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.