Sullivanalia

February 27, 2006

Wondering Whether Sullivan Will Add Ramesh to His List

Way back in my pre-father-of-multiple-children, pre-homeowner, pre-Dust-in-the-Light days of February 2002, Andrew Sullivan had a running thread for great insults in history. He actually published one that I emailed him — my favorite quote on Emerson, by Herman Melville:

I could readily see in Emerson, notwithstanding his merit, a gaping flaw. It was the insinuation that had he lived in those days when the world was made, he might have offered some valuable suggestions.

I bring this admittedly superficial remembrance up because Ramesh Ponnuru has penned an insult that should clearly be added to the list:

I'm not totally sure whether Sullivan's habitual inability to present his opponents' views correctly is a result of malicious lying, indifference to the truth, incompetence in figuring out the truth, or some combination of these things. Readers need not know the answer to that question to conclude that he is untrustworthy.
Posted by Justin Katz at 8:13 PM | Comments (1)

July 6, 2005

Sully Still Not Listening

I never actually expected to receive Andrew Sullivan's promised response to my piece about him, but I would have hoped that he'd begin conducting his end of the marriage debate with even the slightest indication that he's paying attention to what the other side is saying... or even who the other side is. Witness:

Since marriage has already been redefined to make the exclusion of gays logically absurd, the campaign against letting gays into the human family necessarily raises the suspicion of mere animus. It's not bigotry to say that these are the rules that govern civil marriage and too bad if you can't live up to them (i.e. procreation, or traditional gender roles). But it is suspicious when you abolish all those rules for straights and then use the old rules to bar gays. I don't see how gay marriage opponents manage to get round the logic of this - except by resorting to purely religious arguments (which would invalidate most heterosexual marriages today as well), or simply reiterating the definitional case that marriage is for straights, dammit.

One gets the sense that Sullivan has broken the world into straights and gays, with only the latter permitted to act independently of their "movement." Some gays wish to leverage same-sex marriage to undermine society as we know it, but Sullivan refuses to have their arguments considered as part of the issue. But through the magic of the passive voice, "marriage has already been redefined," and therefore traditionalist "yous" have had the hypocrisy to "abolish all those rules for straights and then use the old rules to bar gays."

I'm too young to have participated in the earlier debates, but I'm pretty sure — conversions excluded — that the overlap in names on petitions for divorce and contraception and against same-sex marriage is minimal. Unfortunately, one of the complicating factors when attempting to come up with resolutions to the current fight is that Sullivan's handling of the other side is way too likely to prove the norm for his.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:06 PM | Comments (62)

May 7, 2005

Another Both-And: Truth and Utility

Apart from qualities of intellect and literacy, what makes Andrew Sullivan so interesting to address is the fact that he's an excellent debater and, as such, is willing to take risks with his rhetoric. As when he approaches statism to declare the Constitution a "workable civil version" of religion, he's willing to give glimpses of cards that a more cautious man with his objectives might keep obscured.

The downside is the frustrated reaction that he can inspire in those who sense that his emphasis is on debate rather than intellect — that the principles under consideration aren't really open for discussion. Consequently, the statements that make up his arguments periodically give the impression of boxing steps rather than exposition. Once frustration has subsided, however, one can look to the areas around which Sullivan has danced to discover the heart of the matter. (Whether his contradictions and avoidance are deliberate or instinctive is a question of how much credit the reader wishes to give him, and it is one on which I vacillate.)

For example, in a recent response to Jonah Goldberg, Sullivan defines fundamentalism in relation to politics and dogma:

Just as Oakeshott very carefully allows a place within Western political thought for the politics of faith, so do I within what might be called conservatism. My worry is when that faith becomes fundamentalist, i.e. less interested in political arrangements than divine imperatives.

Yet, in the subsequent paragraph, he decries neocon cynicism as follows:

I have to say I'm not too enamored of outsiders backing fundamentalism in faiths they do not share for political purposes. But, hey, that's been the neocon position on religion for a long time: we don't believe it, but it's good for the masses.

In one breath, Sullivan worries that public faith is drifting from the political realm to the religious. In the next, he complains of those who treat religious groups as factions with which they may or may not be able to join for political purposes. But if the proper role of religion in the public sphere is to make "political arrangements" (a vexingly vague term in Sullivan's usage), then why would it be inappropriate for outsiders to encourage arrangements that suit them? Or, as Goldberg puts it, "Would Andrew support outsiders backing 'reform' in these faiths?"

The curiosity is that Sullivan — who believes that "it's best to leave religion out of" political questions of morality to maximize a freedom characterized by radical individualism — handles individuals strictly according to their roles within his political framework. Neocons "don't believe [in religion], but it's good for the masses." There are neocons, and there are religious people. Folks who fall within religious segments of the broader neocon category, as I probably do, will find Sullivan's analysis particularly discordant.

Because this separation is untenable beyond a very narrow range of argumentation, Sullivan must chase it across the boundary of religion, where it renders thus: The "central tenets" of religious groups involve faith in particular facts (e.g., that Jesus was the Messiah), but drawing social and political conclusions from those facts is "Evangelical fundamentalism and the creeping infallibilism of Wojtyla-Ratzinger." Apparently, it can be a matter of religious Truth that Jesus was the Word of God, but the implications of what He actually said must remain ever open for debate — within and outside of a particular "religious tradition."

Observers of modern society, generally, and Andrew Sullivan, specifically, understand that this distinction transfers all too easily to people's personal worldviews. What they believe is one thing; what they do is another. There are religious creeds, and there are personal preferences, and the former can only be said to be true to the extent that they do not infringe on the latter.

And here we reach the heart of the matter. Sullivan professes that his "first concern with any religious argument is: is it true? Not: is it useful?" What he does not explain is how one determines whether a religious argument is true or false. Long familiarity with his work leads me to think that his determination of Truth ultimately flows from his intuition and desires. Although I would join him in arguing that the faithful must incorporate these factors into their searches, I would suggest to Andrew Sullivan — as I would to the secular neocons whom he describes — that a religion's utility toward good ends is also evidence of its truth.

One point that Christians put forward in support of Jesus' divinity is His wisdom — that His teachings ring true, that His parables apply to our lives, that His instructions effect what He promises when followed. There is certianly space in this for ecumenism and "political arrangements"; others can act in accordance with the Truth of the Word without knowing (or admitting) that they do so.

There is also, we should all agree, room for the truth in politics. If a religion's prescriptions increase the measure of good in the world, then a rational society may very well be able to trace their functions in non-religious terms. Furthermore, a rational society founded in an ideal of pluralism can properly require advocates of one policy or another to do the work that such tracing entails. Only an irrational society would mark as invalid any policies that people of faith claim to be in accordance with God's will simply on the grounds that others disagree.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:35 PM | Comments (2)

May 2, 2005

Both-And, a Balance of Powers

The following suggestion of Andrew Sullivan's, which I read in a piece by Jonah Goldberg, strikes me as surprising coming from a European and shocking coming from a Catholic:

[Conservatives of doubt] can point to the astonishing success and durability of the U.S. experiment to buttress the notion that the Constitution is a much more stable defense of human equality than that inherent in any religion. The Constitution itself has far wider support among citizens than any theological argument. To put it another way: You don't need an actual religion when you already have a workable civil version in place.

Readers will be aware that I'm a patriot in the conservative sense, but I have to ask: By what historical standard is two hundred years and change evidence of durability? People who live among monuments to their cultures that date back millennia might be hard-pressed to stifle a chuckle. Similarly, those whose religions are defined by documents and traditions with the same or longer heritage might wonder whether Sullivan is playing games with the terms that qualify something as durable. The question of success would be just as arguable (especially if we factor in the acceleration of social change over time).

In its jarring lack of doubt about its own premises, Sullivan's odd bit of argument by convenient assertion appears to be an attempt to tiptoe past an inconvenient factor in his assessment of the American people. Goldberg writes of the "both-and" (versus an "either-or") that defines conservatives as people who have both "skepticism about the new and faith in the old." But the self-contradiction inherent in Sullivan's blind confidence in doubtfulness lays bare a more fundamental "both-and": the Constitution may indeed have "far wider support among citizens than any [particular] theological argument," but that is only because Americans believe that — in one way or another — their theological arguments are, themselves, embedded within the Constitution.

This attitude manifests most directly in those who believe that (for example) "America is a Christian nation" as a Constitutional matter. Sullivan disagrees with that saying, no doubt, but he can't deny that those who agree with it are likely to be among the Constitution's supporters.

The less direct means of embedment — in my view, the proper Constitutional understanding — is that religious principles exist in the civil sphere as a function of the governmental processes that the Constitution lays out. This sort of support for the Constitution hinges on citizens' ability to shape their government according to their moral beliefs.

It is not enough to treat "moral appeals" simply as free speech — to be restricted to "crusades for personal salvation, evangelism, or social work, rather than... legislative change." To the extent that Sullivan is correct that the "purpose of the Constitution was to preserve the Declaration of Independence's right to 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,'" it must also allow them (as the Declaration continues in the very same sentence) "to alter" their government, "laying its Foundation on such Principles... as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Andrew Sullivan is prominent among commentators throwing about the dark image of theocracy, but again, he seems to be playing games with terminology. Theocracy does not describe a particular set of policies — or even the moral authority that informs them. It describes the civil authority that determines them: those acting as God's explicit representatives. With democracy, on the other hand, all authority must filter through the people.

