Jay Reding.com

How Not To Win Friends And Influence People

Jonah Goldberg has an excellent response to an ad hominem attack by Andrew Sullivan that exposes just why Sullivan’s descent into cheap invective is so distressing. As Goldberg puts it:

My blog posts are not debated sections to some party platform of the Third International, each syllable pregnant with tactical and ideological import. The old Andrew would recognize this.

But the new Andrew has a fevered and extremist mind. He takes the positions of zealots of all stripes that if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem. There’s no space for not caring as much as he does, for not picking sides, for believing that the little platoons of life will fix problems without dragging the state into it or politicizing everything. So, even though I favor gay unions, shun the demonization of gays, ground my arguments against gay marriage firmly in small-c, skeptical conservative, Burkean arguments about the pace of change, and — as he knows — personally treat gays with nothing but respect, I am now nothing more than a nimble enabler of gay bigotry. Despite the plain and obvious meaning of my radio silence comment staring all fair-minded people in the face, he chooses to read my mind and paint me as some sort of Trotskyite strategist, terrified of exposing the internal contradictions of the “Christianist” movement. And, at the same time, he sees nothing wrong with demonizing me as morally stunted for taking a humane, rational, centrist position. Indeed, to the extent I have some grand strategy on the issue of homosexuality (though it is neither grand nor really a strategy so much as a sentiment) it is simply this: to vent some of the heat from the issue on both sides. But, yes, yes I am the extremist, cynically doing the bidding of other extremists.

Andrew Sullivan used to be one of the best spokespeople the gay rights movement had — he was persuasive, patient, and rational. The new Andrew Sullivan is none of those things — instead, he’s another vitriolic black-and-white fanatic who calls anyone who doesn’t agree with his position a “Christianist” — which despite his weak arguments to the contrary, is most assuredly an attempt to tie them in with Islamist radicals.

The fact that he refers to National Review Online editor Kathryn-Jean Lopez as a “theocrat,” dismissed all of Ramesh Ponnuru’s arguments in his book (unfortunately titled but still well-argued) Party of Death, and now is attacking Jonah Goldberg for taking what is a very reasonable and truly conservative position on the gay marriage issue all show why he’s such an extremist these days.

The more Sullivan speaks, the more opposition I tend to have towards gay marriage. If this is the way that gay marriage advocates act, then I’m not willing to support them. And I’m someone who was fine with the idea of civil unions and giving gay couples equitable rights to their straight counterparts. Yes, I have moral issues against homosexuality, but I have moral issues against a number of things that I don’t believe the government has any business regulating. However, the more and more it becomes clear that gay rights advocates want more than just equitable rights, but sweeping social change, the less I’m inclined to support them.

Cases like the recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in Lewis v. Harris make it clear that gradualism just doesn’t fly any more — states either have to outright ban gay marriages and civil unions, as Ohio did, or face the fact that the slippery slope is quite real and the sort of social gradualism that would make the issue of gay unions less contentious is now unavailable thanks to judicial activism. The sort of gradual social experimentation that could produce the sort of social change that a Burkean conservative would support isn’t palatable to radicals like Sullivan — he wants his recognition, and he wants it now.

When Sullivan starts attacking people who agree with him on key issues because they’re not vociferous enough for his tastes, he’s more likely to lose support than to gain it. This isn’t how you win people to your arguments, it’s how your alienate everyone who doesn’t already agree with you. The old Andrew Sullivan was wise enough to understand that, the new one seems not to care.

10 responses to “How Not To Win Friends And Influence People”

  1. Erica says:

    Why are you obsessed with trashing Andrew Sullivan? Especially with things that aren’t true?

    The new Andrew Sullivan is none of those things — instead, he’s another vitriolic black-and-white fanatic who calls anyone who doesn’t agree with his position a “Christianist”

    Oh, come on. Anybody? Really? I challenged you to substantiate that in an earlier thread and you could not – because it isn’t true. Sullivan uses the term consistent with the narrow definition he coined for it. To describe him in these terms is idiotic.

    dismissed all of Ramesh Ponnuru’s arguments in his book (unfortunately titled but still well-argued) Party of Death

    He never dismissed the arguments; he never even read it. He simply made exactly the same argument you’re making here – Ramesh Ponnuru should have titled his book something else if he didn’t want to make the brazen implication that the Democrats are “the party of death” – which is a completely nonsense statement in the first place.

