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High On His Own Supply

"To keep one creed's a task grown quite Herculean / Is it not so, my Tory ultra-Julian?" Byron was poking fun at the mercurial mediocrity Bob Southey. Andrew Sullivan deserves better. As it happens, I agree with him when he … Read More

By / November 15, 2006

"To keep one creed's a task grown quite Herculean / Is it not so, my Tory ultra-Julian?"

Byron was poking fun at the mercurial mediocrity Bob Southey. Andrew Sullivan deserves better. As it happens, I agree with him when he says that his principles haven't changed since 9/11, that he's only lost his illusions about the president's credibility, competence and morality. This is a pretty humble claim to make and it by no means distinguishes Sullivan. Every exiting administration official and neoconservative policy adviser now feels the same way, no matter how the National Review's masthead and Hugh Hewitt squawk and squeak to the contrary.

However, any regular reader of Sullivan's blog will have noticed a coarsening of rhetoric and a tendency toward solipsism over the last few months. Where he used to be thoughtful, if a touch triumphal in his salvos against the idiotic and improvisational left, he's now become whiny and shrill. Most days find him taking refuge as the lone defender of a conservative Bastille that's being stormed by religious reactionaries, Republican sell-outs, and blinkered toadies. I wish I could say the degeneration has been wholly a matter of style and not substance, but even the latter has suffered, too.

Among Sullivan's more collapsible claims is that real American conservatism is the yield of some felicitous mind-meld between Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, forgotten heirs to a tradition that's been hijacked by big-government "Christian socialists." Never mind that Goldwater toyed with a nuclear-driven eschatology in a way that would make Jerry Falwell and James Dobson quiver like Egyptian aspen. And never mind that Reagan was the one to enlist Sullivan's bete noir, the Christian Right, into the ranks of the GOP "base," stealing the revivalist thunder of that more awe-shucks and self-doubting evangelical, Jimmy Carter.

There is also Sully's shabby moral equivalence between the United States' shameful greenlighting of torture and the Soviet slave labor system, as grimly portrayed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I won't eat up too much bandwidth here going over why such a Column A/Column B comparison fails on historical and intellectual levels; anyone interest in seeing the true extent of the Stalinist "sewer system," which Andrew thinks has transplanted itself to Cuba and Iraq and Eastern Europe, may click here.

As the leading political blogger, not to mention one of the first, Sullivan is more than entitled to defend himself against the chorus of Jonah Goldbergs, just as he's perfectly justified in hawking his new book on his site. But maybe he should limit the frequency of his posts. I don't think he'll outdo this observation in the next half hour:

As for the vitriol thrown in my direction, I may be beoming a useful Emmanuel Goldstein figure for the "movement."

If he does say so himself. Goldstein (modeled on Trotsky, by the way: how's that for a take-back-the-right analogy?) wasn't able to retaliate against Big Brother because he was a chimera, invented by the state to give its mind-blanked citizenry a distraction from their own miserable condition. Sullivan regularly takes aim against those who are now taking aim at him, and this does not a martyr make. If anything has been lost in the kind of Oakeshottian conservatism he advocates, it's the stiff upper lip and the ability to celebrate the individual without reducing him to a walking morality tale.

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