That Sullivan has now gone so far as to suggest that the Constitution establishes a "civil version" of — and replacement for — religion reveals how much closer those of his political persuasion are to theocracy than are the "conservatives of faith" whom they oppose. That zealots for individual license traverse a dim alleyway to tyranny is evident in their conviction that their preferred policies — from abortion to same-sex marriage — are subjects of Constitutional guarantee.

Even those supposed "theocrats" who would go so far as to argue for mandatory prayers in their local public schools don't argue that the judiciary ought to find that the Constitution requires them.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:16 AM | Comments (94)

February 2, 2005

The Foibles of Longing

PROEM:
A version of this piece appeared in the December 31, 2004, issue of National Review, under the title "One Man's Marriage Trap." Citations not linked in the text can be found here.

For a page design that may make for more comfortable reading, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.







When Andrew Sullivan was seven or eight, the visceral yet distancing medium of television sparked a feeling about which many men will have corresponding stories. A shirtless actor elicited "such an intense longing" that young Andrew "determined to become a doctor" so he could "render the man unconscious and lie on top of him when no one else was in the room." Its furtive nature may be distinct from the similar memories of others, but the bewildering indication of inchoate sexuality is familiar.

Years later, Sullivan volunteered to assist a stranger through the final months of life with AIDS. The scene presents an eerie echo. "I remember one day lying down on top of him to restrain him as his brittle, burning body shook uncontrollably with the convulsions of fever."

If Sullivan noticed the parallel between these moments — described in his books Virtually Normal and Love Undetectable, respectively — he hasn't said so, but their implications could fill another book. The child's undefined desire for closeness, and the solitude of a man's deterioration. The vision of exploiting a doctor's power, and the reality of a nurse's powerlessness. An awakening to sexuality, and to solidarity.

Different people will derive conflicting lessons from these anecdotes, but this is often the case with Sullivan. He's unapologetically homosexual and, until recently, devoutly Catholic. His social sympathies are liberal, but he's often presented as conservative. He has written many times for the New York Times, but he is a leading figure in a blogosphere that sees the Times as the establishment it opposes.

Taken altogether, these qualities attract an interesting audience, and conservatives' criticism of Sullivan's opinions often begins with confessions of fandom or friendship. In particular, conservatives have generally appreciated his steadfast advocacy for a vigorous prosecution of the war on terrorism. The niche that he has claimed, however, has made Sullivan an especially influential advocate for a cause with which many of them do not agree: same-sex marriage. In his various expositions of the case for same-sex marriage over the years, Sullivan has trapped himself in a series of opportunistic contradictions — which may tell us something about the contradiction at the heart of his cause.


The Argument

Virtually Normal (1995) is Sullivan's unique perspective presented as a political argument. As a polemical feat, his strategy is brilliant, transforming the terms of the debate and providing a clear platform from which to volley objections. As an assessment of people's thinking, however, it stumbles on its own cleverness.

His handling of religion strains most palpably. In his chapter on "the prohibitionists" — the strongest opponents of homosexuality — Sullivan quotes St. Paul's most indisputable denunciation of it, Romans 1:27. Providing neither chapter nor verse, Sullivan moves immediately to speculation about Paul's intent: Homosexuality supposedly serves merely as "an analogy" for continued polytheism, exploited only because Paul "seems to assume that every individual's nature is heterosexual." Put in context, however, the reference is more apparently a manifestation of the larger sin Paul has in mind: the rejection of that which can be "perceived in the things that God has made."

Over the years, this divergent exegesis has spun to schismatic lengths. In November 1994, in The New Republic, Sullivan called his reading of St. Paul "so obvious an alternative... that it is hard to imagine the forces of avoidance that have kept it so firmly at bay for so long." In Love Undetectable (1998), fear-driven "loathing" of homosexuals and Jews is "fanned... by the distortion of a particular strain in Christian theology." By August 2003, the Catholic Church's failure to succumb to this alternative indicated a "war on gay people and their dignity."

This is not to deny that Sullivan can be genuinely insightful, but too often, his analysis of competing viewpoints is designed merely to generate elaborate debaters' points. The trick is to push opponents of same-sex marriage into a circumscribed pen, ruling certain lines of reasoning out of order. Already, in the afterword of the paperback edition, concerns about the instability of male homosexual relationships are declared "a truly bizarre argument for a conservative to make."

Similarly, the old-media technique of loaded labeling has helped Sullivan to fence in conservatives. The Federal Marriage Amendment is the "religious right amendment," not a cause of respectable conservatives, on the theory that its strongest backers are evangelical Christians. When Senate majority leader Bill Frist expressed support for it in June 2003, Sullivan bewailed "how close to theocracy today's Republicans have become." The spark for the charge was one word: Frist had described marriage as a "sacrament."

"Theocon" is a perennial smear in Sullivan's writing. Theoconservatism, he explained in a 1998 New York Times Magazine cover story, is "an orthodoxy... of cultural and moral revolution." (On the cover, a finger pointed over red letters: "The Scolds.") Sullivan notes the opposition of alleged theocon Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to "secular monism." By this phrase, Neuhaus means the antithesis of true pluralism, wherein a sacralized state claims to be the arbiter of truth, with no reference to or respect for the religious beliefs of its citizens. Sullivan makes "secular monism" seem less threatening, and Neuhaus more extreme, by redefining it as merely "the secular neutrality of modern American law and government." That is a subdued definition indeed from a man for whom a favorite slogan for the FMA is "graffiti on a sacred document."

Sullivan confesses in its afterword that Virtually Normal is "a profession of faith in liberal politics." His essential dogma is "public neutrality and private difference." The paradox derives from the fact that the "centerpiece" of Sullivan's proposal in that book — marriage — is the basic interface between culture and politics, where the private becomes public.

Sullivan himself has had difficulty adhering to the bifurcation. When Senator Rick Santorum uttered his infamous remarks about the erosion of morality-based laws should the Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision make sodomy a right, Sullivan indulged in a days-long excoriation. He dismissed Santorum's argument for not making the public/private distinction: "Bigamy and polygamy are... irrelevant here," because they involve marriage, about which a right to sodomy implied nothing. Two months later, reveling in Lawrence's outcome, Sullivan declared that the expansion of privacy rights "inescapably means the right to marry."

The institutional truth that marriage is both public and private has brought into the battle over its legal definition the most fundamental of our laws, the Constitution. The Full Faith and Credit Clause has dramatically changed roles in Sullivan's usage. In 1996, he laughed in the Sunday Times of Londonthat "the punchline" of judicially imposed same-sex marriage in Hawaii was that "every state has to give ‘full faith and credit' to the laws of every other state." When Congress debated the Defense of Marriage Act, meant to keep states from being forced to recognize other states' redefined marriages, Sullivan opposed the bill in testimony: It was up to the Supreme Court to decide whether states would be compelled to grant recognition. After the bill passed, Sullivan insisted that it was unconstitutional — which, he claimed in August 2003, "the social right knew at the time and still knows."

At other times, Sullivan argues that a constitutional amendment is unnecessary because of the very same Defense of Marriage Act. In July of last year, he said that the act had the power "to stop one state's marriages being nationalized." By November, he was declaring the suggestion that the courts might force one state to recognize another state's same-sex marriages "disingenuous." He wrote this February that if the courts were to strike down the act — if "one single civil marriage in Massachusetts is deemed valid in another state, without that other state's consent" — he would support a constitutional amendment to "say that no state is required to recognize a civil marriage from another state." His standard for "consent," however, is a tenuous barrier, given his view that state courts are qualified to offer it.

Unraveling the threads of rhetoric, it appears that Sullivan thinks the FMA is unnecessary because of the Defense of Marriage Act, although he opposed that act and wants the Court to strike it down. Once that happens, he will, supposedly, be in favor of a constitutional amendment to effect the stricken act's purpose, so that courts can dismantle it again state by state.

Periodically, this twirling of convenient views moves from frustrating to astonishing. In January, Stanley Kurtz published an argument against same-sex marriage based on an examination of familial trends in Scandinavia, where social policy toward gays has long been especially permissive. "Did no one edit this?" Sullivan attacked, saying that Kurtz's analysis "would be laughed out of a freshman social science class." Simply, "the entire premise of the piece — that marriage for gays is legal in Norway, Denmark and Sweden — is factually untrue."

Yet the previous June, when he thought that evidence from Denmark supported his case for same-sex marriage, Sullivan had written that Denmark's gay partnerships were "almost indistinguishable from marriage." In his 1997 collection Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con, he noted that "different compromises" in Denmark and Sweden "affect the meaning of marriage itself." Throughout the intervening years, in multiple venues and contexts, he touted "de facto marriages." In August 2001, for example, he wrote that trends were hopeful during "the first six years in which gay marriage was legal in Denmark" (Sunday Times) and that the country provided "real data on the impact of gay marriage" (The New Republic).

When he thought empirical evidence in Scandinavia pointed his way, Sullivan conceded that the "importance of the family in society is indisputable." The politics of Virtually Normal do not, however, ultimately emphasize benefits for society. It is the benefits for homosexuals that are uppermost in Sullivan's argument. Any social difficulties that a redefinition of marriage would create he would leave to the "private sphere" to solve. No public norm can be imposed, because "outsiderdom" must be "a cultural choice," and homosexual identity must be free from "the hands of the other." (The lapse into pomo-speak is telling.)

But to conservatives, a large part of the purpose of marriage is precisely to discourage "outsiderdom" and to encourage citizens toward specific, society-sustaining identities. To Sullivan, on the other hand, marriage is a mechanism to gain "personal integrity" and "dignity," to become "fully human." A major source of friction between these two approaches is the effect that the latter's understanding of marriage might have on the ability to achieve the goals of the former. In that respect, it is relevant what Sullivan considers the fundamental determinant of "full humanity" to be.


