, and also when the bad people agree with you on something, it means you're wrong. If anti-Semites hate cancer, we have to love it. Right now!

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    If by “sum up” you mean “completely misrepresent,” then you did quite a good job. Very Sullivanesque, one might even say.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Congrats on getting it right the second time, but of course, there is no reason why anyone–gay, straight, man, or woman–should not be mocked for playing doctor over the Internet without the requisite medical school, internship, fellowship, and residency training.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    1. The Bell Curve is rather dated, while the current controversy isn't. Not having read the book, I am in no position to render judgment on it.

    2. To the extent that any commenter here makes offensive comments elsewhere, he/she does not represent us, and we do not in any way, shape, or form endorse the offensive comments. There; I just did more than Andrew Sullivan, Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer, Philip Weiss, or Glenn Greenwald ever did in distancing themselves from supporters who take their arguments and twist them to further appalling ends.

    3. Birthers are in no way, shape, or form, given comfort by this publication, and I bet you can't find any evidence to the contrary.

    4. My link is to show that when people disagree with Sullivan on foreign policy, he has a nasty habit of calling them traitors. As for the past, there was a time in which Sullivan and I agreed on the issues of the day. He is free to change his mind–many have in the past decade–but dishonest argumentation is not excused, and I certainly never endorsed calling people who disagreed with me on Afghanistan and Iraq “traitors.”

  • BradyMoss

    1. Fair enough.
    2. Let me rephrase: why do you think it is that a misogynist feels comfortable posting at your site? One of my takeaways from your writing on Sullivan, your old professors, Weiss and Greenwald has been that you hope the five men at least stop to ask why they get some of the e-mail, visitors and wall posts that they do, yet on some level, you've failed to do the same.
    3. I didn't ask you if Birthers are given comfort by N.L., I asked if it bothers you when they latch onto the mainstream right, and/or their arguments. Many of Sullivan's “Malkin Awards” have been directed at Birthers like the mainstream conservative Andrew McCarthy (of NRO) and racists like Mark Williams-who was, until recently of course, a player in the Tea Party, no matter what some on the right like to say. It is, therefore, dishonest to say that Sullivan hands out awards to people who “say things he doesn't like.” Do I hope he slaps such “awards” on anti-semites? Yes. He has focused on the European variety (some British ugliness comes to mind.), and that might have to do with a sense of duty to his old continent. One can even make the argument that anti-semitism is rising faster in Europe than in America. Perhaps that's his view. I'm just not sure what he can say about American anti-semitism now that he hasn't said in the past. He certainly once cracked down on it very hard when it came from the left leading up to the Afghanistan & Iraq wars. He has condemned John Hagee's anti-semitism and went after the president for his Farrakhan response in the Cleveland debate.

    A final point on all this: you balk that Sullivan often tries to make his “awards” represent the right generally. Not four months ago, John Avlon, who once wrote speeches for a certain famous Republican, reported on a Harris poll (http://bit.ly/d0azCd) in which 57% of Republicans said they think the President is a Muslim, 67% of Republicans said they think he is a Socialist, and 45% said they are Birthers. Yes, this is one poll, but don't tell me those numbers aren't large or a problem.

    4) I'm glad you don't endorse calling those who disagree with you on the wars traitors, but by your own standard, you should have either called Sullivan out at the time or stopped linking to him altogether.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    1. I don't know why any misogynists might feel comfortable posting here, given that we don't traffic in misogyny, or write posts that would allow misogynists to take our views, and distort them to further bad-intentioned ends.

    2. It certainly bothers me when Birthers latch on to the mainstream Right, which is why I have said that the Birther movement is silly at best. Repeatedly. This is more than Walt, Mearsheimer, Sullivan, Weiss, and Greenwald have done to distance themselves from anti-Semites who take comfort from their arguments. Of course, we have written nothing here to give the Birther movement comfort.

    3. The Right is not immune from criticism, but neither should it be subjected to accusation by generalization. Your poll results don't change that fact.

    4. Whether I called Sullivan out at the time is lost to memory, alas; my blogs at the time don't exist now, so I don't know whether I did. Of course, the situation is not apposite; I have asked Walt, Mearsheimer, Weiss, Sullivan, and Greenwald to call out people who expressly ally themselves with arguments the five of them have made, and advanced them–while citing to the five of them–to further racist ends. I didn't ask them to write blog posts every time the five–or one of the five–disagreed with something someone else wrote somewhere that is unrelated to, or does not in any way echo what Walt, Mearsheimer, Weiss, Sullivan, and Greenwald have written. There is a difference.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    I’d respond to this, but I am not sure that it is in English.

  • crashfr0g

    It's true that this article is such a masterpiece of unmitigated fallacious bullshit that my own meager bullshit-generating abilities pale in comparison.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    I'd respond to this, but I am not sure that it is in English.

  • crashfr0g

    Sorry, I should have guessed from your writing that I would need to dumb it down for you.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    When you want to make a substantive comment, let me know. Thus far, you have just been throwing a temper tantrum. And it's not even compelling.

  • BradyMoss

    3. The point of that poll is that a clear majority of Republicans believe wacky things about the President. A majority. I think it's difficult to escape generalizations when majorities believe in conspiracy theories. A not-insignificant number of Democrats believe 9/11 was an “inside job,” but that number is not a majority. Ask yourself how much generalizing there'd be on the right, maybe even in the whole mainstream media, if that number got to a majority. I'm currently a Democrat, but I would not want to be in a party that allowed that to happen to itself.

  • CSBadeaux

    You do understand that a poll is not, in fact, a proof, right? If you do, then what you say after that first sentence is disingenuous at best. If you do not, then you perhaps need to come back when you've actually taken the time to understand the point of a poll, and this one in particular.

    I rather doubt that “a not-insignificant number of Democrats believe 9/11 was an 'inside job,'” for much the same reason I doubt anything within spitting distance of a majority of Republicans believe the President is a Muslim non-American. Americans are a fairly sensible group, and, I know this will surprise you, Republicans are definitionally Americans.

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