We here in the Combat! offices read Andrew Sullivan a lot, but we don’t get to link to him as often as we’d like to, probably because he doesn’t spend enough time saying things that are completely insane. A Tory transplant from the UK, Sullivan has identified as a conservative for most of his career, despite his sexual preference (dudes) and his tendency to support centrist Democrats in second-term Presidential elections (Bush-to-Clinton, Bush II-to-Kerry.) Basically, Sullivan’s conservative principles guide his political affiliations, not the other way around. Until Tuesday, he’d managed to lean left and right while remaining publicly aligned with the Republican side of the American political spectrum. All that changed with this blog post, in which Sullivan announces that he can no longer support “the movement that goes by the name ‘conservative’ in America.” His public repudiation of the American right—and, by implication, the GOP—is seismic coming from a man who prides himself on being “of no party or clique.” It’s also an indicator of how far the Republican Party has drifted from anything that an informed, reasonable American who is not himself a politician would want to endorse.
Sullivan cites this testament from Charles Johnson as his inspiration for formally resigning from the America right. It’s not nearly as thoughtful or articulate as Sullivan’s own apology, but it distills the creeping insanity of a party whose solution to every political problem is to move further and further away from the center. We’re talking about a group of people that considers Rush Limbaugh a serious analyst, here, and increasingly courts the uninformed, jingoistic base of Glenn Beck. When Sullivan says that “I cannot support a movement that would back a vice-presidential candidate manifestly unqualified and duplicitous because of identity politics and electoral cynicism,” he captures the two most frightening aspects of the contemporary Republican Party: 1) They consider winning elections more important than elevating the best among them to power and 2) They regard folksy idiots as the best way to win elections.
That second item, as we have discussed before, evinces a pretty grim assessment of the American people. Back when the Tea Party wing was nothing more than a useful source of footage for Fox News, nobody had to worry about fulfilling the impractical urges of a Ron Paul or a Glenn Beck. Now, though, the lunatics occupy an increasing number of lower-level staff positions in the asylum, and ostensibly serious political candidates have to reckon with the mutually exclusive demands that they lower taxes, balance budgets and continue to run functional governments. Consider last week’s election in Nassau County, in which long time county executive Thomas Suozzi lost his seat to little-known Republican Thomas Mangano, who ran under the banner of the invented-for-that-election Tax Revolt Party. Mangano harnessed voter resentment of property taxes, which are inordinately high in Nassau. Unfortunately, the portion of those property taxes over which Mangano’s office actually has control only comes to 16%—the rest comes under the budgetary direction of school districts and “special taxing entities” like fire and sanitation departments. In a campaign that Newsday called “idea free,” Mangano promised to cut spending, somehow, and repeal an energy tax that would leave the country with a $40 million hole in its budget. Perhaps his plan is to eliminate schools, fire departments and garbage pickup. That would certainly help Nassau County resemble 18th-century Boston.
Mangano’s pyrrhic victory illustrates the problem of an American right that has become dominated by commentators instead of statesmen. Sean Hannity can talk about eliminating the federal income tax and winning the war in Afghanistan all he wants, because he doesn’t have to come up with a trillion dollars to pay for it. When asked what specific spending they want to cut, his audience can answer “all of it,” because they are protected from the responsibilities of leadership by their own stupidity. When the leading voices of American conservatism are competing for an audience, not an electorate, they can make whatever ridiculous claims they want. The bloggers, radio hosts and television heads have colluded with their audience to create a conservative discourse that is completely divorced from the practical concerns of governance. From here, it’s a race to see who can be the most adamantly anti-tax, the most extremely anti-spending, the most vehemently pro-war. Throw in a little gay-baiting and religious paranoia, and you’ve got a recipe for winning elections and losing the ability to govern.
Andrew Sullivan is smart enough to realize that you can’t stop paying for your cake and use it to blow up Iraq, too. He knows the biggest threat to the future of this country isn’t dudes who love each other or imaginary communists selling health insurance. It’s a major political party, funded by the wealthiest among us and directed by our most mendacious, harnessing the power of ignorance to convince the nation that government is just a game. Welcome to the other side of the war, Mr. Sullivan. We needed you badly.