Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Mind of Andrew Sullivan

You might not be hankering to pay an extended visit to the mind of Andrew Sullivan.

Yet, Sullivan is an influential writer, a member of the cognoscenti, the sophisticated intellectual elite. People take his ideas seriously. He has an important media presence.

It’s worthwhile to look more closely at how the best and the brightest think.

In a post yesterday about the Wisconsin recall election Sullivan began on a constructive and correct note:

Leaving aside the issues being fought over, Scott Walker won an election, and absent some grotesque abuse of power, he deserved to serve his term out. I don't think turning out to be even more radical than the platform you ran on is a grotesque abuse of power. It is precisely the kind of over-reach that is best left to the voters at the next election, rather than creating a massive, disruptive, premature political storm that can only deepen partisan deadlock and mistrust. What Wisconsin means in microcosm is not so much a portent of the future November election (though it may be that), or a decisive turn toward fiscal retrenchment (thought it certainly seems that way), but a case study in the complete breakdown of our political system, and of public trust.

The Democrats refused to allow Walker to serve his full term and then seek the judgment of the voters. They acted throughout as if he were somehow illegitimate. They refused the give-and-take of democratic politics, using emergency measures for non-emergency reasons. 

Others have made the point, but it worth making again: the attacks on Gov.Walker and Wisconsin Republicans were an attack on the political system and a failure to respect the will of the voters. They wasted an enormous amount of time and energy, turned neighbor against neighbor and caused a breakdown of public trust.

Having gotten off to a great start, Sullivan’s mind went seriously awry. He might have been thinking that he needed to be fair and balanced. But he might also have been afraid of the implications of what he had written.

Whatever the reason, he felt compelled to add that, however bad the Democrats and their union bosses had behaved in Wisconsin, Republicans in Washington have done the same thing.

In his words:

And in this, they [Wisconsin Democrats] are, it seems to me, a state-based mirror-image of the GOP in Washington. Just as Walker was quite clearly a far right candidate and implemented an agenda that was predictable from the spirit if not the letter of his campaign, so Obama ran precisely on what he has done in office, despite the crushing emergency he was handed on becoming president. His healthcare reform was not suddenly revealed in a bait-and-switch operation. It was exhaustively debated in the primaries and the fall campaign; ditto the stimulus, a no-brainer for any president looking into a deflationary abyss; ditto ending the war in Iraq; and focusing on al Qaeda in counter-terrorism, rather than social engineering of quixotic proportions in counter-insurgency.

He has done what he said he'd do. And yet he has been treated as illegitimate and utterly unworthy of any cooperation or compromise by the congressional and media GOP.

One needs to question this exercise in specious analogizing. Let’s look at the record.

Did the GOP in Washington call for an occupation of the Capital? No.

Did it instigate recall elections for any Democratic Congressmen? No.

Did it instigate a recall for President Obama? No.

Did GOP Republicans in Washington run away to Illinois to deny the Senate a quorum? No.

Did they sow chaos in the streets of Washington? No.

How then is the Washington GOP analogous to the Wisconsin Democratic Party and its union bosses?

Sullivan does not deal with these facts. Cleverly, he shifts the predicates. Instead of focusing on actual behavior he says that both Scott Walker and Barack Obama did pretty much what they said that they would do.

Therefore, Congressional Republicans were duty-bound to cooperate and compromise with him.

But would anyone, say that the sins of the Wisconsin Democrats are adequately described by saying that they refused to cooperate and compromise with Scott Walker. 

They shut down the Wisconsin legislature, occupied the State House, and fled the state. They gathered up signatures for one recall after another.

They did not just fail to compromise and cooperate, but they attempted to sabotage the Democratic process. Sullivan knows it very well. He stated it clearly in the first passage I quoted.

Now things get curiouser and curiouser. Even if we accept Sullivan’s predicate, the fact that Obama did what he said he would do does not obligate Republicans to vote for Obamacare.

It does not mean that they have no right to challenge the law’s constitutionality in the courts.

Somehow, Sullivan obfuscates the obvious: for the first two years of his presidency Barack Obama did not have to cooperate with Republicans. He did not have to compromise with them. And he did not.

It was convenient for Obama, because as all savvy political observers have figured out by now, Obama does not know how to compromise or cooperate.

And then there is the question of legitimacy.

True enough, some Republicans have questioned whether or not Obama was born in the USA. The vast majority of Republican office holders have not.

But, while we are being fair and balanced let us not ignore the fact that many Democrats never accepted that George Bush legitimately won the presidency in 2000.

After the 2004 election, Congressional Democrats did everything in their power to stymie Bush’s initiatives as often as they could.

Since Sullivan raised the legitimacy issue, we may recall how he, alone among serious commentators, questioned whether or not Sarah Palin’s Down syndrome baby, Trig had been legitimate.

Sullivan happily hawked the idea that Sarah Palin might not have given birth to her son. He explored the issue to show that Sarah Palin is unfit for higher office. Had she been elected she would have been, in Sullivan’s eyes, as illegitimate as her son might have been.

It seems to me we have two options. It's possible that Palin simply made up her drama of labor, or exaggerated it for effect, when in fact it was a routine, if rare, pregnancy, and she had mild warnings that the birth may be premature, and she gussied that up into a tall tale of her pioneer spirit, guided by her doctor, who refused to take the NYT's calls as soon as Palin hit the big time. I think that's the likeliest explanation, given the sheer world-historical weirdness of the alternative.

But it's also possible that she never had that baby at all. I mean, if you read the emails and independent reports above and were asked if this woman were in labor with a special needs child, and that her water had already broken, would you believe it? Just put all the facts in front of you and ask yourself that question.

So she is either a self-serving drama queen who didn't realize her story would imply she put her child - and many others on the planes - at great risk and then winged it to make her story more plausible; or she is a fantastic hoaxer and liar at a world class meshugana level that, at some point, will make Weinergate look like a damp squib.

To my mind, either option makes her unfit for high office, which is all you need to know really. 

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