The Opinion

In Love Undetectable, Sullivan raises the concept when discussing the act of sex. Sex involves a loss of control and submergence of intellect, and to give those things up "even under the threat of death" would be "to give up being fully human." The passage calls to mind Sullivan's greatest miscalculation in Virtually Normal, which occurs in the epilogue, while he is waxing philosophical about the meaning of homosexuality.

There, he argues that features of homosexual relationships "could nourish the broader society." Lesbians' "sexual expressiveness" and gay men's "solidity and space" are sometimes "lacking in more rote, heterosexual couplings." He speaks of "the openness of the contract," of "the need for extramarital outlets," of "flexibility." In response to critics' seizing on this passage as contemptuous of monogamy, Sullivan has asserted — and there's no reason to doubt — that he did not intend an endorsement of adultery. Affairs among married homosexuals, he clarifies in the paperback's afterword, should be "as anathema as" among married heterosexuals. The lessons implied for heterosexuals "are not direct ones." Understandable bewilderment at this passage, however, distracts from what is truly problematic here.

Sullivan seems to take for granted that heterosexuals are driven toward "timeless, necessary, procreative unity," whereas homosexuals must be given space beyond the "stifling model of heterosexual normality." He is even willing to place procreative marriages on a pedestal. In the spring of 2003, he proclaimed the "unique and miraculous... connection between male-female sex and the creation of new life." That connection's alignment with "a marital structure... is obviously vital to defend." It is at the heart of his cause, however, to reorder the structure from within.

In this context, here's the truly disquieting statement of those controversial pages: "The truth is, homosexuals are not entirely normal; and to flatten their varied and complicated lives into a single, moralistic model is to miss what is essential and exhilarating about their otherness." The truth that Sullivan evades is that flattening to a model is precisely marriage's social purpose, and furthermore, his arguments for same-sex marriage are in conflict with the desire he expresses in this passage to preserve homosexuality's "otherness."

After all, how can "otherness" be preserved if distinctions are effaced? Sullivan's writing overflows with appeals to equality untinted by distinctions, as when he rejects "the mealy-mouthed talk about civil unions as some sort of options for gay citizens." The exclusion of same-sex couples is indefensible when, he says (incorrectly), "the living, breathing reality of civil marriage in America" is coupling and nothing more. Just before Thanksgiving, this year, he pushed his equality-based argument almost to the point of making the case for the FMA (emphasis his):

The basic problem for the anti-gay marriage forces is that they are upholding a marital standard for gays that no one any longer upholds for straights... Once it was obvious that this standard did not apply to heterosexuals, the [Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court] had no choice but to strike down the inequality... that's why you really do have to amend a state constitution to prevent its guarantees of equality from being applied to gay citizens.

Of course, Sullivan opposes amendments intended to prevent the law from locking in mere coupling as the open-ended definition of marriage. He's also quick to attack those who seek to bolster marriage's vital connections from other angles. In July 2001, for example, he expressed astonishment at Lawrence Kudlow's implicit support for adultery laws. "Give me an adulterer over an ayatollah any day," wrote Sullivan. He has lambasted "screw-tightening" fundamentalists for targeting divorce, fornication — the whole arsenal of practices subversive to marriage. Yet, in January, he said of the same group that, when they "start proposing measures that would infringe on heterosexual abuse of marital privileges, [he will] take them seriously." If social conservatives target heterosexual as well as homosexual immorality, they are fanatics; if they don't, they are hypocrites.

In parallel debates among Catholics, Sullivan's prescription for addressing rampant sexual license is its legitimization. "Why can we not hold up marriage and committed loving relationships as the goal but not punish and stigmatize the non-conformists or those whose erotic needs and desires are more complex?" But it simply isn't clear how he thinks society should avouch its supposed goal. In Virtually Normal, he challenges the notion that it is better for a "waverer" to choose heterosexuality. In a later attempt to dismantle a column by William Bennett, he asks what is "so bad, after all, with mutual objectification."

Sullivan has written that many gay men value their sexual freedom, while many "yearn for anchors." In The New Republic, in August 2001, he cast his sympathy with the former, and in June 2002, he admitted that he would be among "those who choose not to marry." This may be surprising, given his long advocacy for what he calls "marriage rights." But in Love Undetectable, he describes sex itself as "almost a sacrament of human existence." A year ago, he said it's "one of the greatest and most exhilarating gifts our nature has given us." (Our nature?) In fact, "reduction" of it to "pure, heterosexual, procreative sex" is "excessively strict, given the not-so-terrifying moral dangers of other forms."

So in Sullivan's world of sacramental sex and moralistic marriage, what is the basic marker of "full humanity"? In the New York Times Magazine, in February 2001, he wrote approvingly of the dissipation of "the idea that no woman is complete without a man." Can it really be his position that no man is complete without a man? That those outside of legally recognized relationships are not "fully human"? Of course not. To Sullivan, possession of choice defines humanity, and "full humanity" is a relative measure. For gays, to have "full humanity" is to have the same range of choices that straights have. Whether the extension of a particular choice to homosexuals is at odds with the fundamental reason it exists in the first place is, from that point of view, irrelevant.

Given Sullivan's leveling conception of equality, he can't wish for homosexuals to gain the choice of marriage without also wishing for heterosexuals to gain the choices that gays' freedom from procreation naturally grants them. In such a field of options, society would have no remaining leverage to push for marriage. Sure, it could grant material benefits on the basis of commitment. Yet, even if we believe that marriage stops expanding with the inclusion of homosexuals, even if we believe that the standard for monogamy slips no further, Sullivan's "conservative case" collapses. One cannot simultaneously want no choice to bear stigma while presenting one choice as an expectation.


The Future

Sullivan has considered every strategy for nationalizing same-sex marriage — and he likes them all. To be sure, he has made it a talking point that time for persuasion is "the genius of a federal system," a "slow federal process [that he wants] to take place"; warnings of rapid change in the absence of a Federal Marriage Amendment are "scare tactics." He writes: "The flip-side of leaving Mississippi alone is that we should also leave Massachusetts alone. Deal?"

He constantly attacks the Federal Marriage Amendment as an offense against federalism. But when Ramesh Ponnuru pressed him on the point, this February, Sullivan clarified that while he believes in "winning over the public" and working "legislatively if at all possible," he would also support a Supreme Court finding that the Constitution demands legal recognition of same-sex marriage from coast to coast.

The judiciary is a central component of his politics. A December 2002 blog post explained that "individual states should be able to decide for themselves" about marriage — in state courts, "where marriage questions rightly belong." In July 2003, he reflected in the Sunday Times that the courts were changing hands to "judges who reflect contemporary understanding." (Apparently, they do so better than the public's elected representatives.)

After Lawrence, Sullivan confessed that he was happy that the ruling had gone far beyond "the narrowest possible grounds." Goodridge in Massachusetts convinced him "how impossible it is that any reasonable court" could deny gays marriage. For Sullivan, "democratic deliberation" must be a process whereby judges implement federal law; in the slow version, they do so state by state. Any movement to force actual votes indicates an "hysterical and polarizing campaign" and "unbounded paranoia with respect to courts."

To derail such campaigns, Sullivan will stroke racial tensions. He pioneered the usurpation of civil rights imagery for circumstances of such loose comparison that history needs knots to hold. The courage of taking a seat in a violent environment of ingrained racism is commandeered for ceremonies invited by local government and backed by the national media, the academy, and the bar. The Catholic Church's opposition to fundamental changes to the institution of marriage is taken to be akin to its support of slavery in 1866 — never mind that the documents Sullivan adduced as evidence of that support demonstrated no such thing. (They concerned penal servitude and the like, not slavery.)

Similarly, he will jab emotions made bare through religious friction. In his piece about "The Scolds," Sullivan wrote that it was "perhaps unsurprising that, when Neuhaus gathered a group of public thinkers and ministers to endorse a statement" of their political position, "there were no Jews among the signers." Unsurprising, indeed, for a letter subtitled, "A Statement of Christian Conscience and Citizenship."

The charitable explanation is that Sullivan has gotten so caught up in his cause, so feels the tingle of proximate success, that he doesn't hear his conflicting arguments draining empathy. Whatever the case, he long ago sank into naked advocacy. His work must now be approached like the material of a civil-action lawyer or lobbyist. When President Bush announced support for a marriage amendment, Sullivan reacted violently. All people of goodwill would have to oppose the president. He's said that the "fair-minded center of the country that balks at... hatred and fear" would never stand for pandering to extremists. But the emotional extremism on display in his writings is chiefly his own.

Andrew Sullivan seems, in short, to have an intellect in deep conflict with his emotions. His language practically glows with warmth when the next generation of gays appears in his writing. True to form, however, he began Virtually Normal with a contradictory admission:

No homosexual child, surrounded overwhelmingly by heterosexuals, will feel at home in his sexual and emotional world, even in the most tolerant of cultures.... Anyone who believes political, social, or even cultural revolution will change this fundamentally is denying reality.

Same-sex marriage became law in Massachusetts on the anniversary of Brown v. Board, and Sullivan naturally drew the parallel. To him, same-sex marriage is a matter of gays' integration into their own families. But even if the marriage episode concludes as Sullivan wishes, choices will still be beyond reach, requiring redirected advocacy. There will always be something for which to long intensely on the other side of the glass.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:01 AM | Comments (8)

February 1, 2005

A Note on Sullivan's Hiatus

It occurs to me that folks might be expecting some sort of reaction, here, to Andrew Sullivan's announcement of a hiatus. I don't really have one.