    And explain to me how labeling anybody who doesn’t agree with you on an issue part of “the party of death” is fundamentally different than what you’re accusing Sullivan of.

    If this is the way that gay marriage advocates act, then I’m not willing to support them.

    And if this is how you determine your position on an issue – whether or not it’s supporters have said things you find insulting – then who cares what you support? You’ve made it abundantly clear that you don’t approach issues rationally, but from emotion. Something you’ve accused me of doing in the past, by the way, and made it abundantly clear that you thought it was related to my gender.

    Goldberg, of course, is way off the mark. He’s not being criticized for not caring enough, but for not caring at all. And Sullivan absolutely has the posts to prove it. And, yeah. If the problem is that the status quo needs to be changed, then if you’re not for change, you are against it. It’s pretty simple logic, but Goldberg seems to think that he’s entitled to consider himself an advocate of gay rights without ever having advocated for them. (His assertion that he “shuns the demonization of gays” is hilarious.) It’s ridiculous. And it’s especially ridiculous for Goldberg to complain about an ad hominem attack from Sullivan, who is regularly a target from the right and Goldberg himself. I’m surprised that you didn’t come right out and blame “AIDS dementia” for Sullivan’s falling out with conservatives.

    Two posts in the space of a week about how much you hate Sullivan these days – despite him turning out to be right on nearly every issue – is the sign of obsession. You’re obsessed with trashing Sullivan, probably because you realize his blog is so much more interesting than yours. (Too bad he doesn’t allow comments. That’s one advantage you have, I guess.)

    Frickin’ read his blog, already. It’s astoundingly obvious that you almost never do.

  2. Nicq MacDonald says:

    Jay, your obsession with Dr. Sullivan is reaching absurd levels. Did he spurn you? You and John Derbyshire? Your fixation is positively homoerotic. :)

    Admittedly, even if I was gay (which I’m not!), Sullivan wouldn’t be my type; I’d probably find the skinny, effeminate twinks more to my liking. But despite the fact that he’s a pozzie, he’s still quite a catch; I can see how being rejected by the third most popular man in the blogosphere may have put you off a bit, but really, time does heal. I got over my sick fixation on Ms. Cox; not that I ever thought she’d pay attention to a fourth-stringer like me anyway. It’s time to let it go.

  3. Phillip says:

    Voting for a Democrat is GAY

    Don’t be gay.

  4. Mark says:

    “Why are you obsessed with trashing Andrew Sullivan? Especially with things that aren’t true?”

    Michael Moore’s been out of the headlines for a while. Markos Moulitsas (Kos) is fresh off a huge election victory when Jay insisted for months that Kos would push voters to the Republicans. Andrew Sullivan is as close as Ahab (Jay) can come to a journalistic Moby Dick in the current political climate.

  5. Jay Reding says:

    Why are you obsessed with trashing Andrew Sullivan? Especially with things that aren’t true?

    Because his arguments have some influence, and because the fallacy behind them is common. And because conservative political philosophy is of interest to me. (Don’t speculate what that means about my sanity.)

    Oh, come on. Anybody? Really? I challenged you to substantiate that in an earlier thread and you could not – because it isn’t true. Sullivan uses the term consistent with the narrow definition he coined for it. To describe him in these terms is idiotic.

    He’s accused Jonah Goldberg of it (odd, how you can be a “Christianist” and a Jew!), and he can’t mention the name Kathryn-Jean Lopez without adding “theocon” behind it. Not to mention the fact that he uses the term “Christianist” to apply to damn near any evangelical Christian he comes across these days. Apparently there are 60 million “Christianists” floating around out there now.

    He never dismissed the arguments; he never even read it. He simply made exactly the same argument you’re making here – Ramesh Ponnuru should have titled his book something else if he didn’t want to make the brazen implication that the Democrats are “the party of death” – which is a completely nonsense statement in the first place.

    So much for not judging a book by its cover, eh?

    And explain to me how labeling anybody who doesn’t agree with you on an issue part of “the party of death” is fundamentally different than what you’re accusing Sullivan of.

    Gee, think that the fact that the book is about abortion, euthanasia, and other issues involving the right to life have something to do with it?

    I agree that the title was inflammatory, but if Sullivan can’t even be bothered to have read the arguments being advanced, he shouldn’t have gone off on a tear.

