Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Andrew Sullivan game continues

Read Andrew Sullivan's blog The Daily Dish long enough and you'll notice that he periodically feels a need to strongly distinguish himself from mainstream conservatism while still claiming a conservative identity. Think of him as the conservative movement's equivalent of France: a nominal ally who can't understand why he gives the impression of undermining the movement by articulating a rival, heterodox position. So whenever Andrew Sullivan rolls out a new, improved conservative movement, it inevitably generates a buzz of blogging over whether Andrew Sullivan is a true conservative.

The latest iteration in the game is Andrew Sullivan's claim that he has been written out of the movement by Ramesh Ponnuru of The National Review. Evolutionblog has an excellent excellent comparison of Ponnuru's column and Sullivan's response. Unfortunately, Evolutionblog doesn't realize that a game is being played here, so he falls for Sullivan's latest indictment of Right-wing conservatives hook, line, and sinker:
Why do no serious conservatives regard Sullivan as a fellow traveller? Because he has been very critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq and has consistently opposed the attempts by religious extremists to turn this country into a theocracy. But sadly, pandering to religious conservatives and expressing fanatical loyalty to Bush represent the sum total of Republican politics these days.

I frequently disagree with Sullivan, but I usually find him thoughtful and interesting. It's unsurprising that people like him are no longer welcome on the American political Right.
To dispose of Sullivan's case, here's an excerpt from The National Review's Jonah Goldberg arguing that Andrew Sullivan is a conservative:
In the world we live in today, to be an American conservative requires two complementary forms of argumentation: skepticism about the new and faith in the old. You must have both to be a conservative of any stripe. Which new things you’re skeptical about and which old things you revere distinguish the kind of conservative you are. I think, unlike many readers, that by this criteria alone Sullivan is a conservative.

All conservatives must put their shoulder to the river to protect what they hold dear from the rush of change. My chief complaint about Sullivan is that the little pocket of turf he wishes to keep dry is just too small and can’t be protected from the deluge without a much bigger dam.
Perhaps what drives conservatives crazy about Andrew Sullivan is the way that he tends to recycle Democratic Party talking points into conservative principles from time to time. For instance, observe the way that he uses President Bush's "incompetence" in waging the conflict in Iraq. What Sullivan and Democrats tend to forget is that pratically every war in United States history has had its share of incompetence.

President Kennedy's assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam is one of the greatest blunders any president has ever made. The first thing Lyndon Johnson did when he was elected Senator was to dig up "incompetence" in the prosecution of the Korean War. Of course, Lyndon Johnson was using Harry Truman as a model, since Harry Truman managed to use a similar function in the Senate during World War II to convince President Roosevelt to promote him to Vice-President.

The list goes on and on. Every high school student learns about military "blundering" during the Spanish-American War (although nobody seriously believes that the war would have gone perfectly if only we had elected Democrat William Jennings Bryan instead of Republican William McKinley). President Lincoln's problems in waging the Civil war have become legendary. Even General Washington was a whisker away from losing the Revolutionary War in 1776 until he managed to win the Battle of Trenton.

Another example is Sullivan's echoing of the Democratic party's charge of "monarchism" as a summation of various Administration wrongdoings while remaining blissfully ignorant of the fact that, to quote Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, "the Morals of the Author of the letter to Mazzei cannot be pure".

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