Another Perspective

Sullivan’s Troubles

Are you as sick of Andrew as we are?

By 2.10.04

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The very, very busy Andrew Sullivan (über blogger, gay Time Tory, etc.) is in a funk about President Bush. He thinks the president "is in the Rove-Cheney cocoon right now," which is keeping Bush from recognizing the obvious: His coalition is falling apart.

According to Sullivan's analysis, the president's de facto amnesty proposal has misfired, costing more Anglo votes than it nets in Latino support; the drunken Democrat routine on spending has aroused "[deep] concern" among independents (e.g., Perot voters); and Iraq could still go pear shaped. More Debatable: "prescription drugs pandering hasn't swayed any seniors"; religious conservatives may convince Bush to back a marriage amendment, which would "lose him the center." And the predictable denouement: "I'm not sure [Bush] even knows he's in trouble."

Sullivan's deft pen manages to imply in so many words that the President doesn't really know what his political operatives are up to. In other words, never mind those long explanations about how the prez is a stand-up guy with his eyes on the ball: Bush really is dumb after all.

AND DUMB IN a way that sets certain teeth on edge. In Time, Sullivan attacked the "Big Government moralism" of this year's State of the Union Address, mocking Bush's belief that public funds should be made available for character education. "The nanny state, much loved by Democrats," he smirked, "is thriving under Republicans."

Touché. Now, granted, Sullivan's reported conservatism is Oakshott through with social libertarianism, but it isn't as if Bush's traditionalism is a new development. He campaigned on several social conservative positions (banning partial birth abortion, funding faith-based initiatives, setting a "different tone") in 2000 and it is quite clear that he proposes to campaign on them again.

What's more, Sullivan recently acknowledged as much. Bush, "has been opposed to same-sex marriage since before he was elected," Sullivan wrote. And this very independent pundit supported the prez "while fully acknowledging he was worse on gay matters than Al Gore," because he believed the Texas governor would be better for the country in toto.

But lately, in addition to grousing about the president's awareness, Sullivan has been warning that he might split. If Bush proposes a straights only marriage amendment to the Constitution, obviously, that tears it. More broadly, he recently relayed and made sympathetic-sounding noises about excerpts of an interview of fellow traveler Christopher Hitchens, in which "Hitch" admitted that he is no longer "dogmatically for the reelection of the President." Should the Dems put forward a ticket that is serious on national security issues, he suggested, it's sayonara Bush san.

Nods to fiscal responsibility notwithstanding, it's hard to see why Sullivan would jump from the president's coalition now. He knew the social conservative pill he was swallowing when he endorsed Bush in the last go-round. Also, Bush's free-spending ways should have been evident from his campaign promises. Why threaten to jump now?

AT A GUESS, Sullivan has been finding it difficult to lead his sushi/latte, blue-state lifestyle, replete with liberal friends, old Harvard chums and lazy summer days in P-town without, once in a while, saying what he really feels about Bush. In that company, it is pretty hard to ignore the absence of any sort of fiscal plan or exit strategy for Iraq.

Also: Sullivan has too subtle a mind to miss the inconsistencies between his personal positions and the positions the President has maintained to entice his straight, Evangelical Christian, red state core supporters to get out the vote. This creates a dilemma: Sullivan wants the Republicans to win in 2004, but he also wants the party to ditch social conservatives and fundamentalists whose politics he despises.

So Sullivan, along with many conservative bloggers and mainstream commentators, is hedging his bets. He is also calibrating his voice for the succession wars in the event of a Bush defeat or a crippled second term.

There are certainly worse ideas. At this point there is nothing the more libertarian wing of the GOP can do to influence the nomination or the party platform. Some of the smart money is leaving the game early and thinking big thoughts about a Republican Party Reptile coup for 2008. Sullivan's "eagles" -- permissive on social policy, fiscally conservative, happy neocon warriors -- are looking at the nomination fight four years hence.

SULLIVAN SEEMS TO harbor the hope that one can be hip and Republican. His disaffection with Bush is thus not really about policy; it's about style. Bush and his party do not understand and do not want to understand the libertarian lifestyles and political positions of the creative elites who drive the American economy.

From Sullivan & Co.'s perspective, Bush's public courting of the red state Babbits and the fundamentalist boobocracy suggests a want of taste. Sullivan can't come out and say that, so he is contenting himself by being pessimistic and snippy from the sidelines.

A question for Bush is whether Sullivan is out there on his own or if he the leading edge of a general revolt of the well-educated against the Republicans' lack of style and wit. But it isn't a very big question.

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About the Author

Jay Currie writes from Galiano Island, British Columbia.