Of No Party or Clique

andrew-sullivan-logoJoining in the recant wave of blogospheric attempts to psychoanalyze Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Chait offers this assessment of Sully’s writing personality:

Sweeping moralistic pronouncements, graphic descriptions of violence committed by the villains deployed as moral bludgeons, innocents beset by violence-crazed monsters. Except, of course, the innocents and the villains have now swapped places.


Andrew falls prey to a habitual tendency to see the world divided between children of darkness and children of light. This is not a problem for a writer who is describing conflicts between Democrats and Republicans. When the parties involve happen to correspond with ethnic groups, then it’s going to be impossible to avoid language that appears racialistic. I don’t think that Andrew’s transformation from overwrought hawk to overwrought dove is driven by, or has brought about, a different view of Jews. It seems instead to be the shattering of a brittle worldview and its replacement by a new worldview, equally brittle.

That strikes me as largely right.  Andrew is an essential blogger for not only his brilliant intellect but because he wears his passions on his sleeve.  As Hank Williams, Jr. wrote of his legendary father’s songwriting, “he poured his heart out on the page.”  His does it so well that I’m willing to look past, for example, his strange obsession with Trig Palin and consider his work as a whole.

But I also want to second Reihan Salam‘s exception to one sentence in the above excerpt:

I’d submit that dividing the world between children of darkness and children of light is always a problem, even when one applies this logic to ideological or partisan categories rather than ethnic groups. It is a problem because it leads to team-oriented thinking that is the enemy of good judgment.

He elaborates at length but that last sentence is the key.  It’s a trap that too many — indeed, virtually all — political commentators fall into.  Rather than seeing politicians of all stripes as flawed but fundamentally decent human beings who disagree on priorities, the tendency is to excuse the flaws on one’s own “team” while reading mendacity in every action of the other “team.”   It’s decidedly unhelpful.

Incidentally, I don’t think this is generally a problem Andrew has.  Instead, he seems to me to be someone who falls in love too deeply, idealizing the object of his affection, and is thus inevitably disappointed.   And, like a lover scorned, his love turns to passionate hatred.   It’s why I expect Sully will dump Obama in 2012, after having been one of his most ardent supporters in 2008.

But this is the necessary byproduct of the Sullivan odyssey.   His near-obsessive passion for his subject is what makes him a fascinating read.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Boyd says:

    I’m afraid I’m a bit more cynical than that. It’s the rare politician, of any stripe, that I don’t regard as mendacious. But I don’t find one party’s politicians moreso than any other’s.

    So I’m left with supporting the liars that support policy goals similar to my own.

  2. Brett says:

    He always struck me as a bit thin-skinned, too, but mostly I agree with your assessment. He’s smart, but emotional with a tendency to latch on to people or causes with serious fervor. That can be refreshing when I read a lot of commentary that is deeply skeptical and cynical, but it also opens him up for a lot of criticism.

  3. sookie says:

    I mostly agree with your points on Sullivan, except his obsession with Palin, Palin’s uterus and Trig pretty much offsets any other thing he has to say. It would be one thing to have made a couple of post musing about her/this in one way or another but… post after post after post over month after month after month.

    It’s similar to ‘normal’ people who are true believer birthers or 9-11 CT’s. When your realize how invested in this they are, it colors my view of every other thing they say or do.

    Falling in love too deeply effects one’s judgment.