Andrew Sullivan: Canary in the mine

Conservative Atlantic Monthly blogger Andrew Sullivan has publicly repudiated the right.

Conservative Atlantic Monthly blogger Andrew Sullivan has repudiated the American right, finally freeing him to publicly wear these glasses.

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.

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  1. The recipe for disaster continues. I just hope the “disaster” is the right’s implosion, from which a thoughtful, serious opposition could emerge.

  2. Amen. I despise the 2-party system because it does what Sullivan describes: creates the need to back a politician who is against some of your ideals because they espouse another ideal you hold more strongly. Example: there are people opposed to abortion but are otherwise relatively liberal, and there are those who aren’t opposed to abortion who are otherwise conservative.

    I acknowledge that we all need to compromise a bit in our ideals, but the point to which we must compromise as forced by the 2-party system is terrible.

    As a veteran, I have some conservative ideals for the military (but am not for the current wars). I don’t like how some (as shown in the recent ACORN hubbub) use liberal programs as gravy trains. Do those ideals mean I should vote Republican?

    As a human, I agree with many liberal sentiments like better health and social care (though it should be debated how they are implemented). I agree that ‘big business’ has gotten out of hand and needs to be better regulated. Does that mean I should vote Democrat?

    I like how California puts some items on the ballot, but I dislike how some well-founded loonies from Utah can hijack that process (Prop 8).

    Basically, I hate how the 2-party process forces us to make a binary choice, and then the winner assumes that all of its supporters then agree with all of their issues (Bush’s 04 “mandate”). The 2-party system is 2-faced in that nature, because it promises the voter “Vote for me for this issue”, and then uses that vote to further a bunch of other issues that the voter might oppose.

    I find it humorous how right-wing extremists jump on one of Obama’s czars* quoting Mao, while refusing to acknowledge the extremism of Beck and Limbaugh.

    *Czar is a terrible term to use for a special appointee. First, there was only ever one Czar at a time, punishable by death. Second, he/she was usually a tyrant. Third, Peter the Great was an ultimate badass, where today’s dweeby appointees shame him by even using the same title. Can’t we come up with a better term? Like, “Dude”? (Obama’s Car Dude said today…) No, wait, no one could ever be as cool as The Dude, so that one’s out.

  3. I like Andrew Sullivan. He used to edit the New Republic magazine, which despite some lefties kneejerk reaction to the name, is a centrist democrat magazine. Friends used to see it on my coffee table and think it was some hawkish rag. (Of which I also like to read, the thinking being if you’re afraid to read something you don’t agree with maybe you don’t know what it is you agree with).

    Now the problem with a lot of the comments here, and the ending of this post is that there’s this sense that the political fight is against the right— my GOP member emails have been talking about the fight against the left since Bush II was on his first term— it’s what the party leaders want you to think. I’ve never agreed with this on either side.

    The fight is against our powerful government becoming corrupted, by anyone. Power corrupts. We are very powerful. We must let that be our compass, not a color or team name, for christ’s sakes. While you’re busy “fighting” your party might be becoming corrupt (which of course they are).

    That fight is real opposition and takes intellectual courage against both sides; It’s easy to hold a banner and march in a parade.

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