Andrew Sullivan: a post-mortem

I’ve written enough about St. Andrew over the years, the first political writer whose work I followed online, one of the first writers, period (Charles Taylor of Salon was another before I lost interest, for many of the same reasons). I won’t retract this sentence written in 2011: “These days Sullivan exists for me as a metonym for an hour-by-hour mastication of sociopolitical currents: free of id, not without humility, given to boyish crushes on leaders who radiate granitic moderation or, alternately, leaders whose “boldness” he can pimp as contrarianism.”

When The New Republic announced it was going to meet its corporate reward in December, the breathlessness with which he defended his legacy as editor didn’t surprise me. Well, TNR was rancid and dangerous in 1993; it had been since the eighties. To hire an openly gay Englishman with posters of Thatcher and Reagan in his kitchen was an inevitable move, a bit like Hitchens defending the persuasiveness of Doug Feith’s prose during the nadir of Gulf War II. Farce reminding me that it’s farce.

But I didn’t know that during Sullivan’s tenure the tobacco lobby in essence commissioned a hit piece on Bill Clinton’s health care bill:

But it was in 1994 that Andrew Sullivan’s recklessness and media fraud went berserk. First, he published a devastating three-part series destroying President Clinton’s universal health care legislation, articles that are generally considered the reason why “Hillarycare” failed to pass. The author, a Republican operative from the right wing Manhattan Institute named Betsy McCaughey, had secretly prepared her articles in cooperation with Philip Morris (much of Hillarycare coverage was to be funded by hiking tobacco taxes). McCaughey’s article, “No Exit,” won for The New Republic that year’s National Magazine Award. However, her articles were complete frauds; not journalism, but the very opposite of journalism: Tobacco industry propaganda designed to kill off health care for Americans in order to protect big tobacco profits.

Mark Ames, author of this story, includes plenty of bloodcurdling links. Read them. A garrulous Catholic who observes the sacrament of Reconciliation with the confessional door open, Sullivan has never stopped apologizing for his stupefying endorsement of every manly thing Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld said between 2001 and 2003. The Dish’s epigraph was once “Freedom means freedom for everyone,” a typical Cheneyism revered by a man who claims to love Oakeshott and Burke. Read any random post from that dark time. Who the fuck was he trying to be — Bill Kristol’s speechwriter? Sample:

I biked past a rather pathetic figure in Dupont Circle this afternoon. barely old enough to grow a beard, this poor soul was wearing a large cardboard placard: “Ashamed American.” Ashamed. Ashamed of the liberation of a people from an unspeakable tyrant. It’s a form of self-hatred and inverse liberalism that truly boggles the mind.


Blair also spelled out with stunning clarity the absolute vacuousness of the notion that we have been engaged in a “rush to war.” This wasn’t a Churchillian speech. It was a lawyer’s brief, backed by a Christian faith, a faith mocked by many, but a faith that can still see evil where others prefer not to look.

Rereading this shit was dreary — a nerd begging for the quarterback’s attention.

It’s possible Sullivan doesn’t rankle as often these days because he’s got a staff — believe me, I’ll take “A Poem for Sunday” and ruminations on de Chardin over Obama-inspired spittle. Evaluating a fifteen year legacy shouldn’t be reductive. His protean shifts in tempo, tone, and subject never bored me. He was the first to make a living out of this crap. But journalism has taught me first isn’t best.

2 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan: a post-mortem

    1. He’s committed to the apology as a first principle, although as Arendt once wrote about Christian charity if you have to tell people about it then you’re not being very Christian.

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