Andrew the Excitable

Okay, so I laughed when I read James Taranto’s item mocking Andrew Sullivan. Why? Because it’s true: Andrew can be a little excitable at times, and goes with whatever the headlines are saying, pretty much. Mind, not that I expect bloggers always to be breaking news; the nature of the medium pretty much ensures that on most issues bloggers (as opposed to the diarists at LiveJournal,, or will be mostly reacting to headlines, i.e., the MSM still sets the agenda, for the most part. Andrew is no different, really, in this respect.

However, Andrew does have a tendency to get a little bit excitable, especially where it comes to his pet issues. His ideals are most laudable, but when human beings fall short of his ideals, he is quite willing to skewer them. Naturally, since the Bush administration is composed of human beings who are in the spotlight all the time, it takes no genius to cite a litany of grievances against their policies. Andrew, by dint of his passions, is wont to take such things personally, and extends this lack of courtesy also to fellow bloggers.

Take, for instance, his hyperventilating reaction to Glenn Reynolds’s use of the term “wing-wang” in discussing the issue of Lincoln’s sexual orientation. Seems to me that Andrew still isn’t comfortable enough with his sexuality to differentiate between flippant insouciance and real homophobia.

Also take a look at Andrew’s coverage of the 2004 presidential campaign. His dissatisfaction with the Bush administration’s policies, while understandable and worth debating on its own merits, morphed into support for an opportunist like John Kerry. Andrew’s position: We can’t do worse than return Bush to the White House. Fine, so far. And anyone who disagrees with me supports torture!

Those of us who persevere in reading Andrew’s blog have not been in doubt for the past year and a half (incidentally, right after he started taking up sponsorship) that Andrew has become much, much more excitable. Where he was once a voice of reason not unlike Christopher Hitchens (minus the rather entertaining bombast), he is now not much different than some of the lefties he has been reading lately. Occasionally, a beam of calm meditation shines through the cloud that his blog has become, and he can patiently discuss, in a reasonable manner, what policies he likes and dislikes. But touch on anything emotional and Andrew flies off the handle.

There’s a word we have for friends that can be a little emotional like that: excitable.

So, how does Andrew respond (second item)?

How is any of this spin? How is any of it illogical or internally incoherent? How is any of it “excitable”, unless it is somehow now unacceptable to be shocked to the core by what we have discovered about the treatment of many detainees by U.S. forces? There is a distinction between how we deal with the enemy in the field of battle and how we deal with prisoners of war captured in such a battle. You can be ruthless in the former and humane in the latter. In fact, this was once the defining characteristic of the western way of war. Now it is a subject of mockery from the defend-anything-smear-anyone right.

Poor Andrew is so infuriated by any perceived besmirchment that he doesn’t take the time to read how James Taranto (who of late is arguably a more consistent reader than Glenn) emphasized certain phrases within the entire body of quotations from Andrew’s own writings. Considering how often Andrew, like any other blogger, takes public figures to task for infelicitous choices of diction, you’d think he’d be more chastened and publish a clarification of his positions than to swipe at erstwhile supporters.

In a way, he reminds me of the depiction of John Adams. He’s got a pretty good grasp of the big picture, but he is exceedingly excitable, and prone to interpret disagreements with his words as attacks on his character. His sexuality and his ideological bent don’t help him. He’s shunned by the Left for having dared to support a war prosecuted by a Republican administration; he’s shunned by the Right for his social liberalism; and many in the middle, who share many of his views, become alienated as he moves beyond rhetoric on his pet issues, and into hyperventilation.

Mr. Excitable, indeed.

[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

5 thoughts on “Andrew the Excitable”

  1. Demi, you wrote, “[H]e was once a voice of reason not unlike Christopher Hitchens (minus the rather entertaining bombast), he is now not much different than some of the Lefties he has been reading lately.”

    He is definately not who he used to be.

    Still emotional after 9/11, I flushed with delight as I read, in the October 4, 2001 WSJ, Sullivan’s forceful editorial, The Agony of the Left. Sullivan wrote as a conservative American champion, and in this essay he decimated the post-911, Leftist, multicultural mantra, “Why do they hate us?”

    Here, Sullivan wrote such soaring insights as this one:

    “The American liberal mind has long believed that their prime enemy in America is the religious right. But if Jerry Falwell is the religious right, what does that make the Taliban? They subjugate women with a brutality rare even in the Muslim world; they despise Jews; they execute homosexuals by throwing them from very high buildings or crushing them underneath stone walls. There is literally nothing that the left can credibly cling to in rationalizing support for these hate-filled fanatics.

    Forced to choose between the West and the Taliban, the hard left simply cannot decide. Far from concealing this ideological bankruptcy, we need to expose it and condemn it as widely and as irrevocably as we can.”

    Sadly, inexplicably, Sullivan has fallen prey to the same “ideological bankruptcy” that only 3 1/2 years ago he was lambasting. One revealing example: he still refuses to acknowledge the difference between an “enemy combatant” and a “Prisoner of War,” a crucial legal distinction that the anti-war Left has purposefully ignored in its criticisms of Gitmo.

    From his enlightened militancy in The Agony of the Left to your characterization of him, “…anyone who disagrees with me supports torture!” is a long, winding road. And Sully lost me on one of those sharp turns back there.

    Why the switch from Captain America to Liberal Milque-toast? Cynically, I wonder if Soros didn’t drop some big coin in his Tip Jar.

  2. I feel for Andrew because he often has had to walk a somewhat lonely road. However, as of late he has been the cause of that lonely road. And generally, it seems that he hasn’t lost the ability to make cogent points, but more and more has not fleshed out those points in favor of the “excitable” tendencies.
    In his defense, though, he’s been doing this for a long time (as far as bloggers go). Maybe he really needs a break more than he wants to admit.

  3. I think for Sullivan, everything has always been about being gay and having the gay life be an accepted part of America. I think a big part of his excited, and admittedly stirring, response to 9/11 was the sense of national solidarity, which I think he seems to have felt at an emotional level as proff that all Americans would be equally accepted. As this vision faded, and as Bush increasingly showed himself to be opposed to Sullivan’s life-project of gay marriage, Sullivan seemed to bend over backwards to find ways to criticize Bush and his team. The problem is, Sullivan had to contradict himself to do this, since had previously said good things about Bush and Bush, like him or lump him, has stayed pretty much the same all along. So, Sullivan is a man who saw a grand culmination within reach, only to see it fade away. And so he is bitter. My problem with him is he is dishonest, or so I read him. Also, I agree with jdasilva — his blog is tired and repetitive at this point. This is no criticism. A solo blog is a heroic effort over an extended period of time, even if many of the entries just consist of “heh” and a link Most solo blogs evolve into group blogs, or shut down. To generate the volume of prose Sullivan does is impressive just in terms of the typing. He should probably get some co-bloggers and take a rest, for his own good and the good of his readers.

  4. It would be interesting to know whether and how the demographics of his readers have changed over the past few years.

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