The truth is that I rarely read the Daily Dish anymore; Sullivan's talents and temperament are much better suited to longer pieces, especially book-length essays. For that reason, I'm thrilled to hear that one reason for his break is to write a book, and I look forward to its release. (Of course, if his previous books are any evidence of that to come, I hope he'll get back to blogging, because I've found it helpful to have the blog to offset the soft feelings that his books engender.)

In the meantime, I had intended to post a version of my National Review piece on Sullivan late tonight, anyway, and see no reason not to follow through as planned. If he chooses to respond — at his leisure — I'll be interested to read what he has to say. Whatever the case, I hope God will guide him, during his hiatus, not so much toward whatever he's seeking, but to what he needs to find.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:57 PM

January 18, 2005

Separate but Equal Opinions

Perhaps one of the most overlooked revolutionary features of blogs is the near universal maintenance of archives. Something sound a bit odd? Look it up; with the right keywords and a few minutes to spare, you'll have an answer. Moreover, the capability is free for everybody, unlike the official media searches. Among the more beneficial effects of archives — one would hope — is to teach bloggers to be careful about what they write.

Earlier today, Jonah Goldberg mentioned the unwillingness of Martin Luther King III to endorse gay marriage, quipping "I guess he's a bigot." To Jonah, Andrew Sullivan responded (emphasis his):

What King actually said was: "I think we need to find a way to honor partnerships, but I don't think that marriage needs to be redefined." I don't know anyone who would describe that position - which is John Kerry's - as a bigot. Now, opposing any recognition or protection for gay couples is a wholly different matter.

Well. To the archives:

If you're going to give gay couples the same rights as straight couples, why are you calling it something different? If both can drink the same water, why a different water fountain?

One suspects the water fountain imagery would have a particular resonance with MLK III.

(For runners up from Sullivan's archive, see here and here.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:15 PM | Comments (15)

January 16, 2005

But the Debate Rages On

Whether or not the optimistic perspective expressed in the previous post is justified, we who oppose the redefinition of marriage can't put aside our arguments. Andrew Sullivan may sing in soothing tones when he writes (emphasis his):

[Same-sex marriage advocates] should refrain from any constitutional or legal challenge to DOMA for the foreseeable future (something I've urged for a long time now). We should also refrain from any attempt to force any state to recognize a gay marriage from another state (of course that's different from a state voluntarily recognizing such marriages).

But we on the other side should not fail to point out that Sullivan's rhetoric is such that a state's recognition of another state's marriages is "voluntary" if its courts decide that it must recognize them. Indeed, both sentences that I've quoted essentially advise the same thing. By Sullivan's definition, a state isn't "forced" to recognize marriages unless federal courts do the forcing, and that isn't possible unless they strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

That is the echo in President Bush's hollow evasion about "waiting to see whether or not DOMA will withstand a constitutional challenge." Sullivan skirts the reality of the issue when he explains:

There is no need for the FMA in any conceivable sense while DOMA is in place; and DOMA itself merely underlines the existing reality that no state is obliged by law or the constitution to recognize the civil marriages in any other state.

The "conceivable sense" (whatever that means to Sullivan) in which the FMA is necessary is that the destruction of DOMA and the nationalization of same-sex marriage would likely come in the same ruling: If DOMA were to fall to claims of "equal rights," or to assertions that the Full Faith and Credit clause applies to marriage, this argument against the FMA is akin to suggesting that, in the Sixties, there was no need for an amendment securing the illegality of on-demand abortion as long as the Supreme Court didn't find a right to abortion in the Constitution.

And most of all, let's not forget that Sullivan and other savvy gay rights activists are not the sole sources of activity, nor are even they, themselves, bound by things they say when circumstances call for lulling melodies.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:57 PM | Comments (1)

So Saith the President, So Saith... Not I

All we need to know lies in the mis-start at the beginning of the President's response:

The Post: Do you plan to expend any political capital to aggressively lobby senators for a gay marriage amendment?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think that the situation in the last session -- well, first of all, I do believe it's necessary; many in the Senate didn't, because they believe DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] will -- is in place, but -- they know DOMA is in place, and they're waiting to see whether or not DOMA will withstand a constitutional challenge.

Well, I sincerely hope he's keeping in mind the amount of capital — of any kind — social conservatives will expend on furthering his agenda if he abandons us. Yeah, yeah, we've got nowhere else to go, and we can keep advocating for the FMA because we think it's the right thing to do, regardless. If, however, the big story of the next four years is the strength or weakness of the intra-Republican bond, this won't help.

But we should keep in mind that the political landscape is volatile, right now, and we're better off with a President who is tepidly protective of traditional marriage than one who is implicitly unconcerned with redefinition of it. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the President has to take a broader view of the issues. For instance, installing judges who will refrain from writing elite social preferences into the Constitution will require quite a bit of political capital, and the President is more directly involved in that process; the other two branches of government are the important ones on the marriage front.

Therefore, unless I'm being unreasonably sunny, Andrew Sullivan's happiness with the President is good news. For one thing, I'd wager that we'll see less of this sort of negative hysteria from him. More generally — and acknowledging that political posturing is no doubt part of Bush's calculus — it seems obvious that a President who is potentially in a position to reshape the Supreme Court would not want simultaneously to be the most visible representative of a cause that a not-insignificant, vocal, and influential portion of the citizenry decries as tantamount to theocracy.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:14 PM | Comments (5)

January 10, 2005

Making Excerptions

Just in case you still haven't made it to the magazine store for the latest issue of National Review, Marriage Debate Blog has posted another excerpt of my piece therein.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:41 PM

January 7, 2005

A Tithed Tease

I just noticed that NRO has posted the first section of my "One Man's Marriage Trap" piece. It's only about a tenth of the whole, so now there's another step for you to take:

  1. Read the excerpt.
  2. Buy the magazine.
  3. Write to the editors promising that you'll buy additional issues in which my work appears.

(FYI, I've compiled extended quotations and citations related to the piece here.)

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:24 PM | Comments (11)

January 3, 2005

End Notes for "One Man's Marriage Trap"

Writing for blogs and other online venues, one becomes accustomed to the ability to present sources within the text. And even books have room for pages of end notes. Given the number of quotations in my piece about Andrew Sullivan, it would obviously have been impossible to provide sources for them all. So, I thought it only appropriate to remedy that limitation here, with the items in the order in which the appear in the piece.

Please note that current circumstances required me to compile this list of context-giving quotations and links under duress; my time is extremely limited. Consequently, I wouldn't be surprised if readers find an error or an oversight here or there.







In some sense, physical contact had, in a somewhat comic way, implanted itself in my mind. But it was still intensely abstract. I remember when I was around seven or eight seeing a bare-chested man on television one night and feeling such an intense longing for him that I determined to become a doctor. That way, I figured, I could render the man unconscious and lie on top of him when no one else was in the room.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 7

I remember one day lying down on top of him to restrain him as his brittle, burning body shook uncontrollably with the convulsions of fever. I had never done such a thing to a grown man before—and as I did, the defenses I had put up between us, the categories that until then had helped me make sense of my life and his, these defenses began to crumble into something more like solidarity.
Love Undetectable (1998), p. 22

There is, however, as with Leviticus, one incontrovertible condemnation of homosexual acts. I'll quote it as well: "For this cause God gave them up into vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves the recompense of their error which was meet."

Here again, however, it's essential to ask what the reason is for Paul's condemnation of this clearly homosexual behavior. The reference is an analogy to the way in which Romans, having had the opportunity to follow the one true God, persist in polytheism. ... This is the end of the reference; once the analogy has been drawn, the main point can be engaged. ...

Could this condemnation apply to people who are by their own nature homosexual? Unfortunately, Paul never explicitly addresses this point, since he seems to assume that every individual's nature is heterosexual.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 28-29

This is the alternative argument embedded in the Church's recent grappling with natural law, that is just as consonant with the spirit of natural law as the Church's current position. It is more consonant with what actually occurs in nature; seeks an end to every form of natural life; and upholds the dignity of each human person. It is so obvious an alternative to the Church's current stance that it is hard to imagine the forces of avoidance that have kept it so firmly at bay for so long.
The New Republic, "Alone Again Naturally" (1994)

Both Jews and homosexuals appear in the hater's mind as small, cliquish, and very powerful groups, antipathetic to majority values, harboring secret contempt for the rest of society, and sustaining a ghetto code of secrecy and disguise. ... The loathing of each group is also closely linked to fear, and the fear is fanned, in many ways, by the distortion of a particular strain in Christian theology.
Love Undetectable (1998), p. 19

I feel my own conscience getting closer and closer to making the same decision [of leaving the Catholic Church]. It tears me apart to see no prospect of the Catholic Church ending its war on gay people and their dignity in my lifetime.
Daily Dish (2003)

In my view, the religious right amendment is both extreme - in that it bans any state from granting civil marriage rights to gays - and premature - in that the need for it on purely federalist grounds hasn't been in any way proven.
Daily Dish (2004)

I think Frist is also implying that only churches grant true marriage and that the state subsequently merely ratifies or acknowledges that sacred institution. Huh? Cannot atheists have civil marriage and view it as a simple human contract and a mark of citizenship - with no religious connotations whatsoever? Does Frist even acknowledge the full civic rights of non-believers at all, I wonder? The fact that the good doctor cannot apparently see a deep distinction between a religious marriage and a civil one shows, I guess, how close to theocracy today's Republicans have become.
Daily Dish (2003)

