Totten, Sullivan, and Non-Partisans

Michael J. Totten applauds Andrew Sullivan‘s announcement that he won’t support Bush for re-election. Sully’s rationale:

Bush’s endorsement of antigay discrimination in the U.S. Constitution itself is a deal-breaker. I can’€™t endorse him this fall. Like many other gay men and women who have supported him, despite serious disagreements, I feel betrayed, abused, attacked.

I’d be somewhat more sympathetic to Sullivan’s position had either he or the GOP changed positions recently. They haven’t. The GOP, since at least 1980, has been staunchly socially conservative and aligned with the evangelical Christian movement. George W. Bush certainly wore it on his sleeve in 2000. Sully apparently disagrees:

This betrayal exists on two levels. First, it’s a betrayal of the inclusion and compassion once promised by George W. Bush. The proposed constitutional amendment is a conscious and clear attempt to exempt gay citizens—and only gay citizens—from the equal protection of the law. It’€™s an amendment designed to marginalize an entire minority. When the president endorsed the amendment, he could not even bring himself to say the words “gay,” “€œlesbian,”€ or “€œhomosexual.”€ He could not even manage a sentence to speak to the very Americans he seeks to disenfranchise. I’€™m sick of being told that, on a personal level, this president is not homophobic. If it’€™s true, it makes his catering to homophobia even worse–€”an act of political cynicism. If he cannot even name us, he cannot pretend to accord us dignity and respect. It’s a lie.

While I agree with Sully on the merits of the gay marriage argument, his statement of Bush’s position is odd. I certainly got no signal in 2000 that Bush was a supporter of homosexual marriage, or anything like that. He’s not seeking to marginalize homosexuals–just to maintain the status quo as it existed during the 2000 campaign and, indeed, until a Massachussets court read gay marriage into their constitution.

Totten, himself a former Democrat who supported Bush on the war but likely won’t is reluctant to support him for re-election, notes that some in the far right are saying deplorable things about Sullivan. He encourages him to do what he thinks is right:

Political parties are cruel to people who think. The more partisan members are bigots. They hate people in the other political party, and they hate you if you don’t follow orders. If you’€™re going to talk about principles you might as well be writing in Martian for those who will jump at a moment’s notice to stay on the right side of the party line.

Quit. Just walk away from the Republican Party. They are not your comrades as you can plainly see. Don’t bother calling yourself a conservative anymore. Publicly declare yourself an Independent and a Centrist. Don’t let anyone call you anything else. Oh, but they’€™ll try. Ann Coulter will call you a traitor and a leftist. Michael Moore will say you’€™re an imperial neocon cabalist. Who cares what they think? They’€™re slapstick buffoons, not your peers.

Your conservative friends who are worth their body weight in water will still be there for you. Your subscription to The Weekly Standard will still arrive in the mail. Your boyfriend will still love you. Your neighbors will still wave hello. Your favorite bartender will still smile when he sees you pull up a stool. Your Web site will still be one of the most popular blogs in the world. Don̢۪t be afraid to lose readers. Some of us have learned a lot from your work, and we are not going anywhere.

All true enough. Except that, as Sullivan himself notes,

I’€™m not a Republican, so I have no party to leave. I’€™m not even sure what I would say to a gay Republican right now. But I would insist that the president’€™s stance is a betrayal of conservatism as well. Civil marriage is a conservative institution in many ways. Denying it to gays is tantamount to arguing that homosexuals should always be at the margins of society, beyond its unifying institutions, outside their own families and society. To my mind, that is unconservative. It segregates and divides people into groups, while conservatism should seek to treat all individuals equally. Worse, the amendment strips states of the right to decide for themselves how they want civil marriage to be defined. Again, that’s a betrayal of a political tradition that has long embraced states’€™ rights and the benefits of local rather than federal government. And using the sacred Constitution as a political tool is also a frivolous ploy that traditional conservatives would never endorse.

No president is perfect. It’€™s important to note that even John Kerry opposes equal marriage rights. So do Bill Clinton and Howard Dean. I can live with disagreement on the issue of civil marriage itself. But raising the issue to the level of a constitutional amendment is not something anyone can or should live with. It’s writing gay people out of their own country. It’s the political equivalent of domestic violence. Once that happens you’€™re a fool to stay in the relationship. You’€™re asking for more abuse. You’€™re enabling a movement that seeks to destroy you.

From a purely academic standpoint, I find it puzzling that this one policy statement –on which the leading alternative differs only marginally and one which has zero chance of actually being enacted in law– would be enough to override one’s belief system on a whole variety of other issues. Of course, for me, this is a purely intellectual issue; for Sully, it’s existential.