    And if this is how you determine your position on an issue – whether or not it’s supporters have said things you find insulting – then who cares what you support? You’ve made it abundantly clear that you don’t approach issues rationally, but from emotion. Something you’ve accused me of doing in the past, by the way, and made it abundantly clear that you thought it was related to my gender.

    This is politics. You better believe emotional reactions are part of politics. Last I checked, this isn’t Planet Vulcan. The whole point of my post is that Sullivan’s polemicism is driving off exactly the sort of people who should be on his side.

    Furthermore, I’m not opposed to full recognition of civil unions, I’m merely opposed to radical changes which undermine years of societal wisdom. That’s the Burkean position. And with the New Jersey Supreme Court creating a slippery slope that demands full recognition now, it’s an issue of major social, political, and legal concern.

    And please, don’t try to play the feminist martyr with me – that argument doesn’t have a shred of truth to it, and you know it.

    Goldberg, of course, is way off the mark. He’s not being criticized for not caring enough, but for not caring at all. And Sullivan absolutely has the posts to prove it. And, yeah. If the problem is that the status quo needs to be changed, then if you’re not for change, you are against it.

    I guess you’re either with us or against us, right? Gee, I don’t ever recall anyone making fun of that logic in the past, do I?

    The fact is that Sullivan can’t rationalize his arguments with the Burkean conservatism he’s supposed to be in favor of. For all his talk about the “conservatism of doubt” he seems to have no doubt that a sweeping change in the social fabric of American life would be just fine, even if it were imposed by judicial fiat. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. If Sullivan were advocating a rational, incremental approach he’d have more support. But instead, apparently anyone who doesn’t share his views exactly is now a “Christianist” or a “theocon.”

    Sullivan’s attack on Goldberg was so gratuitous that it illustrates just why his “conservatism of doubt” boils down to the “conservatism of Andrew Sullivan” — which is to say not really conservatism at all.

    It’s pretty simple logic, but Goldberg seems to think that he’s entitled to consider himself an advocate of gay rights without ever having advocated for them. (His assertion that he “shuns the demonization of gays” is hilarious.) It’s ridiculous. And it’s especially ridiculous for Goldberg to complain about an ad hominem attack from Sullivan, who is regularly a target from the right and Goldberg himself. I’m surprised that you didn’t come right out and blame “AIDS dementia” for Sullivan’s falling out with conservatives.

    Except none of those things happen to be true. Goldberg’s position in gay rights is linked in his post. The inferences you tried to draw don’t match what his position is.

    And personally, I don’t have a clue what’s created the radical change in Sullivan’s beliefs. Nor is it relevant.

    Two posts in the space of a week about how much you hate Sullivan these days – despite him turning out to be right on nearly every issue – is the sign of obsession. You’re obsessed with trashing Sullivan, probably because you realize his blog is so much more interesting than yours. (Too bad he doesn’t allow comments. That’s one advantage you have, I guess.)

    So wait, two posts in a week is suddenly obsession?

    Frickin’ read his blog, already. It’s astoundingly obvious that you almost never do.

    Yes, I do. And I’ll be finishing his latest book in the next few days.

    Nicq:

    Jay, your obsession with Dr. Sullivan is reaching absurd levels. Did he spurn you? You and John Derbyshire? Your fixation is positively homoerotic. :)

    Sorry, but he’s just not my type…

    Admittedly, even if I was gay (which I’m not!), Sullivan wouldn’t be my type; I’d probably find the skinny, effeminate twinks more to my liking. But despite the fact that he’s a pozzie, he’s still quite a catch; I can see how being rejected by the third most popular man in the blogosphere may have put you off a bit, but really, time does heal. I got over my sick fixation on Ms. Cox; not that I ever thought she’d pay attention to a fourth-stringer like me anyway. It’s time to let it go.

    Really, I always figured you for the Ann Coulter type… (OK, so that was a low blow…)

    Mark:

    Andrew Sullivan is as close as Ahab (Jay) can come to a journalistic Moby Dick in the current political climate.

