Andrew Sullivan and our times

Posted: Oct 26, 2006 7:39 AM
Andrew Sullivan and our times

Andrew Sullivan may be the biggest wasted talent in all of the English speaking world. He once was a brilliant writer, and learned in many areas. His blog was at one point a must read. His "Virtually Normal" from a decade ago earned him enormous respect from readers of all political opinions, and his time as editor of The New Republic was among that magazine's finest runs.

Now Sullivan has a new book out, The Conservative Soul, and it is a mess. Skip the small but telling errors such as Sullivan's declaration that Thomas Jefferson was a Christian or that Disraeli urged universal suffrage on the Brits.

Overlook his asides that put Mohammed and Einstein on an equal with Christ and Socrates when it comes to a self-purging of bias or other similar sins.

Ignore the insult to the readers of zero footnotes in the book or even asides that might allow for context to inform Sullivan's quotes.

Skip over his disfiguring of Roman Catholic teaching in an attempt to leave him, and not the Magisterium, in charge of the Catechism.

Instead, on this the day after another judicial diktat as to marriage --this time in New Jersey--focus on Sullivan's particular, and the left's general, refusal to buy into the Constitution.

As a constitutional majoritarian, I am obliged to acknowledge that those laws passed by a state legislature and signed by a governor which do not conflict with the guarantees of the federal Constitution are in fact the law of the state from which they issue.

Thus any genuine conservative will have to agree that if a state legislature passes a law which a governor signs that proclaims marriage to be open to two people of the same sex, then same-sex marriage will have arrived, legitimately, in the land.

The day may come when such a law is passed and signed, and on that day --if no amendment to the U.S. Constitution has passed prohibiting such a law-- I will acknowledge that gay marriage is legitimate.

But it has not happened yet, and the acts of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and before it the highest courts in Massachusetts and Vermont, are mere legalistic, non-violent coups, as disreputable as the Dred Scott decision and Plessy v. Ferguson. The will of a handful of judicial radicals has replaced that of elected representatives of the people in a tiny number of states, and such usurpations are very ominous indeed.

For what the majority of unelected judges declare in one area, they can undeclare in another. What radical judges give, they can take away. And more besides.

It was on this ground that I especially hoped to debate Sullivan when he appeared for eight segments on my radio show on Wednesday. (The audio will be posted here. The transcript here. And the audio of the brilliant Lileks' parody here ) Sullivan's book is an incoherent gambol on this point, praising as it does the built-in constitutional suspicion of radical innovation, but silent on the radicals-in-robes purporting to read into the various Equal Protection Clauses of the states' constitutions the intent of framers to command marriage to be open to same-sex couples.

Throughout the interview, Sullivan did not want to discuss his book. He wanted to engage in histrionics. Most authors do not run into hosts who have actually read the book in question. I did. Andrew strived mightily to make the subject of our interview anything but his book. Listen. You'll understand why. (One summary of the exchange is here.)

Sullivan wants to be known as a constitutional conservative, but such a pose cannot be squared with the imposition of same-sex marriage by state courts. Thus his pretense to be a conservative is easily discredited.

Sullivan is in fact a radical, like Pelosi and Reid and the rest of the left, who care only for the results they demand, not the process by which they obtain them. Adherence to the rule of law defines a conservative. Sullivan refuses to condemn judicial law-making and rejects constitutional majorities when it comes to issues such as same-sex marriage and the treatment and trial of prisoners.

Sullivan wants very badly to be described as a conservative, but he is no more a conservative than I am a Russian.

Sullivan is, simply put, a majority of one. And that majority of one hates George Bush.

For the left, Bush has become a sort of uber-bogeyman --a dictator, a Hitler or worse.

That Bush complied with Hamdan -- terrible decision of a 5-3 court-- and submitted a draft law, negotiated its particulars, and signed it into law leaves Sullivan and the left at a loss, and not just for words, but for coherence. Bush submitted to the constitutional order. They refuse to do the same.

The left hates Bush for a variety of reasons, chief among them that it is easy in this age when nothing is easy. It is safe to scream "torture" in an era when threats that boggle the mind are in fact pressing. There is no group less threatening to inveigh against than American Christians. Attack American Christians and they pray for you. My e-mail box is full of concern for Andrew, and they are right to pray for someone so confounded by the Gospels.

In the meantime, though, the extremists abroad plot to kill us in great numbers, and the radicals at home move to undermine a free people's confidence in the idea of a nation of laws. Elections loom that offer a stark choice between a party committed to victory and a party committed to retreat and a policy of appeasement.

Because there is doubt about the results of so stark a choice, there has to be doubt about the possibility that a nation conceived as ours was as a democratic republic can survive. That Andrew Sullivan is read at all is a symptom of a fundamentally unserious country in a deadly serious age. A nice and well read fellow, yes; but serious? No. He's a Pelosi, a Reid, a Leahy.

Our enemies are not such folk.