Trying (Again) to Explain Things to Andrew Sullivan

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 29, 2010

Yes, I know that some of the people who bother commenting to this post will reprimand me for wasting time reading the Inspector Javert of Trig Palin’s matrilineal line, but as I have maintained before, and continue to maintain, Sullivan remains influential, which means that it remains a necessity to push back against his more silly arguments.

So, in response to this post, which is part of a blogfight between Sullivan, and his Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg . . .

1. Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin are not neoconservatives. There is nothing whatsoever that is “neo” about their conservatism. Merely wanting a war with Iran (if indeed they do) does not qualify one to be called a neoconservative. Indeed, it is abuses of the term “neoconservative” like the one Sullivan (regularly) engages in that caused Jonah Goldberg to beg that the word be eliminated from our political lexicon. No such luck, alas, at least as long as the Atlantic’s resident sophist has anything to say about the matter.

2. One can certainly point out, without any fear of contradiction whatsoever, that (a) Arab dictators need to liberalize their domestic political environments, and that (b) Arab dictators, whatever their shortcomings in the field of democracy, may well be correct in perceiving the security threat posed by Iran’s desire to gain a nuclear arsenal, leading to their belief that such a threat ought to be responded to via military means. Now, of course, one can also state that at this point in time, a military strike will do more harm than good. I happen to hold that latter opinion, and so does Jeffrey Goldberg (which, of course, means that Sullivan misrepresented Goldberg’s position by claiming that Goldberg believes that “the US should take [the] advice [of Arab dictators] on launching a war against Iran”). But there is no possible inconsistency found in stating both that Arab dictators need to liberalize, and that, in Goldberg’s words, “Arab regimes supports the muscular confrontation of Iran by the West, [and] it is not just Israel that seeks to pull America into a fight with Teheran.” The two points don’t even coincide. Indeed, they are barely related to each other, save the use of the word “Arab.” One wonders why anyone even has to waste time showing how both of these points could be maintained without violating any laws of logic, but nowadays, Andrew Sullivan shows a practiced indifference to the need to hold more than one thought in his head at the same time, even when the multiple thoughts do not necessarily oppose one another.

This leads to Point 3: Andrew Sullivan is singlehandedly wrecking the image of the Atlantic. Perhaps those in charge of the magazine would like to do something about that, before the damage is irreparable.

Assuming, of course, that it is not irreparable already.

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  • John

    Pej, Pej, Pej. Will you never learn? Sullivan remains influential precisely because people like you, always with the admirable intention of giving ol’ excitable Andy the most benevolent reading possible, find that it remains a necessity to push back against his more silly arguments. Where you see a diminished necessity, you will also see diminished influence.

  • Erick Erickson

    Excellent post. The problem of course is that Sullivan brings in so much traffic that I suspect the Atlantic cannot afford to lose him.

  • Anonymous

    I think that the Atlantic people decided long ago that Randy Andy’s long distance tiff with Sarah was good for the magazine, no matter how strange it looked to the general public. It does no good to legitimize Trig Trutherism, but there you have it

  • Phelps

    My only disagreement is that Andy has lots of help in wrecking the image of the Atlantic right now.

  • Phelps

    (Accidental triple post)

  • Phelps

    (Accidental double post)

  • Sweetbriar

    I did not renew my subscription several years ago because of Mr. Sullivan’s redirection of the magazine. I’m sure others have as well.

    • Anonymous

      Same here

    • Anonymous

      Ditto — wrote them with my cancellation letter that I would be glad to consider resubscribing once they severed all ties with Sullivan.

  • Abde

    I got to the point where he described an attack on Iranian nuclear sites as “World War III” and gave up.

    • Anonymous

      Wow, you are a patient person. I gave up when he declared the Vietnam War the personal property of John Kerry and insisted that any veteran who served there clear his experiences with the Kerry campaign before airing them publicly.

  • Steve

    Good points, except for one: How is Sullivan influential? For example, his obsession with amphimixis and the Palins hasn’t influenced either government, policy, or the culture at large and the same can be said of his dust-ups with Goldberg over Israel and antisemitism. In the later, if anything, he’s tried – unsuccessfully – to be a participant in the sometimes acrimonious debate between Mearsheimer, Walt, Goldberg, Weisberg and others; in that, he’s not even a bit player in so far as he barely parrots views expressed by others. I’m hard pressed to think of anything new that he has contributed since “Virtually Normal”.

    • SeanP

      I have to agree. Its been awhile since I’ve waded over to the fever swamps of the Daily Kos but unless their view of Sullivan has changed enormously, even they don’t respect him. Lefties of almost all stripe still hold a grudge over some of the things he said about liberals from 2001-2004, even Greenwald (the one exception to that rule) seems to be getting tired of him. His “fundraising” drives have become a joke on both sides of the blogosphere, and even the Journolisters thought the Trig truther conspiracy stuff was nonesense (and the fact he didn’t know this shows he still isn’t welcome into that leftie club, now matter how much ass he tried to kiss). The Atlantic hosts him but I suspect they think of him as less their Edward Murrow and more their Helen Thomas.

