Andrew Sullivan, The Were-O’Reilly

James Lileks has a deft takedown of Andrew Sullivan’s latest arrogant effort in inanity. Like Lileks, I was a fan of Sullivan’s work back when he spent more time excoriating the people who were real fanatics before he decided to invent some of his own to attack. The use of the deeply silly term “Christianist” for everyone to the right of a Unitarian demonstrates both Mr. Sullivan’s abandonment of logic for the rhetoric of the permanently indignant. Andrew Sullivan has become a gay Bill O’Reilly, an arrogant hack trying to present himself as the paragon of rationality and moderation while casually dismissing any rational arguments that might contradict his worldview – all he needs to do is start talking about “the folks” and his transformation would be complete.

Sullivan’s MO is the same as O’Reilly’s schtick – find some issue in which he’s already come to his a priori conclusion, then bash everyone who tries to make a counterargument. His curt dismissals of Ramesh Ponnuru’s serious arguments on abortion, followed by repeated distortions of Ponnuru’s positions are further demonstration of his constant attempts to beat down the army of strawmen he’s created.

Like O’Reilly, Sullivan’s constant preening sanctimony wears thin. For all his talk about people who have Manichean worldview, the fact that he dismisses conservative Christians as “Christianists” (despite the fact that in doing so he rejects much of his own Catholic faith), his hysterical attacks on those who do not think that terrorists deserve Geneva Convention protections, and his constant use of cheap shots rather than intelligent arguments all paint a picture of someone more interested in throwing flames than casting light.

The fact is that Andrew Sullivan isn’t a dumb guy. He isn’t a bad writer. When he wants to give the other side the benefit of the doubt, he can be incredibly astute. After the events of September 11 he displayed a wonderful sense of moral clarity. His arguments (from the conservative side) in defense of gay marriage are some of the strongest arguments out there. In short, he’s better than cheap rhetoric he now uses.

Cheap partisan shots may get the traffic, and dismissing all contrary arguments on a prima facie basis may make one feel good, but ultimately the quality of a commentator is in how they grapple with the issues, not in how much they can beat up on a collection of straw men. Sullivan’s too gifted a thinker to descend into the world of cheap rhetoric and self-indulgent faux-populist schtick. Besides, Bill O’Reilly does it better than Sullivan.

UPDATE: The fact that Sullivan is hawking inane conspiracy theories from a group of 9/11-deniers doesn’t lend him any more credence.

2 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan, The Were-O’Reilly

  1. In a final piece of evidence Sullivan has lost it, he is now quoting on his website Alex “Cosnpiracy Theory” Jones as “proof” Cheney was lying about how close he was when he fired the shotgun in that accident awhile ago.

    Jones has been pedalling this stuff since y2k and before. He was and is the darling of the militia movement, or what there is of it now.

    Leading up to y2k, he was screaming about “proof” that Clinton would use y2k to declare martial law under FEMA and usher in UN domination with their troops deployed all through the United States.

    The night of 1/1/00 when the y2k crisis was supposedly happening he was screaming into his mike that the Russian missles had misfired and we are going to die.

    For Sullivan, this apparently does not matter in terms of looking into the source. It was simply good enough that he bashed Bush or Cheney and that was all he needed to know.

  2. Sullivan replied to a reader who informed him of the origins of that video:

    “Er, no. Actually, I didn’t. I just watched the video sent by a reader and found it persuasive. It’s unfortunate that the guy is a crazed nut, but I’d still like to know why he’s wrong in this case. One reader argued that different shotguns, even of identical manufacture, can have different dispersement, a fact that would undermine Jones’ case. Maybe other readers can help debunk this theory – or not.”

    Had he known the source, I doubt he would have posted it, and he has the good sense to acknowledge it now.

    I read ManBearP… er… Sullivan every day; I generally like his commentary, though his tendency to beat dead horses (see Mel Gibson anti-semitism) can get to me at times.

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