Media, Obama Administration, Politics, Rants

Andrew Sullivan’s Further Descent Into Hackery

Andrew Sullivan went from being an astute conservative columnist to a frothing partisan hack somewhere around the 2004 elections. His latest column in The Sunday Times amply demonstrates his fall into hackery. Now, because the Republicans have the sheer audacity to defy the Leader and go against a budget-busting spending bill in a time of fiscal turmoil, they are akin to the Taliban.

So much for not questioning the patriotism of others.

For instance, Sullivan makes this blatantly silly argument:

From the outset, the Republicans in Washington pored over the bill to find trivial issues to make hay with. They found some small funding for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases prevention; they jumped up and down about renovating the national mall; they went nuts over a proposal – wait for it – to make some government buildings more energy-efficient; they acted as if green research and federal funds for new school building were the equivalent of funding terrorism. And this after eight years in which they managed to turn a surplus into a trillion-dollar deficit and added a cool $32 trillion to the debt the next generation will have to pay for. Every now and again their chutzpah and narcissism take one’s breath away. But it’s all they seem to know.

Which conveniently ignores the very nature of the bill—a trillion-dollar giveaway to Democratic special interests. It is hardly “narcissistic” or an act of “chutzpah” to cry foul when the Treasury is being raided in a time when America’s debts are already threatening our fiscal future. But Sullivans M.O. is already well established—Republicans are always evil schemers seeking to establish their own power while the Obama Administration is always pure of heart. His simple morality play has little to do with reality, but it is a constant struggle for Mr. Sullivan to ignore what is in front of his nose.

The Republicans are an opposition party, and they have finally rediscovered the idea that they are supposed to be the party of small and responsible government. Apparently to Sullivan, their job now is to roll over at acquiesce to whatever the Great Obama wishes them to do. That someone who so frequently quotes George Orwell cannot see the Orwellian implications of our times is distressing.

That Sullivan adds some faint condemnation of the Democrats is only due to it allowing him to show how magnanimous and post-partisan the Obama Administration is. That the Obama Administration is attempting to politicize the Census is ignored. That the Obama Administration’s attempts at partisan “compromise” is largely window dressing is ignored. The ethical scandals that surround the Obama Administration is immaterial to Sullivan’s worldview. The resignation of Sen. Gregg as Commerce Secretary? To Sullivan, this had nothing to do with the Obama Administration’s evisceration of the post in favor of having Rahm Emmanuel run the show, it was clearly an act by the Republican base.

Sullivan is capable of deep though, but he choses not to exercise it, instead going for the rhetoric of a third-string Daily Kos blogger. How tiresome must it be to be yet another unquestioning mouthpiece for the Obama Administration. One would think it to be intellectually deadening after a while. But perhaps Mr. Sullivan has become tired of thinking and would rather trade his insightfulness and relevance for the adulation of the “netroots” mob.

The loss of such a formerly insightful thinker, alas, diminishes our political rhetoric at a time when it’s at one of its lows.


Words Matter, But Which Words?

Even though the whole “bitter-gate” brouhaha is starting to become old news, there are two perspectives on the scandal worth examining. The first comes from Jonah Goldberg, who sees this as less about “elitism” and more about Obama’s distorted worldview:

I agree with Rich entirely. I don’t mind him saying that small town blue collar workers are bitter over lost jobs. I think that’s objectively true in some cases and perfectly defensible as a general statement. The offending word here is “cling.” It’s a word drenched in haughtiness and condescension. We cling to rocks when we are caught in a current. Obama’s imagery suggests that because the economic tide is receding these people are clinging to God and guns, presumably to compensate for the undertow. But he also suggests that if the economic tide were rising these same people would let go of God and guns and ride the currents to happier and more progressive lands where everyone thinks like Obama. In his telling Pennsylvania was once Belgium on the Susquehanna — cheese parties, Sam Harris book clubs etc — and it can be again if only these people get good enough jobs to lay down their guns and bibles. As just about everyone has observed by now, this is a fundamentally Marxist way of looking at the world and Obama deserves to be called on it.

Goldberg defends “elitism” (more on that later), but does a good job of arguing that the real substance here is not that Obama is an elite, but that he’s an elite with a condescending attitude towards Middle America.

On a similar vein, former McCain 2000 communications director Dan Schnur has an interesting squib in The New York Times on the same issue:

The more important issue than Senator Obama’s choice of words, though, is the world view underneath them. By using a voter’s adverse economic circumstances to rationalize his cultural beliefs, Barack Obama has reintroduced what has been a defining question in American politics for more than a generation: Why do so many working-class voters cast their ballots on social and values-based issues like gun ownership, abortion and same-sex marriage rather than on economic policy prescriptions?

These voters — known as “the silent majority” in the 1970s, as “Reagan Democrats” in the ’80s, and as “values voters” during the last two election cycles — have long been one of the most sought-after prizes in national elections. But with the exception of the occasional Southerner on the ticket, Democratic presidential candidates and their advisers have been continually vexed by the unwillingness of blue-collar Americans to more reliably vote their economic interests.

In his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,” Thomas Frank articulates essentially the same case that Senator Obama has made in recent days. Mr. Frank complains that Republicans have deceived blue-collar Kansans — and their colleagues in other states — into voting against their own economic interests by distracting them into a conversation about traditional values and cultural concerns. Both Senator Obama and Mr. Frank seem to be saying that economic policy should be more important to voters than social and cultural questions. . . .

The mistake that Senator Obama and Mr. Frank both make is that they assume that only the values of culturally conservative voters require justification. An environmentally conscious, pro-stem cell bond trader who votes Democratic is lauded for selflessness and open-mindedness. A gun-owning, church-going factory worker who supports Republican candidates, on the other hand, must be the victim of partisan deception. This double standard is at the heart of the Democratic challenge in national elections: rather than diminish these cultural beliefs as a byproduct of economic discomfort, a more experienced and open-minded candidate would recognize and respect the foundations on which these values are based.

That analysis is exactly right. The issue is that Barack Obama is an elite. We want leaders to be elites. The issue is that Barack Obama is an elitist. We don’t want our leaders to think that because they are elites that they have the right to rule over the rest of us. Again, this goes back to the American values observed by de Tocqueville 200 years ago: Americans are deeply (small-d) democratic. There’s a reason why we tend to elect Presidents we’d like to have a beer with: because we have an ingrained suspicion of aristocracy and people who put on aristocratic airs. The last President to display such values was probably John F. Kennedy and he barely won, and then only one because of his immense personal charisma. Obama is at least superficially like Kennedy, but Kennedy never insulted the voters he needed to win over as Obama did.

Schnur gets it right: what Democrats must understand is that social voters aren’t voting irrationally, they simply have different priorities. The successful Democrats in the last few years have almost always won when they’ve at least acknowledged and accepted the concerns of values voters. Even setting aside the major argument that Democratic economic policies are really good for the American workers, the Democrats can’t win if they’re not willing to engage with values voters on their own level. Condescending to them hasn’t worked in the past and it won’t work now. People don’t believe in God, go hunting, or worry about this country’s culture because they’re worried about their economic prospects and feel disengaged from politics, they care about those things because to them those things are truly important.

Goldberg’s crack about Obama having a Marxist worldview isn’t that far off the mark. The Democrats are looking at this election through the lens of economic determinism, and Obama’s comments are to the effect that he really believes that “religion is the opiate of the people.” It may certainly be true that voters are feeling bitter—but if the Democrats think that patronizing them will make them any less bitter, they should fully expect not to have any chance of winning some of the key states they’ll need to take the White House in 2008.