  • William Dix

    Sullivan’s Palin obsession has descended to a level that is farcical. In fact each time I’ve even looked at one of his posts I find myself wondering why they pay him at all…

    Also let me observe that unlike the other Atlantic bloggers and columnists he does not allow comments on his posts…

  • Jprimmer

    Dear Mr. Yousefzadeh: I was a dedicated reader of Sullivan immediately after 9/11 and up to his flight from support of the Iraq war. I even sent money whenever he pleaded for it, in one case sending him 50 bucks just as he was pulling the covers over his head out of the mere overwhelmingness of it all.

    I am one who has frequently invoked the “Why does anyone read Sullivan anymore?” refrain. You’ve changed my mind, for two reasons. First, as you point out, for some reason he seems to still be read, so he needs to be responded to. Second, the responses from thoughtful readers such as Peter Wehner (whose brilliant chronicle of Sullivan’s contortions on Iraq is a classic) and you, have maneuvered him, using his own words, into clown status.

    Your summary statement that “Sullivan is singlehandedly wrecking the image of the Atlantic” captures the situation as clearly as can be. The publication has always had flaws, and serving as the lifelong platform for James Fallows has kept it out of the top rung. But at least Fallows believes in a few things and is somewhat consistent in his arguments. And Atlantic had the offsetting influence of Michael Kelly, Mark Steyn and other stalwarts over the years. There are still other great contributors, but few have the stature to overcome the stench coming from The Daily Dish, or whatever it’s called these days.

  • Astro

    “…a practiced indifference to the need to hold more than one thought in his head at the same time,…”

    ‘…at a time,…’ would make more sense.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed that, because he has a large readership, Sullivan is still influential. The question is, why? How could so many people functional enough to maintain everything required to have regular internet access fail to notice how petty, hypocritical and nonsensical Andrew Sullivan has become?

    Sure, his blog was once indispensable, but the years between then and now are adding up.

  • Lynklly8

    The major question here is, WHY does Andrew Sullivan remain influential? The man is nuts.

    • Anonymous

      Because his insanity is of a sort politically useful to various people, who will happily pretend he’s not nuts.

      Especially given that they can squint, cross their eyes, and pray really hard and call him “a conservative”.

  • Anonymous

    The Atlantic has an image?

    I mean, I suppose that historically it must, but it never occurs to me and I’m not sure what its image was or notionally is.

    Do they still have a print edition? I reckon they must, but… I can’t recall the last time I ever looked at a magazine rack other than to see if the local store still carried the Shotgun News to check gun prices.

  • Anonymous

    “Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin are not neoconservatives.”

    Oh, I don’t know. You’ve written this line without really fleshing out what you think Cheney & Palin’s conservatism actually is. I think one can concede that a case can be made that the two are neocons, without agreeing with that case. You and Goldberg seem to think there’s no case to be made. A short one might be this: Joe Lieberman and Randy Scheunemann are neoconservatives AT LEAST on the foreign policy front. The former tutored Palin during the campaign, the latter still advises her.

    Then there’s Cheney. Longtime colleagues like Brent Scowcroft have spoken at length on a noticeable change in his worldview. Scowcroft is a pretty standard-issue “realist” who, even though I find him disagreeable on most things, is an intelligent man. I think if a traditional realist can argue Cheney once was a realist, a case can be made he’s gone from realist to neoconservative. Again, one needn’t agree with that case.

    • Anonymous

      Adding: I am not one of those loonies that think ethnicity has anything to do with Lieberman and Scheunemann being Neocons. The latter has been with PNAC, and Joe has been on the likes of the Committee on The Present Danger, certainly a hawkish group.

      • Pejman Yousefzadeh

        1. Merely because Palin was tutored by neoconservatives does not mean that she is a neoconservative; indeed, Palin may well be so confused on philosophical issues that she does not quite know what she is, or why.
        2. I am aware of Scowcroft’s statement concerning Cheney, but in fact, Cheney has been remarkably ideologically consistent throughout his life. The difference between Cheney as a Chief of Staff to Ford, or as a Secretary of Defense to Bush the Elder, on one hand, and Cheney as Vice President on the other, is that as a Constitutional officer, Cheney had a broader set of powers, and could therefore more easily implement policies that coincided with his philosophical leanings. In any event, as a small-government conservative devoted to free markets, and as a national security-first figure, Cheney was a conservative, but not a neoconservative. To be sure, Cheney–and a whole host of other non-neoconservatives–used and uses Wilsonian rhetoric to discuss American foreign policy goals and aims, but as Henry Kissinger points out, American leaders are compelled to sell even realpolitik policies via the use of Wilsonian rhetoric, since the American public’s view of an ideal foreign policy is in accord with the Wilsonian vision.

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