The new moralism has been enforced with a rigidity that puts old-style leftists to shame. It is an orthodoxy, to put it bluntly, of cultural and moral revolution: a wholesale assault on the beliefs and practices of an entire post-1960's settlement.
The New York Times Magazine, "The Scolds" (1998)

That same order should, according to Neuhaus, apply today. For the theo-conservatives, the secular neutrality of modern American law and government is, in fact, no neutrality at all, but the willful imposition by liberal elites of what Neuhaus has dubbed ''secular monism.''
The New York Times Magazine, "The Scolds" (1998)


This is graffiti on a sacred document. The founders of this country would be horrified.
Daily Dish (2003)

And the case for public neutrality is—equally clearly—very different from that of social stability. I invoke both, because, simply, they are such powerful arguments in their own right as to be irresistible. But in so far as they do conflict, it is clear that my argument for public neutrality and private difference is the essential one; and that it is essentially liberal. ... The book, then, in many ways, is a profession of faith in liberal politics, for all its inherent contradictions.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 214

The second issue is whether his point about a "slippery slope" from non-procreative sex to incest to polygamy, and so on, is valid. Where do we draw the line in policing private sexual behavior? My golden rule in matters of limited government is an old and simple one. It is that people should be free to do within their own homes anything they want to, as long as it is consensual, adult and doesn't harm anyone else. Bigamy and polygamy are therefore irrelevant here. Bigamy means being married to more than one woman; polygamy, likewise, means being married to more than two women. [Emphasis his.]
Daily Dish (2003)

Once you acknowledge the dignity of gays as a social class, once you have conceded that their private sexual and emotional lives cannot be reduced to a single sexual act, once you have made the law equal with respect to the private sex lives of heteros and homos, the logic of same-sex marriage becomes hard to resist ...

Equality under the law means something. And now, it inescapably means the right to marry - for all citizens and not just those with power.
Daily Dish (2003)

Then came the punchline [of Hawaii]. The American constitution stipulates that every state has to give "full faith and credit" to the laws of every other state. So if marriage between two women is legal in Hawaii, it will have to be recognized everywhere else. Gay marriage will soon be the law of the land.
Sunday Times, "US marriage maketh man" (1996)

If there is a question about the full faith and credit clause of the constitution, let the Supreme Court decide, as it alone can, the constitutionality of the matter.
Testimony before the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution (1996)

They're worried that if a state decides, even by legislative action, to grant marriage licenses to gay couples, then those couples will sue the federal government for federal benefits. As they should. That will then conflict with the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which the social right knew at the time and still knows is unconstitutional. So the Supreme Court, upholding states' rights to determine marriage and wary of a federal law that obviously singles out gay people for discrimination, will strike DOMA down. Then we essentially have same-sex marriage on a state and federal level.
Daily Dish (2003)

If you merely want to stop one state's marriages being nationalized, you have the power already. It's called the Defense of Marriage Act, alongside the long established precedent of states being able not to recognize out of state marriages for public policy reasons.
Daily Dish (2003)

No serious legal scholar thinks that one state can impose marriage rights on another, under current law. Despite disingenuous attempts to claim otherwise, the Full Faith and Credit Clause has never applied to marriages and still doesn't.
Daily Dish (2003)

Robert George, a political philosopher at Princeton and chief intellectual guru of the Catholic right, laid out the case for banning all civil recognition of gay relationships in the federal Constitution last Friday. It's such a tenuous case - and requires unbounded paranoia with respect to courts and a disingenuous attempt to argue that the Full Faith and Credit Clause applies to civil marriages (it never has).
Daily Dish (2003)

If all legal precedent fails, if DOMA is struck down, if one single civil marriage in Massachusetts is deemed valid in another state, without that other state's consent, I will support a federal constitutional amendment that would solely say that no state is required to recognize a civil marriage from another state.
Daily Dish (2004)

I believe individual states should be able to decide for themselves. I believe that state courts - where marriage questions rightly belong - should also rule on a state-by-state basis.
Daily Dish (2002)

First off: the entire premise of the piece - that marriage for gays is legal in Norway, Denmark and Sweden - is factually untrue. There are no marriage rights for gays in the countries he cites. There are, instead, what are called "registered partnerships." ...

These kinds of unsubstantiated correlations, slippery links and simple associations would be laughed out of a freshman social science class. Did no one edit this?
Daily Dish (2004)

Yes, the Ontario Court ruling really is a big deal. And yes, it really does represent the first actual, living, breathing gay marriage. Holland and Denmark have legal gay partnerships almost indistinguishable from marriage. But the Canadian precedent is the actual thing; marriage; the same thing as hetersoexuals take for granted.
Daily Dish (2003)

And today in Denmark and Sweden different compromises have been made that affect the meaning of marriage itself.
Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con (1997), p. 4

Take Denmark, which has had such "registered partnerships" longer than any other country. During the first six years in which gay marriage was legal in Denmark, the rate of straight marriages went up by 10% and the rate of straight divorces went down by 12%.
Sunday Times, "Marriage a la mode: a game for everyone" (2001)

In Denmark, where de facto gay marriage has existed for some time, the rate of marriage among gays is far lower than among straights, but, perhaps as a result, the gay divorce rate is just over one-fifth that of heterosexuals. And, during the first six years in which gay marriage was legal, scholar Darren Spedale has found, the rate of straight marriages rose 10 percent, and the rate of straight divorces decreased by 12 percent. In the only country where we have real data on the impact of gay marriage, the net result has clearly been a conservative one.
The New Republic, "Unveiled" (2001)

Is this some sort of radical revolution? Will it lead, or has it led, to the dissolution of the family as we have historically known it? Many conservatives seem to think so and their worries should not be dismissed as bigotry or fustiness. The importance of the family in society is indisputable. But there is a far stronger case which says that far from undermining family life, giving support for solid relationships between two committed individuals who meet all the requirements of marriage bar the piece of paper strengthens the family.
Sunday Times, "Marriage a la mode: a game for everyone" (2001)

[Virtually Normal's politics of homosexuality] allows homosexuals to define their own identity and does not place it in the hands of the other. It makes a clear, public statement of equality while leaving all of the inequalities of emotion and passion to the private sphere, where they belong.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 186

There is nothing in Virtually Normal which posits that certain ways of life are always and everywhere better for every gay man and lesbian. There is merely an argument that until the conditions of political and legal equality are met, gay and lesbian outsiderdom is not a cultural choice; it is making a virtue out of necessity.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 211

Our battle, after all, is not for political victory but for personal integrity.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 186-187

I came to revere sexuality not just because it was so long forbidden to me, but because I could not control or nurture it, or even fully own it. ...To give this up, even under the threat of death, would have been to give up being fully human.
Love Undetectable (1998), p. 58

It is also true, however, that homosexual relationships, even in their current, somewhat eclectic form, may contain features that could nourish the broader society as well. ... The mutual nurturing and sexual expressiveness of many lesbian relationships, the solidity and space of many adult gay male relationships, are qualities sometimes lacking in more rote, heterosexual couplings. Same-sex unions often incorporate the virtues of friendship more effectively than traditional marriages; and at times, among gay male relationships the openness of the contract makes it more likely to survive than many heterosexual bonds. Some of this is unavailable to the male-female union: there is more likely to be greater understanding of the need for extramarital outlets between two men than between a man and a woman; and again, the lack of children gives gay couples greater freedom. Their failures entail fewer consequences for others. But something of the gay relationship's necessary honesty, its flexibility, and its equality could undoubtedly help strengthen and inform many heterosexual bonds.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 202

But in case my point is not clear enough, let me state it unequivocally so that it cannot be distorted in the future: it is my view that, in same-sex marriage, adultery should be as anathema as it is in heterosexual marriage.
Virtually Normal (1995), p. 221

The timeless, necessary, procreative unity of a man and a woman is inherently denied homosexuals; and the way in which fatherhood transforms heterosexual men, and motherhood transforms heterosexual women, and parenthood transforms their relationship, is far less common among homosexuals than among heterosexuals.
Virtually Normal, p. 196

But within this model [of marriage], there is plenty of scope for cultural difference. There is something baleful about the attempt of some gay conservatives to educate homosexuals and lesbians into an uncritical acceptance of a stifling model of heterosexual normality. The truth is, homosexuals are not entirely normal; and to flatten their varied and complicated lives into a single, moralistic model is to miss what is essential and exhilarating about their otherness.
Virtually Normal, p. 203

There is something unique and miraculous about the connection between male-female sex and the creation of new life. Its connection to a marital structure in which that new life can be nurtured, protected, and elevated is also one that is obviously vital to defend.
The New Republic, "Unnatural Law" (2003)

this is a classic civil rights issue and it's time to stop the mealy-mouthed talk about civil unions as some sort of option for homosexual citizens.
Daily Dish (2002)

If coupling isn't the de facto meaning of that relationship, what else is? That's the living, breathing reality of civil marriage in America. Given that reality, how can civil marriage be denied gay couples? ... is it fair to deny one tiny group these benefits, simply as a means to promote an ideal that most heterosexuals don't live up to anyway?
Daily Dish (2004)

The basic problem for the anti-gay marriage forces is that they are upholding a marital standard for gays that no one any longer upholds for straights. And this obvious inequality - recognized even by Scalia, for example - cannot withstand judicial scrutiny under any reasonable standard of equal treatment under the law. Thats why I think it's hyperbole to describe the Massachusetts court of judicial "activism." The argument of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was that gays couldn't marry because they couldn't procreate. Once it was obvious that this standard did not apply to heterosexuals, the court had no choice but to strike down the inequality. It was not a radical decision at all. It was an inescapable one. And that's why even a conservative court like Alaska's upheld it. And that's why you really do have to amend a state constitution to prevent its guarantees of equality from being applied to gay citizens.
Daily Dish (2004)

