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March 18, 2004

Pushed into a Corner

Since Kathryn Jean Lopez has been kind enough to send some new folks here, I thought to note that, if you find that this page design makes for difficult reading, just click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.

Some Cornerites have fallen for a trick that shows why Andrew Sullivan was a master debater back in his prep school days. As Sullivan tells it:

I'm mystified by NRO's Corner discussion of my alleged objection to federalism - or my fair-weather federalism, as it were. But both paleocon, Kathryn Lopez, and Jonah Goldberg, conflate two entirely separate issues. I am horrified that the commissioners of Rhea County Tennessee don't just want to ban gay marriage - as is their right - but actually want to ban the existence of gay people from their county. Now it strikes me that even the writers at National Review would draw the line at the physical expulsion of a group of people for simply being who they are.

First things first. The Rhea County commissioners are apparently fools and, yes, bigots, and it seems to me that conservatives' "silence" on the matter is probably due mostly to the realization that just about everybody in the country will realize that the commissioners' recent action was kooky or, to be charitable, symbolic. Let's be cognizant of what we're talking about here:

Rhea County commissioners unanimously voted to ask state lawmakers to introduce legislation amending Tennessee's criminal code so the county can charge homosexuals with crimes against nature.

"We need to keep them out of here," said Commissioner J.C. Fugate, who introduced the motion.

County Attorney Gary Fritts also was asked by Fugate to find the best way to enact a local law banning homosexuals from living in Rhea County.

The unanimous measure was to send a request to the state government to pass a constitutional amendment that would subsequently allow a further measure that sounds like a sodomy law, which would be void under federal law anyway. This is less comparable to mayors' handing out marriage licenses with which to start lawsuits than to school boards' passing resolutions condemning the Patriot Act.

One of the commissioners went further, it is true, and made it known publicly that he's in the market for a loophole through which to kick gays out of the county altogether. Disgusting, yes, but also nutty — and nothing but talk. Moreover, it's talk among local politicians in an area of the country that has become famous for being overruled in its cultural decisions by federal courts — from the Scopes Monkey Trials in 1925 to a 2002 ruling that the public school can't offer a Bible studies course taught by Christians.

That, however, isn't where Sullivan's trickery comes in. Rather, the objectionable statement is that Lopez and Goldberg "conflate two entirely separate issues." As a baseline, it's relevant that any conservative knows that neither Sullivan nor the AP can be taken at their word on homosexuality vs. fundamentalist issues without further research, and most will adjust for spin when reading them. Against that background, the always-overworked Lopez wrote explicitly about sodomy vs. same-sex marriage. Goldberg is even less objectionable. He specifically noted which among Sullivan's comments he was addressing: those calling Virginia's attempts to ban civil recognition of gay unions "pogroms." Goldberg writes:

If there were actual pogroms against gays in this country, obviously I would be against them. Moreover, I wouldn't argue that federalism protects the "right" of local communities to commit violence against homosexuals.

So how do we get from Goldberg's insisting that marriage laws are best kept distinct from the word "pogrom" to Sullivan's accusation that Goldberg isn't "worried" about a county that "has endorsed the elimination of gay citizens"? Well, let's take a look at the Sullivan post that started the fight, up to the sentence that mentions pogroms:

THE G.O.P.'S ANTI-GAY CRUSADE: The far right strikes again in Tennessee:
Rhea County commissioners unanimously voted to ask state lawmakers to introduce legislation amending Tennessee's criminal code so the county can charge homosexuals with crimes against nature. "We need to keep them out of here," said Commissioner J.C. Fugate, who introduced the motion. County Attorney Gary Fritts also was asked by Fugate to find the best way to enact a local law banning homosexuals from living in Rhea County.

Don't hold your breath for any establishment fundamentalists to rebuke them. So much attention has been paid to the handful of places that have advanced gay civil rights in the last few months that the tidal wave of anti-gay legislation being proposed and passed across the nation - pioneered by Republicans - barely merits notice. One state - just one - has moved toward establishing equality in marriage for gays. Thirty-eight have banned it outright. A few have re-written their constitutions to ensure inequality for gay citizens. Virginia, to take one example, is in the midst of a full-scale anti-gay legislative pogrom - banning gay marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships and attempting to revivify the sodomy laws.

From there, Sullivan moves to the Bush administration's "pure animus." Now, I may be "gob-smackingly obtuse," as Sullivan suggests of Goldberg, but it looks to me as if it was Mr. Andrew Sullivan who "conflate[d] two entirely separate issues." To keep the rhetoric nice 'n' hot, Sullivan then posted his Email of the Day, which begins thus:

Good Lord, Andrew -- if you would get your head out of the Republican Party's ass for five minutes, you'd be able to see that the reason that paleoconservatives don't differentiate between between the Tennessee proposal to ride the gays out of town and the President's opposition to gay marriage is that they don't feel it is a substantive distinction.

