Monday, October 11, 2010

Blogger of the Day: Andrew Sullivan, The Crusader

This is the first post in a new series: "Blogger of the Day." This will occur at irregular intervals — definitely not every day. With each post, I'll highlight a blogger I like. Some will be obscure enough that I might hope to give them a slight boost in traffic or visibility. Some will be so big that I can't possibly expect to give them any help. The first Blogger of the Day clearly falls into the latter category: Andrew Sullivan. (Wikipedia.)

He’s been blogging daily — on a blog he calls The Daily Dish but which everyone else just calls "Andrew Sullivan" — for exactly 10 years today. Here, he looks back on what he's proud of and "ashamed of" about that decade of blogging.

Today, he's running "Toasts or Roasts": other bloggers say what they like or don't like about his blog. So far, he's posted 16 men — including Dan Savage, Jonah Lehrer, Reihan Salam, Ezra Klein, Tyler Cowen, Marc Ambinder, and Ben Smith -- and 1 woman: my mom, Ann Althouse. She's the only who says anything critical, aside from a few others who blandly mention that they don't always agree with Sullivan. (She also describes how Sullivan's blog was responsible for her marriage.) Without her, it would have been all "Toast" and no "Roast." Good for Sullivan for including my mom's post: he didn't have to do that, but his homepage today would be pretty dull without her contribution. She concludes:

Andrew is always changing, and one could go through cycles of loving or hating him — I especially love the Andrew Sullivan of "The Great Gay Debate" — but it's not really worth getting all exercised about which Andrew Sullivan we're reading today. We keep reading.
Here's my Toast and Roast. But first, some background.

Sullivan was one of the first blogs I read on a regular basis — along with Talking Points Memo, Kausfiles, Instapundit, and Metafilter — circa 2000-2001. It's impressive that they're all still thriving, though you could also say there's a problem here: the blogs that got big early on tend to keep dominating the blogosphere. There isn't the space for some new brilliant person to come along and be a Sullivan or a Kaus or an Instapundit.

Of those 5 blogs, I still read 3 regularly: Kausfiles, Instapundit, and Metafilter. I don't read TPM much because it's no longer the same blog it was in the early 2000s. It used to be the dashed-off daily thoughts of a random journalist who had fled the American Prospect, apparently because he didn't fit neatly with that magazine's liberal orthodoxy. Josh Marshall was the kind of Democrat whose mind was flexible enough that he would praise Bush for his rhetoric in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 and offer qualified support for the Iraq war. Today, TPM is a homogeneously liberal super-blog.

And in contrast to my mom's roast/toast to Sullivan, I can't say I always keep reading him no matter how matter how much he changes. The truth is that I don't read Sullivan regularly anymore.

Oh, I'm sure his blog continues to be excellent. But he got too passionately moralistic about every issue — especially when he would flip-flop on foreign policy without bothering to dampen his moralistic fervor.

However, I have to give him credit for recognizing his own failings: he wrote an unblinking mea culpa for supporting the Iraq war. In 2008, to mark 5 years into the war, he wrote that he had committed "four cardinal sins," one of which was "narrow moralism":
I became enamored of my own morality and this single moral act. And he was a monster, as we discovered. But what I failed to grasp is that war is also a monster, and that unless one weighs all the possibly evil consequences of an abstractly moral act, one hasn't really engaged in anything much but self-righteousness. I saw war's unknowable consequences far too glibly.
Today, he says his
greatest failure by far in these ten years . . . was giving in to my legitimate but far-too-powerful emotions after 9/11 and cheer-leading for a war in Iraq that remains one of the most disgraceful, disastrous and murderous episodes in the history of American foreign policy. I was wrong - but more than wrong, I was dismissive of those who turned out to be right. Some of those I mocked I did so for the right reasons. But some I didn't listen to when I should have. All I can say is that the great virtue of this blog is that it gave me nowhere to hide. And if you read the archives, you can see my mind and soul twisting slowly in the wind of reality, as illusion after illusion fell from my eyes . . . . In many ways, you forced me. You demanded that I hold myself responsible for my errors and, yes, sins. And we did this together, you and I, in a way that no form of media had achieved before. So in the shame and error, there was some kind of achievement. At its best, that is what blogging can do.
Self-righteousness and dogmatism are generally not a perfect fit with foreign policy. Sullivan's style is what it is. It isn't perfect, as even he admits. But he has done far more good than most cheerleaders for the Iraq war by exposing and analyzing his own shortcomings in thinking about war.

But when I think of Sullivan's political voice, I won't think first about foreign policy. I'll think about the issue he showed me how to think about.

His opening remarks about same-sex marriage in that video (back in 1997, before he was a blogger) are dated. He thought Hawaii was soon to be the first state in the US with same-sex marriage; the first such state was Massachusetts in 2004, and Hawaii still doesn't have it. He didn't do a great job at predicting the future, but his message still has great resonance today.

I was going to find some choice moment of this video, transcribe it, and quote it here to draw your attention to it. But I would have felt like just transcribing the whole thing. So please, watch the whole thing. To say this is Sullivan at his best would be an understatement.

I love how he starts by giving definitions of homosexuality and heterosexuality that seem so uncontroversial as to be hardly worth explaining — and then leverages those definitions into his case for same-sex marriage (both as something that should happen and as the most important front in the gay rights movement).

Though he's often criticized as overly emotional about political issues, he took the political issue he feels the most strongly about in his life and made his case with lucid logic. He did it when it was a lot less popular than it is now, and he did it over and over.

Thank you, Andrew Sullivan. You have made a difference.

This is Andrew

UPDATE: Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for including this post as one of the "toasts and roasts" on his blog today.

(Photo of Andrew Sullivan by Trey Ratcliff.)


Peter Hoh said...

I'm pretty sure that the first time I saw Andrew Sullivan was on the Charlie Rose Show, back in the 1990s. For me, at the time, he was a complete unknown.

If I recall correctly, Sullivan made the case for marriage and military service. He put these ahead of non-discrimination in housing and employment.

This was the first time I had seen a serious argument for same-sex marriage by someone other than my cousin, and her argument for same-sex marriage was pretty lame, even though I supported same-sex marriage.

I was amazed. Not so much at the audacity of the proposal, but at the way he presented his defense of the proposal. Sullivan brought so much passion to the big round table. It was if he had prepared for the worst of a British university debate.