For Kudlow, there is no distinction between private and public life - and immoral people have no right to have any privacy at all. "Judeo-Christian religions teach that marital fidelity and faithfulness are the building blocks of a civilization and society," Kudlow writes. "Without them, there can be no stability. This is not a trifling point. It is a major point. It's not merely that he covered up the affair, but that he had the affair." He goes on: "Flimsy distinctions between private and public behavior ignore all this and serve merely to muddy the waters of proper conduct. ..." Wow. Kudlow even looks kindly on a law in the District making adultery a crime. ... Give me an adulterer over an ayatollah any day.
Daily Dish (2001)

When those in favor of traditional marriage start proposing measures that would infringe on heterosexual abuse of marital privileges, I'll take them seriously. Until then ...
Daily Dish (2004)

Why can we not hold up marriage and committed loving relationships as the goal but not punish and stigmatize the non-conformists or those whose erotic needs and desires are more complex than the crude opposition to all non-marital and non-procreative sex allows.
Daily Dish (2002)

And why, for that matter, can sexual expression only ever be legitimate within a single human relationship? What is so bad, after all, with mutual objectification? If both parties are willing and equal and adult, why is sexual pleasure--that isn't related to some ulterior social good--so wrong?
TNR Online, "Natural Bias" (2003)

Gay men are certainly more sexually active with more partners than most straight men. (Straight men would be far more promiscuous, I think, if they could get away with it the way gay men can.) Many gay men value this sexual freedom more than the strains of monogamous marriage. But many also yearn for anchors for their relationships, for the structure and family support and financial security that come with marriage.
Sunday Times, "Marriage a la mode: a game for everyone" (2001)

Many gay men value this sexual freedom more than the stresses and strains of monogamous marriage (and I don't blame them).
The New Republic, "Unveiled" (2001)

While I support civil marriage for homosexuals, and believe such marriage should be monogamous and will probably reduce sexual adventurism, I have never condemned other relationships, those who choose not to marry (which would include me), sex before marriage, and I have written positively about casual and even promiscuous sex.
Daily Dish (2002)

Sexual experience, from the beginning, seemed to me almost a sacrament of human existence, a truly transforming experience in the adventure of being human; an insight into both what love may possibly be and what death almost certainly is. In the modern bourgeois world, it may even be the only avenue for true self-risk that is still available.
Love Undetectable (1998), p. 57

Sex is messy and dangerous. But it's also one of the greatest and most exhilarating gifts our nature has given us - and free societies respect the freedom to explore it.
Daily Dish (2003)

My argument for the moral neutrality of homosexuality, for example, for the moral good of some homosexual sexual activity, and for the moral evil of abusive sexual activity, whether gay or straight, is not based on pure blind emotion. It's not wish-fullfilment. It's an argument that the reduction of human sexuality to pure, heterosexual, procreative sex strikes me as excessively strict, given the not-so-terrifying moral dangers of other forms of human sexuality. It's an argument that other forms of sex - pre-marital, contracepted, same-sex, masturbatory - are not always the 'evils' the Church claims them to be - and indeed might be legitimate and humanizing ways to express sexual freedom.
Daily Dish (2002)

It will take time and persuasion and argument and experience, but that's the genius of a federal system, a system Kurtz wants to upend. I want that slow federal process to take place. Kurtz wants to pre-empt it now by writing an anti-gay plank into the Constitution of the United States. He wants to prevent the process even starting. I think that's unconservative, anti-federal, extremist and deeply divisive. Which is as good a description of some elements of the far right (and the far left) in this country as you can find.
Daily Dish (2002)

One of the unfounded scare tactics of the anti-gay right has been the notion that civil marriage rights for gays in any one state will automatically mean their exportation across the country. Constitutional scholars know this is extremely unlikely.
Daily Dish (2002)

That's why this move is far less radical than some are suggesting - and why it wasn't crazy for the court to find no rational reason to maintain the exclusion. Sure, it would be a radical move in parts of the South, where gay families also exist, but do so in a climate of fear and hatred and widespread hostility. But that's the point of federalism, isn't it? It can be tried out in one state before it is tried out in another. The flip-side of leaving Mississippi alone is that we should also leave Massachusetts alone. Deal?
Daily Dish (2003)

I don't believe people's basic civil rights should be up to a majority vote. That's why we have courts at all - to check majority tyranny. (When was the last time you heard a conservative worry about democratic tyranny?) I do believe in the process of debate, winning over the public, and doing this legislatively if at all possible - because it makes the reform more stable.
Daily Dish (2004)

Slowly but surely, as courts are staffed with judges who reflect contemporary understanding, the restrictions [against homosexuals] have begun to collapse.
Sunday Times, "Gay marriages could be a Tory vote-winner" (2003)

I imagined that I would want the anti-sodomy law to be struck down on the narrowest possible grounds, for several reasons: I'm a skeptic of judicial activism; I feared a backlash if the ruling was too sweeping; I felt more powder should be kept dry for the gay-marriage fight. ... I changed my mind. I changed it not because I got carried away with emotion (although I'd be a fool not to admit some). I changed my mind because Kennedy reminded me of something I already believed: that, as long as you acknowledge that gay people are human beings with no choice over their orientation, there can be no constitutional or moral defense of sodomy laws, period.
The New Republic, "Citizens" (2003)

The text [of Goodridge] is well worth a good and thorough review. It shows, to my mind, how impossible it is that any reasonable court, given the existing rules for civil marriage, can deny one small group of citizens one of the "basic civil rights of man."
Daily Dish (2003)

You could believe all those things and still think that individual states should decide for themselves on legal civil marriage and that this issue should be dealt with slowly and with democratic deliberation, rather than in one single, polarizing campaign for an amendment.
Daily Dish (2003)

The only way the religious right will succeed with this radical step [i.e., the FMA] is by a hysterical and polarizing campaign.
Daily Dish (2003)

A reader sends this piece of information in, which, to tell you the truth, shocks me. Maybe it's not true. But it seems to check out. Maybe other readers can help cast light on it. In 1866, America was in the middle of another, far deeper, conflagration in part over the role of a minority. The Vatican weighed in on the debate ...

Somehow, it comforts me to know that this inerrant institution, held up today as a moral arbiter, compromised on something as fundamental as human slavery. It makes dissent today easier.
Daily Dish (2003)

It also appears that the 1866 limited defense of slavery was and is genuine.
Daily Dish (2003)

The guarantee of minority freedom [from Neuhausian theocons], in other words, would be majority benevolence. It is perhaps unsurprising that when Neuhaus gathered a group of public thinkers and ministers to endorse a statement reflecting this orthodoxy, in October 1997, there were no Jews among the signers.
The New York Times Magazine, "The Scolds" (1998)

But the result is clear, at least for those who care about the Constitution and care about civil rights. We must oppose this extremism with everything we can muster. We must appeal to the fair-minded center of the country that balks at the hatred and fear that much of the religious right feeds on. We must prevent this graffiti from being written on a document every person in this country should be able to regard as their own.
Daily Dish (2004)

No homosexual child, surrounded overwhelmingly by heterosexuals, will feel at home in his sexual and emotional world, even in the most tolerant of cultures. And every homosexual child will learn the rituals of deceit, impersonation, and appearance. Anyone who believes political, social, or even cultural revolution will change this fundamentally is denying reality.
Virtually Normal, p. 13

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:33 PM

December 23, 2004

Recognizing a Name

The author listed in the corner of the latest print edition cover of National Review (writing about Andrew Sullivan) has a familiar name:

Skimming the online version, I see the author apparently writes for this blog and Anchor Rising. Interesting development.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:35 PM | Comments (2)

December 9, 2004

Hands Down Contest Winner

John Hawkins alerts readers to a new Andrew Sullivan award ripping Michelle Malkin:

One sentence; four cliche-ridden, playground insults. Can you beat it? Contestants can be nominated from either right or left; but the sentence must be entirely devised to insult; it should be completely devoid of originality; it must have at least two hoary, dead-as-a-Norwegian-parrot cliches; and it must assume that readers already agree with the writer. Arbitrary mean-spiritedness wins extra points.

Curiously, all of Hawkins's nominations are... Andrew Sullivan. I see no reason to break the pattern, but I think I've got a better quotation:

Nominations for the Malkin Award are now open.

It could be argued that there's only one dead-as-a-Dutch-conservative cliché in there, but I think Sullivan more than makes up the difference by the sort of playground insult in which he indulges. At least Michelle's comment is that of a brawler — put out there to be heard by those meant to be pricked. Sullivan's is of the playground snoot snickering behind the back of his hand.

ADDENDUM:
Well, just in case that one is disqualified, here's another one:

Flag-burning, fag-burning. Anything for a few votes.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:07 AM

December 5, 2004

Same Old Same Old... Except for the Slip

It's surely an error resulting from the publishing process, but I couldn't help chuckling at the ending of the version of his latest Sunday Times piece that Andrew Sullivan has posted on his Web site:

These contradictions are not the exceptions. They are the American rule. And if you love this tortured and fascinating country, one more reason to be thankful it still exists.

endit.