In short, Sullivan is now tarring the Cornerites with the ridiculous equivalence that he, himself, introduced to the issue. This is what supporters of traditional marriage and conservatives more generally are having to contend with in this debate. Rational discussion has become impossible, and the only hope is to convince enough people in the gray middle that they simply can't trust the rhetoric coming from the other side.

Posted by Justin Katz at March 18, 2004 7:07 PM

Masterful job, Justin. I for one don't even know why NRO even bothers to deal with Sullivan's so-called arguments anymore. He smears anyone who he disagrees with, claims ignorance that he does so, and then goes ahead and tars them again with even worse hyperbole.

Anyone who thinks they can deal with Sullivan rationally on these issues is a complete fool. Even Sullivan knows that.

Posted by: Sydney Carton at March 19, 2004 12:28 AM

Lileks not long ago wrote that the reason people no longer visit a site that once was a favorite was because of "feverish monomania." That describes Sullivan's recent output perfectly. He's appalled by Spain's appeasement but it only took the President's support for a marriage amendment (a process in which the president has no formal role) for Sullivan to start looking for reasons to vote Democrat. Right now Sullivan is simply unreadable.

Posted by: Doug B. at March 19, 2004 1:48 AM

"Right now Sullivan is simply unreadable."

Damn right! Unlike before... he just doesn't make sense any more.

Kerry for president? UGH!

Posted by: john marzan at March 19, 2004 3:22 AM

If you ask me, he's always been unreadable. There has always been an unreliable streak to Sullivan. Any political story would be used to show that being nice to gays, but being fiscally conservative and tough on terror were political winners. Conveniently enough, this ties in rather neatly with his own perspective.

Posted by: Tom O'Gorman at March 19, 2004 4:36 AM

Agreed- Sullivan has ruined his standing with people like myself who tire of his whiny ingratitude on homosexual acceptance. In the history of civilization has there ever been a better time and place to be openly gay?
Yet all I hear is how horrible Bush and conservatives are because they refuse to codify it- too damn bad andy.

Posted by: jj shaka at March 19, 2004 7:38 AM

I think that mine is more of the "preaching to the Choir" response. Sully has been unreadable for some time now. Apparently the ephemeral threat from Islamofascists is subjucated to the chimerical "right" of homosexuals to marry.

Posted by: Enthalpy at March 19, 2004 8:00 AM

The issue of gay marriage has made Sullivan unreadable. Its like Kerry and Vietnam, he constantly brings it up and somehow it ties in to anything and everything. Sad.

Posted by: Texas Bill at March 19, 2004 8:48 AM

As Orrin Judd over on Brothers Judd put it once about Andy Sullivan: He's upset that we all don't take his hobby as seriously as he does.

Posted by: rps at March 19, 2004 9:00 AM

I have to disagree with the posters commenting here--I think Sullivan is dead on with his analysis of what issues matter the most. His criticism of President Bush is warranted on a number of grounds, and the fact that Sullivan has not sworn undying fealty to one political contender is refreshing, considering all of the hard-right and far-left ideologues out there.

Posted by: Frank at March 19, 2004 9:06 AM

Well done.

I have to agree with the others who have commented about the "whiny factor" of Sullivan's same-sex marriage posts.

Posted by: Doug at March 19, 2004 9:11 AM

I've thought Andrew Sullivan has always had a tendentious side that bears watching -- I recall his being the first writer (I saw) to simply declare that gay marriage was a civil rights issue. To agree was to be on the side of light and good, and to disagree was to be on the same side of the segregationists and the folks using war cannons in Birmingham. I thought it was a particularly inapt analogy for a group of folks trying to change the historic definition of marriage. Perhaps we would, maybe we wouldn't -- but starting the discussion as if opponents were bigots wasn't a good faith effort at debate.

Sullivan can occasionally come up with some decent insights, but it's not enough to sort out his rhetoric for a while but then stopped. His campaign against Howell Raines was obviously personal. His campaign against the Catholic Church is a personal. Sullivan doesn't like to hear the word "no."

Worst of all, Sullivan is a propagandist and he tries to destroy those who disagree with him.

What surprises me is people can't see his obvious narcissism. In his case, it's pretty obvious and while nowhere near at a personality disorder level, it's still pretty bad.

Time to write this guy off.

Posted by: IB Bill at March 19, 2004 10:13 AM


The problem is that one of the "far-left ideologues out there" happens to be a candidate for President. Sometimes an even hand is crooked with respect to the surrounding landscape.

