If Obama has lost Andrew Sullivan, has he lost the Left, the Right or the Center?
For reasons that will become clear, I’ve been watching off and on to see what might happen when Obama does something that Sullivan perceives as a betrayal. The time may have come with Obama’s shocking decision to intervene in Libya.
Sullivan, who once wrote a book called The Conservative Soul from an insider’s perspective, felt the sting of betrayal from George W. Bush in 2004 and began a well-chronicled move to the Left, slashing and burning his way through conservative friends and supporters as he went. By the time of Barack “Hope and Change” Obama’s election and presidency, Sullivan’s incessantly repeated exhortations to “know hope” carried echoes of Dan Rather’s “courage” from an earlier era.
I described Obama’s rush to war in Libya as “astonishing” and “bizarre,” and Sullivan apparently has similar feelings. (One difference is that I’m actually hopeful that it might work out OK, whereas Sullivan appears more pessimistic.) Sullivan has taken to referring to his onetime idol as King Barack I, and he’s raised the specter of impeachment. Here’s a sample post from last week, with emphasis added:
I’m still absorbing this news and don’t want to vent immediately, because there is still part of me that simply cannot believe that president Obama has already ordered covert action in Libya on one side in a civil war, and is now actively discussing whether to arm that side in another chaotic Muslim country, committing the United States to yet another war against yet another tyranny simply because we can.
It’s so surreal, so discordant with what the president has told the American people, so fantastically contrary to everything he campaigned on, that I will simply wait for more confirmation than this before commenting further. I simply cannot believe it. I know the president is not against all wars – just dumb ones. But could any war be dumber than this – in a place with no potential for civil society, wrecked by totalitarianism, riven by tribalism, in defense of rebels we do not know and who are clearly insufficient to the task?
By all means keep the no-fly zone to protect unarmed civilians from brute military force. But that must be the total sum of the commitment.
Love him or hate him (and I’ve leaned in both directions), Andrew Sullivan is a towering figure in the development of blogging as a vital form of communication. His pioneering “Daily Dish,” with its barely readable white and beige text on a dark-blue background, provided thoughtful commentary on a daily basis for years before the potty-mouthed Wonkette came along to become, briefly, the best-known name in blogging.
I started following Sullivan so long ago, his blog is in the “Conservatives” folder of my bookmarks. This was back when James Taranto — one of many bloggers who now cannot stand the man — used to refer to Sullivan as his “favorite gay, Catholic Tory.” I got the Web Goddess interested in Sullivan’s writing, and then we sprang for $20 (I think that’s what it was) to get his short-lived weekly email with the inside story behind the Daily Dish.
Sullivan, former editor of the New Republic , backed Bush in the 2000 election and was a strong supporter of the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003. He started to sour on Bush because of the mismanagement of the war, and in 2004 was openly flirting with the idea of endorsing the Democratic nominee — even if it were John Kerry, whom he despised — over Bush. That deal was sealed on February 24, 2004, when Bush, after calculating that he had more to gain among evangelicals than he had to lose among the few gay people inclined to support him, endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment.
The FMA went well beyond declaring that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” (That’s still Obama’s official position, btw.) The FMA also would have eviscerated civil unions and domestic partnerships, which are a squeamish society’s well-meaning effort to provide legal protection to gay couples. Here’s the text of the amendment:
Marriage in the United States shall consist solely of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.
(The amendment failed to advance in either the House or the Senate, falling far short of the two-thirds majorities required.)
I remember being struck that day by how anguished Sullivan was over Bush’s announcement. I remember Jonah Goldberg, who at the time was largely sympathetic to Sullivan, describing Sullivan’s reaction as a “cri de coeur” (which I had to look up). But I couldn’t remember what Sullivan himself had said that day, so I went back looking for it. His actual post doesn’t seem as raw and livid as I remembered, but you can see the sense of betrayal. Excerpts:
WAR IS DECLARED: The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families. And just as importantly, he launched a war to defile the most sacred document in the land. … Those of us who supported this president in 2000, who have backed him whole-heartedly during the war, who have endured scorn from our peers as a result, who trusted that this president was indeed a uniter rather than a divider, now know the truth.
NO MORE PROFOUND AN ATTACK: This president wants our families denied civil protection and civil acknowledgment. He wants us stigmatized not just by a law, not just by his inability even to call us by name, not by his minions on the religious right. He wants us stigmatized in the very founding document of America. There can be no more profound attack on a minority in the United States – or on the promise of freedom that America represents. That very tactic is so shocking in its prejudice, so clear in its intent, so extreme in its implications that it leaves people of good will little lee-way. This president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance.
Sullivan’s blogging home has bounced from his own domain to Time to The Atlantic, and as of today he is settling in to new quarters at Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast. He’s a gifted writer who gets carried away with his passions. Somehow I don’t think his animus toward Obama will ever quite reach the level it did with Bush.