Or should that be chill-inducing? I suppose I'm inclined to give Sullivan the benefit of the doubt, because he's begun to make the lives of his busy critics much easier. He spends the first half of his piece talking about divorce in Red States and Blue States, especially Texas versus Massachusetts. I recently addressed aspects of this over on Anchor Rising, and both Stanley Kurtz and I addressed it when Sullivan tried the trick back in February. His latest piece doesn't appear to take our arguments into consideration.

As for that latest piece, there are some new instances of the same old trick, but I won't bother going through the motions. You know the game by now.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:27 AM | Comments (2)

December 2, 2004

The Season Isn't Over Yet

I've never been a huge fan of sports. Oh, I enjoy playing them, and I think their organization is an important aspect of the world that we create for children. It's the viewing — the fandom — that never appealed to me. One reason for my athletics apathy is that I tend to be a then-do-it type of guy; whether the "it" is music, Web design, or pole vaulting, enjoying somebody else's performance merely spurs me to my own. The flip side of that urge is a hesitance to critize when I lack the ability or aggregate information to do something or to make a relevant judgment.

Although I don't recall a specific instance, a general sense of folks without that hesitance has been with me since I was a boy. The image is of the bleachers-sitting fathers of Little Leaguers complaining about the coaching of their childrens' team — not so much citing observed shortcomings and offering considered remedies as cycling through a litany of general-theory can'ts and oughts (as well as bragging).

Apart from the dubious wisdom of their collected expertise, there's an element of case-specific ignorance that permeates such idle declarations. Has one of the fielders suffered an embarrassing injury that only his parents and coach know to take into account? Are there indications that playing the best and second-best players non-stop will cause the fifth through tenth–best players to quit? Is there some guiding principle that can't be revealed for practical reasons?

As is probably evident, this meandering post is not really about sports. Indeed, one of the reasons I think organized athletics are important for children is the degree to which they teach important lessons without being so self-defeatingly blunt as to spell them out. The particular lesson at hand applies to just about any aspect of society, but the area in which it has seemed most egregious, of late, is war.

Even granting some allowance for pundits' need to make it seem as if they know what they're talking about, a post by Andrew Sullivan leaves me shaking my head:

News flash: we need more troops in Iraq. Duh. The truth is: we needed far more from the very beginning - and this incremental increase, which reflects the enemy's tenacity as much as ours, is exactly the kind of mission creep we should always have avoided. I'm still dumbfounded by the political branch's refusal to acknowledge this before now, and the lame excuse that the only justification for more troops would be if the commanders demanded them. The level of troops - like the war in general - is far too important to be left to the military. Such decisions require political and strategic judgments that can only be made by the commander in chief.

To consolidate my response in a question: Why can't maintaining just the troop level that commanders request be a political and strategic judgment in itself? In its approach to exerting its military force around the world (nation building and all that), especially in Iraq, the U.S. is attempting to walk a line between two undesirable impressions, with the possibility of abandoning the cause altogether on one side and the possibility of absorbing other countries in an American empire on the other.

America's enemies have learned to leverage its fleeting political will to fight in distant lands, and people in the Middle East are famously sensitive to rhetoric about a Modern Crusade. It seems to my far-from-expert eye that one way to accomplish the necessary political balance between these two realities is to keep troop levels reasonably close to articulable need and not to hesitate to send them when the need is articulated. The Washington Post piece to which Sullivan links begins thus:

Senior U.S. military commanders in Iraq say it is increasingly likely they will need a further increase in combat forces to put down remaining areas of resistance in the country.

Now that a major enemy stronghold has been taken, broader forces are becoming necessary. Discerning a CYA subtext, here, doesn't strike me as required. I don't ask this with an implied answer, but what would additional troops have done in the meantime? Among whatever tasks they could have accomplished, they would certainly have served as additional targets for insurgents who still had a place of retreat. They also would have enhanced the power of anti-imperialist rhetoric. One thing they wouldn't have been doing is contributing to the impression — mostly important to the President's global strategy — that we are not currently overextended. Another thing they wouldn't have been doing is spending time with family — or at least resting in the execution of lighter duty.

I guess I just don't understand how it can be called "mission creep" to send American men and women into the battle zone only when they are needed for a specific purpose. Mission creep occurs when a group starts undertaking tasks that aren't obviously related to its objective, and the circumstances that foster it often involve idle hands.

That the coach is not adhering to the game plan of any given bystander is not evidence that he doesn't have one. Giving commanders only as many boots on the ground as they know what to do with is not, as Sullivan insists, "passivity." (Even less passive is the implied preference for keeping levels to a minimum.)

Phrases, spoken with puzzling authority, such as Sullivan's that troop level "is far too important to be left to the military" may sound shrewd to those hanging over the chain-linked fence by third base. But it's curious that so many on the sidelines don't seem to understand that Sullivan's next sentence applies to them, as well: "Such decisions require political and strategic judgments that can only be made by the commander in chief."

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:17 PM | Comments (3)

November 23, 2004

Sullivan Argues for the FMA

Advocates of same-sex marriage have a thin beam on which to balance. On one hand, they have to argue in such a way as to leave the path through the courts — the only currently viable route for their cause — both practically and rhetorically open. On the other hand, they have to allay fears of precisely that path in order to prevent the courts from being restrained. This makes for some stunning reversals.

For the case in point, begin with Allan Carlson's Family Research Council piece on the link between marriage and procreation. Carlson traces the connection, historically, back to the days of the Roman Empire's decline; theologically, he traces it through the New Testament back into the very foundation of Judeo-Christian religious tradition. He then examines the factors that have contributed to its decline and offers some strategies for reinvigorating it. How do you suppose somebody like, say, Andrew Sullivan might respond to such a piece?

Well, as it happens, Sullivan responded by making the case for the Federal Marriage Amendment (emphasis Sullivan's):

The basic problem for the anti-gay marriage forces is that they are upholding a marital standard for gays that no one any longer upholds for straights. And this obvious inequality - recognized even by Scalia, for example - cannot withstand judicial scrutiny under any reasonable standard of equal treatment under the law. Thats why I think it's hyperbole to describe the Massachusetts court of judicial "activism." The argument of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was that gays couldn't marry because they couldn't procreate. Once it was obvious that this standard did not apply to heterosexuals, the court had no choice but to strike down the inequality. It was not a radical decision at all. It was an inescapable one.

Before I address the larger gap in Sullivan's thinking, I should note that my disagreement about the decision's inescapability highlights a more limited gap. When Carlson suggests that it is no longer possible to "defend the purpose of marriage as procreation... in the current constitutional climate," it is a practical, strategic judgment of the judiciary's disposition: "Mere words—even of a new amendment—are unlikely to contain these 'penumbras' and 'emanations.'"

In that skeptical paragraph, Carlson is addressing "the right of privacy" — the more fundamental detriment to the linkage of marriage and procreation. He makes it clear that an FMA remains one of the "ways in which firewalls could be built around the already battered institution of marriage." I would argue (and have) that the FMA would merely force the Supreme Court to acknowledge the firewall already in existence, one on which every previous loosening of the marital norm has been contingent.

In short, it isn't true that the procreative standard is not regulated within the law: the definition of marriage itself applies it. That the standard is not more strictly and explicitly regulated is only evidence of the degree to which all of the lawmakers and judicial precedent-setters believed it to be inherent. (Does anybody doubt that the oversight would have been swiftly remedied had our forebears had any inkling of our present circumstances?)

Here enters the larger gap in Sullivan's rhetoric. It simply isn't the case that "no one any longer upholds [the procreative marital standard] for straights" — unless by "no one" you mean "no judges" or (to be debatementally generous) "the law." Whether or not the average man or woman on the street would think to hammer it into words, the standard is still upheld firmly on a cultural level. In a manner of phrasing it, the possibility of this disconnect between law and culture is exactly why our representative branches are the ones that are supposed to write the law — exactly why so many judicial rulings, including Goodridge, are correctly derided as "activistic."

So, despite my expectation of disagreement when I began reading Sullivan's post at the urging of an emailer, I find that he and I are of like mind: an amendment to the Constitution is necessary if the citizens of the United States of America want the law's definition of marriage to accord with the culture's definition, and not the other way around. Oh, he'll insist that those citizens only "have to amend a state constitution," but if the decision of Massachusetts' high court was "inescapable," it is a thin ruse to insist that the same would not be true for the nation's high court.

I suffer from no delusion that advocates for same-sex marriage will allow the public's choices to remain so clear. Nonetheless, it is pleasant to bask in this little bit of light, particularly following an election day on which the people of eleven more states confirmed their willingness to write marital truths into the law.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:43 PM | Comments (6)

November 5, 2004

Back to Tempered Moderation

Of all the manifold ways in which worldviews diverge over the perennial issue of same-sex marriage, one of the most irksome is actually relatively minor, in the grand scheme of things. Not surprisingly, the elections' outcome provoked an example from Andrew Sullivan:

A lot of gay people are devastated this morning, and terrified. We have seen, and not for the first time, how using fear of a minority can be so effective a tool in building a political movement. The single most important issue for Republican voters, according to exit polls, was not the war on terror or Iraq or the economy. It was "moral values." Karl Rove understood the American psyche better than I did. By demonizing gay couples, the Republicans were able to bring in whole swathes of new anti-gay believers into their party.

A trend that has been escalating for about a decade reached a fevered peak this year: After hints in Hawaii and Vermont (and, once-removed, Canada), the Massachusetts judiciary introduced into American law the concept of a same-sex marriage. Thereafter, civil servants around the country flaunted the law in an attempt to make legal recognition of such relationships an "in hand" right. In short, the courts, the town halls, and the activists who prodded them gave Americans a straightforward choice: vote on this issue, or we'll take away your opportunity. Well, Americans have started voting — not out of cynicism and aggression, but in defense of deeply held principles.