Posted by: Justin Katz at March 19, 2004 10:15 AM

Can't stand reading Sullivan anymore. He reaks with self-importance and hypocrisy.

When he whines, as he does so often now on the issue of gay "rights", he reminds me of liberals and democrats.

He is unbearable.

Posted by: Alex F at March 19, 2004 1:10 PM

As I've said all along, absolutely *everything* in Sullivan's world revolves around the unbridled freedom of li'l willie to do as it wants. Radical Islam was the biggest threat to that in years, so he was 100% behind Bush. Now that Bush is a bigger threat to li'l willie's adventures, he will jump ship for Kerry and cross his fingers that Kerry will stave off the radical Islamic menace. Neuhaus is right. It is the polestar of his journalism. Nothing matters as muhc as this Supreme Interest. Conservatives are fools to think he will be rational when it is threatened.

Posted by: Mark Shea at March 19, 2004 2:37 PM

One state - just one - has moved toward establishing equality in marriage for gays. Thirty-eight have banned it outright. A few have re-written their constitutions to ensure inequality for gay citizens.

In these three sentences alone, Sullivan is moving the goalposts and conflating issues. Is "equality in marriage for gays" (sentence 1)100% synonymous with equality for gay citizens (sentence 3), or are there other things (like registered domestic partnership laws, or civil unions) which might be said to contribute to the definition of "equality for gay citizens"? I guess the definition you get depends entirely upon Sullivan's mood du moment.

For the record, California has both a Registered Domestic Partnership law (AB 205), signed into law last year and effective 1/1/05, which explicitly grants same-sex couples under age 62 virtually the same rights and responsibilities as married spouses ... AND a law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman (ballot initiative approved by 61.4% of the voters in March 2000).

Given Sullivan's shifting definitions I can't figure out whether California would merit excoriation as a dark hinterland of reactionary paleoconism or not.

However, Steven Den Beste, not exactly a paleocon by the wildest stretch of even Timothy O'Leary's tripped-out imagination, wrote in the 3.13.04 entry of his blog (USS Clueless) that he does not find California's "one man-one woman" law to be unconstitutional under the state constitution's Article 1, Sec. 7(b) clause.

Says Den Beste:

I think that the most common argument in response to the above would be that this law permits straights to marry those they love but prevents gays from marrying those they love, and that means it is discriminatory. Perhaps.

(But) Gays are not the only people who prevented from legally marrying those they love. California also does not recognize plural marriage, marriage to children, marriage to animals, and marriage to dead people. (You think I'm joking about that?)

The case law on this kind of thing I think is pretty clear: desire is not legally relevant. We are not legally differentiated by what we want to do. If the overt opportunity is the same, it doesn't matter whether people desire different things and some of those desires are thwarted by the law.

If the law had said that straight people were permitted to marry and gay people were not, that would have been discriminatory. But that isn't what the law says. Gay people are permitted to marry, just as straights are. Everyone is permitted to marry someone of the opposite sex, but no one is permitted to marry someone of the same sex. Legally speaking, that's equality.

I will be interested to see how Sullivan's blog fares at this year's annual pledge drive. He may turn out to be like the Dixie Chicks, though ... alienating one core audience, while picking up another. Stay tuned, I guess.

Posted by: DE in CA at March 19, 2004 6:34 PM

Sullivan reminds me of Howard Stern these days, or is that vice-versa. Of course, Howard's topic du jour is censorship whereas Andrew's is gay marriage. Like Andrew, Howard has devolved into a parody of those he goes after, the difference being Stern lacks the pretence of Sullivan.

Posted by: Lloyd at March 19, 2004 6:48 PM

I predicted elsewhere a few weeks ago that Sullivan would end up endorsing Kerry. If you look at today's column, you'll see that he's floating reasons that don't make his real motives too obvious. Eventually he'll make it official.

While all opinion writers have personal lives, it's disgraceful to let personal obsessions override everything else. Readers deserve better.

The dictionary says that marriage is a union of 2 people of different sexes. Same sex marriage is an oxymoron. Saying that homosexuals have an equal right to get married is like saying that cats have an equal right to bark.

Posted by: leslein at March 19, 2004 7:29 PM

I gave up after his "Bush and Churchill" column. The historical parallel was so contrived that it was clear that he was going out of his way to dream up difficulties for the President.

Posted by: grofaz at March 20, 2004 12:45 AM

What I think is kinda interesting about all these gay activists, like Sullivan, who occasionally draw parallels between the gay marriage movement and the civil rights movement is people of the black community has more of a tendency to not particularly like homosexuality.

Posted by: Eric at July 15, 2004 3:18 PM