    I was about to make a “thar she blows!” reference, but then I realized how wildly inappropriate that would be given the context…

  6. Nicq MacDonald says:

    “Really, I always figured you for the Ann Coulter type… (OK, so that was a low blow…)”

    Amusingly enough, I once propositioned a girl at a party who bore a striking resemblence to a young Ann Coulter- I asked if she’d push me down, call me a liberal traitor, and do all the nasty things that she’d do to a nasty liberal traitor to me… unfortunately, the girl in question was more offended than turned on. And don’t even get me started on my fantasy about having a small brunette girl in a fur coat beat me with a golden dollar sign tipped cane while reading “The Virtue of Selfishness” to me in a forced Russian accent…

    :)

  7. Erica says:

    He’s accused Jonah Goldberg of it

    When? Quote him.

    he can’t mention the name Kathryn-Jean Lopez without adding “theocon” behind it.

    Well, maybe she is one. What does that have to do with “Christianist”? You’re hardly substantiating your claim that he uses the term to describe everybody who disagrees with him when you point out that he uses different terms for different positions. You’re proving my point, actually – it’s a precise term with a narrow definition, not a broad slander as you’ve characterized it.

    Not to mention the fact that he uses the term “Christianist” to apply to damn near any evangelical Christian he comes across these days.

    Again, more nonsense. Surely, if Sullivan’s arguments are so fallacious, it should be easy for you to point out the faulty logic without telling lies.

    So much for not judging a book by its cover, eh?

    He didn’t judge the book by it’s cover. He judged the cover by the cover. He’s never made an argument against the substance of the book, because he hasn’t read it; he’s only ever pointed out the ridiculousness of Ponnuru claiming that “Party of Death” isn’t meant to refer only to Democrats when the very jacket of the book refers to Democrats as the “Party of Death”, and everybody who reads it comes away understanding that the Democrats are believed by Ponnuru to be the Party of Death.

    That stuff’s true, but I can see how that’s a nuanced position. No wonder you got confused.

    I agree that the title was inflammatory, but if Sullivan can’t even be bothered to have read the arguments being advanced, he shouldn’t have gone off on a tear.

    What “tear” do you think we went off on? Link to the tear. All he said was:

    1) He’s not interested in reading the book.
    2) You can’t deny that you’re calling Democrats “the party of death” in a book whose jacket makes it clear that you’re referring to the Democratic party when you say “party of death”.

    I guess pointing out true things counts as a “tear”?

    Gee, think that the fact that the book is about abortion, euthanasia, and other issues involving the right to life have something to do with it?

    Do with what?

    The whole point of my post is that Sullivan’s polemicism is driving off exactly the sort of people who should be on his side.

    Who? People who support Bush no matter what? People who are convinced that the bad news from Iraq is all media invention? People who believe in big government as long as it’s big Christian government with low taxes?

    Call me crazy but I think Sullivan’s made it clear that he doesn’t want those people on his side. To Sullivan, conservativism is about more than just shitting on liberals, which is why he drives people like you so crazy.

    For all his talk about the “conservatism of doubt” he seems to have no doubt that a sweeping change in the social fabric of American life would be just fine

    What “sweeping change” are you talking about? How does gay marriage change anything for anybody but homosexuals? The people who are married now don’t suddenly get un-married “by judicial fiat.”

    But instead, apparently anyone who doesn’t share his views exactly is now a “Christianist” or a “theocon.”

    I’ve asked you to support your characterization of his usage three times now, and you haven’t. How long to we have to go back and forth like this before you admit this is a fabrication and a misrepresentation of Sullivan’s etymology?

    So wait, two posts in a week is suddenly obsession?

    Earth to Jay – yes, it is.

    And I’ll be finishing his latest book in the next few days.

    I sincerely hope you’ll take Sullivan up on his request for reader emails. I’d love to hear his response to your thoughts on it. (I’m sure you’ll post on it, of course.) Personally I thought I’d pick it up after the holiday season and our move to Nebraska.

  8. Erica says:

    Except none of those things happen to be true.

    They’re 100% true. Goldberg even used a reader’s words to describe his own position on gay marriage: “none at all.”

  9. Jerry says:

    As an agnostic libertarian who supports civil unions (and the eventual incorporation of gay marriage), I find Andrew’s Sullivan’s rantings about theocons and Chrisianists to be borderline retarded. There is strain of paranoia in his recent writings, and I agree with Jay – it’s almost obnoxious enough to change one’s positions on an issue, just to avoid being associated with the guy.

  10. joesixpack says:

    Jerry, as a child of a bi-sexual let me tell you that homo sex is a depravity. Supporting gay marriage is supporting and legitimizing depravity and is just wrong.

    Voting for a Democrat is GAY

    Don’t be gay.