The nature of a two party system is that people who are passionate about politics and reasonably intelligent are almost never satisfied. Certainly the Republican party is too much under the influence of fundamentalist Christians for my tastes. I’ve voted for a few Democrats for lower office, including the U.S. Senate and a state governorship, but that was in Alabama where even the Democrats are rather conservative. I’ve voted Libertarian a few times for lower offices, including U.S. House of Representatives, in elections that the incumbent was going to win by a landslide, anyway.

Still, there hasn’t been a Democratic presidential nominee in my political lifetime (1984-present) that seriously tempted me. Two issues dominate my voting calculations at the presidential level:

    1. Who would be the better commander-in-chief of our military? While there have been some significant mistakes in the Iraq War and the war on terrorism has been far too timid for my tastes, I have no reason to suspect John Kerry would be an improvement. He strikes me as incredibly indecisive and likely to be far too willing to bow to international pressure.

    2. Who would I rather have appointing Supreme Court justices? This one is just a no-brainer for me. Given that the current deadlock in the Senate is likely to continue, it’s unlikely that either Bush or Kerry would be able to get through an ideologue with a paper trail. Still, Bush’s sensibilities on this front are –by leaps and bounds– more to my liking.

But Sully and Michael have to make their own call on this one. I’ll still read their sites and wave to them if I happen to see them.

Oh, and if you’re feeling particularly non-partisan, might I suggest Ralph Nader?

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Best of OTB, Political Theory, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. Actually, I probably will vote for Bush but I really don’t know for sure any more. If he fires Rumsfeld, as much as I used to love the guy, that would help.

  2. My comment got so long, I had to take it over to my blog.

  3. Y’know, if there weren’t a war or something remarkably similar going on, I’d respect Sullivan’s decision too (even if I disagreed with it).

    As it stands, he’s reverted to a 9/10 mindset…as is his right, but….yeah…

  4. Attila Girl says:

    Exactly. We should be placing the war before things like gay marriage (particularly when it’s so obvious that Bush is supporting something impractical and unrealistic just to throw the right some red meat–so we can all get back to worrying about the thiings that matter now).

    I mean, if I thought the President were sincere, it would be one thing. He’s just found a way to go through the motions of “opposing” gay marriage without risking doing anything that might have a negative impact on ’em.

  5. paul lukasiak says:

    As much as I despise Sullivan, it should be pointed out that he is correct in stating that Bush’s support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage represents a betrayal.

    During the 2000 campaign, Bush made it clear that he felt that such issues were the purview of the states themselves. Now, Bush has “flip flopped”.

    As to Kerry being indecisive—-I don’t see it. The core of Kerry’s critique of the Iraq war is that we cannot do it alone—and Bush has so alienated the rest of the world that we will not get the help we need from the rest of the world.

    And Kerry is right—Bush’s credibility is shot, and the international community does not trust his motives. Bush has engendered so much hostility toward the US in the Arab/Muslim world that few nations want to be openly associated with the US effort in Iraq anymore. America’s geographic isolation make it far less vulnerable to infiltration by terrorists than most of the nations of the world—nations which too closely associate themselves with Bush are far more likely to be the target of terrorist attacks than the US itself is.

    And unless there is a change in administrations, no one is going to take the risk of helping the USA at this point.

    Bush had dug America into a very deep hole. And when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging.

  6. BA says:

    I would have more sympathy for Sulivan if he would at least acknowledge that not everyone who objects to the idea of progressive elites using the club of judicial decree to beat the backward rednecks into line for their own good does so because they’re rabid gay-hating bigots.

    I’ve long suspected that, after 9/11, Sulivan and others like him reacted to Bush’s early leadership by making him their new hero, and as part of that, tried to project their own ideals and agendas onto him. In Sulivan’s case, he invented a fantasy that Bush would somehow do what Sulivan wanted about gay marriage. Now he’s been disabused of that fantasy, and is reacting in the typical fashion.

    And the sad thing is that he’ll probably never seriously consider the idea that the judicial activism he so loves might be what drove Bush to feel he had to publicly endorse the new amendment (just like he said it would at the SotU address).

  7. Kathy K says:

    I think Sullivan’s problem with Bush endorsing a anti-gay marriage amendment is similar to mine.

    At very best, it’s a cynical political ploy on Pres. Bush’s part, endorsing something he doesn’t think will pass. At worst, he really believes it is necessary to pass an amendment removing any chance ever of gays being permitted to marry. It is a profoundly statist position for him to take.

    It’s a disturbing indication of how the president (and/or his advisors) think.

    No, I won’t vote for Kerry. But I also find myself increasingly disturbed by the idea of voting for Bush.

  8. McGehee says:

    During the 2000 campaign, Bush made it clear that he felt that such issues were the purview of the states themselves. Now, Bush has “flip flopped”.

    I for one accept and approve of Bush’s explanation for said “flip-flop.” Sullivan, and Paul here, seem to expect those of us preferring the traditional definition of marriage to play the game according to rules that their own side doesn’t have to follow.