Indeed, it's somewhat telling that Sullivan and others place homosexuality so prominently in the range of "moral values." True, there were direct votes to be cast on that one issue, but what might have been the results had partial-birth abortion or cloning been available for direct comment via ballot? I'm not entirely sure, but I would hope that Sullivan's crowd could have explained the victory of "moral values" in terms other than hatred for women and sick people. By what calculus is such a large percentage of the population corralled as bigots and extremists when it comes to marriage?

Those who've read Sullivan for a while know the answer: he's back to leaping for the reasonableness turf:

But the intensity of the [traditionalist] passion, and the inherently totalist nature of religiously motivated politics means deep social conflict if we are not careful. Our safety valve must be federalism. We have to live and let live. As blue states become more secular, and red states become less so, the only alternative to a national religious war is to allow different states to pursue different options.

Just about a year ago, back before President Bush voiced support for a Federal Marriage Amendment, Sullivan expressed these same sentiments:

The flip-side of leaving Mississippi alone is that we should also leave Massachusetts alone.

The catch is, of course, that Sullivan's less-politic allies aren't going to leave Mississippi alone. So, while I agree with him, in disconnected theory, that the "passage of so many anti-gay amendments in so many states reduces the need, by any rational measure, for a federal amendment," the most conciliatory response that it is rational to make is: We'll see. The political fortunes of the FMA are more closely linked to "the inherently totalist nature" of homosexual activists than to those American Christians who actually represent the extreme that Sullivan expands so ridiculously.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:02 AM | Comments (5)

October 29, 2004

Losing the Tangible in the Impossible

PROEM:
If you have an issue (so to speak) with the layout of this page, click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column.


As one might expect from a thinker uber alles, Ramesh Ponnuru takes a circumspect approach to Andrew Sullivan's reasons for coming out for Kerry. He disagrees with Sullivan, to be sure, suggesting that a better way to spur Democrats toward adopting the War on Terror as their own would be to defeat them, this year, and hope that they put up a more palatable candidate next time around. But then he adds a paragraph on behalf of single-issue voters:

A number of critics have raised the question whether Sullivan is being a "one-issue voter," who is letting his strong opposition to the FMA determine his positions on other issues. He denies it. Perhaps the same-sex marriage debate has colored his view of Bush and Kerry: Can any of us really say with 100 percent confidence why we believe all the things we do? To be Breyer-like for a moment: I can't say with 100 percent confidence that I wouldn't cut Kerry more slack in other areas if he were pro-life.

I'll frankly confess that I've had isolated moments when the ebbs and flows of the political year have made me wonder whether I could support President Bush if he were more Arnold Schwarzenegger than Mel Gibson. But in the final analysis, Ponnuru's appeal to the natural tendency to struggle in our own measuring of issues overlooks four decisive points in the case of Sullivan and Kerry.

First is the naked transparency of the whole thing. Andrew Sullivan is — or was — a formidable political analyst. How is it, then, that he can swallow the huge pill of Kerry's campaign-year rhetoric about strength in the War on Terror, despite all historical evidence to the contrary, and still know to wink at Kerry's campaign-year rhetoric about his same-sex marriage position's being "the same as" President Bush's?

We need only look to Sullivan's record for illustration of how he swallows the "reporting for duty" nonsense. Allow me to quote an "outrageous argument" from March 1 that, based purely on his sudden anti-Bush (and anti-Mel) turn, I predicted that Sullivan would make:

A lot of the initial gutsy moves required to kick off the War on Terror have already been made. Once in office, Kerry wouldn't pull back on that progress, and what we need now is a President who will refocus international cooperation toward the group effort of the more-subtle work that lays ahead.

Before March was over, I'd traced that argument on Sullivan's part here and here. Now, here's a bit of Sullivan's recent New Republic piece:

Bush's comparative advantage--the ability to pull the trigger when others might balk--will be largely irrelevant. That doesn't mean it hasn't come in handy. Without Bush, Saddam would still be in power. But just because the president was suited to fight the war for the last four years doesn't mean he is suited to succeed at the more complicated and nuanced tasks of the next four.

My second point in response to Ponnuru relates to the first: if President Bush had changed his tune to support, say, abortion on demand, while Kerry was less so, I'm confident that both Ramesh and I would more honestly incorporate that consideration in our expressed reasoning. It isn't difficult to imagine making the argument that, as necessary as the War on Terror might be, it is more important that Western society be worth saving. It is the degree to which Sullivan has endeavored to make the War on Terror issue a plus for Kerry, rather than an unfortunate side effect that grates. Which relates to:

Third, Sullivan was never ambivalent about the War on Terror, or even about the Battle of Iraq. Indeed, the TNR piece is evidence that he still is not. But that's what makes the underlying single-issue-voter mentality that some perceive so objectionable. If one believes that the entire WoT argument on Kerry's behalf is contrived — and poorly, at that — then Sullivan is palpably risking catastrophic failure on a matter of life and death for the sake of the mere prospect of an obstacle in his rush for same-sex marriage.

For the final point, I'll return to Ponnuru's hypothetical shift in Kerry's platform. The fact of the matter is that the Democrats generally, and Kerry specifically, incorporate both the pro-abortion and anti-war perspectives. One can argue that this reality is merely a result of circumstances and how each party has coalesced, or one can sense that there's an underlying worldview that merges the two stands. I lean toward the latter. It is impossible to imagine one's reaction to a pro-life/anti-war Democrat presidential candidate, because it is impossible to imagine a pro-life Democrat of any sort becoming a presidential candidate. There is something that ties its devotion to abortion with the party's approach to foreign affairs.

For his part, Sullivan has a career invested in falling in a midway niche — as a conservatively inclined libertine. In that context, most of those who've been critical of Sullivan have been so not because he's a "single-issue voter," but because they feel that they've seen which aspect of his personality, when push comes to shove, rules over the other. When he finds he must lie down with one of two groups that he finds undesirable, which does he choose?

We all know now. And so dramatically was it revealed that one wonders whether it was ever a struggle, really. Conservatives certainly ought to be suspicious of Sullivan's attempts to drag an issue of remaining agreement with him as he wriggles away.

ADDENDUM:
Well, I see Mr. Sullivan has kudized me with his first-ever (direct) link to Dust in the Light. I won't reply at length, because we seem to be largely in agreement except where agreement is impossible. Writes Sullivan, "This notion that writers somehow exist in a purely rational world outside of human emotion, passion, sensibility and bias is a silly one." Exactly.

"Well, the great thing about a blog is that if you really care that much, you can see all the evidence splayed out in front of you." Yup, and as it happens, I've read Sullivan's writing on same-sex marriage (and related topics) from the past fifteen years carefully and with a reasonable degree of thoroughness. He may disagree with my conclusion, but I hold it honestly and derived it fairly. In fact, when I finished reading his book Love Undetectable — which I continue to recommend highly to anybody interested in him or issues around homosexuality — I questioned whether the thesis with which I'd begun wasn't uncharitable and wrong.

Going back through his blog archives, however, renewed my conviction, perhaps for the very reason that Sullivan now notes:

And the point of a blog like this is not to persuade everyone I'm right; but simply to show how one person can grapple with a variety of factors - personal, intellectual, historical, political - in coming to a simple conclusion.

Leaving aside the question of the Daily Dish's "point," Sullivan's plea skirts an important distinction. The piece in support of Kerry wasn't on the blog; it was on TNR. And my central complaint is that many of those who "really care that much" about his formative grappling see underlying agendas that aren't clearly acknowledged, either on the blog or in more polished pieces.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:29 PM | Comments (18)

October 28, 2004

And Yet You Keep Reaching for the Hand

I've got Mr. Mom duty on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the time being, and either today or yesterday (sorry... blur), my heading-toward-three year old and I were watching Sesame Street. Thereon, Ernie wanted to play "the opposite game," but Burt protested that, every time he actually agreed to play a game with his roommate, said roommate called it quits and walked away.

Well, wonder of wonders, after Ernie had goaded Burt into declaring "Okay, I'll play!" by interrupting with the opposite of everything he said, the instigator was stumped. "Play?" said Ernie. "Gee, I can't think of an opposite for 'play.' Guess the game is over."

That's a clichéd interaction, in comedy, but it came to mind, today, after my wife relieved me of Mr. Mom duties, and I zipped through my Internet rounds. "I've got a new game," said Andrew Sullivan. "I'll make a ridiculous, translucent argument for my John Kerry vote, and the rest of you can treat it as if it isn't the nakedly contrived product of nearly a year of self-spin."

Perhaps the best line from a responding Burt came from John Hawkins — who, realizing that some people still take Sullivan seriously, offered readers a considered rebuttal:

[Putting John Kerry in office to fight terrorism is] like taking a gazelle, putting it into a cage where the only food is small animals, and expecting it to turn into a carnivore because meat is the only thing it has to eat.

Lileks is good, too, of course, with his rant being broadly applicable to a great deal of Democrat spin:

And let us shed a tear for those who believed it was necessary after 9/11 to knock off Saddam and establish a beachhead in the region 'twixt Iran and Syria, but later ran away shrieking like freshly skinned rabbits because it had somehow, by some odd turn of events, turned into a partisan affair. What scared them off? Who knows? Just happened, I guess. Somewhere between the brutal Afghan winter, the interminable quagmire of the operational pause en route to Baghdad — all 72 hours of it — and the devastating supposition that the turkey Bush presented on Thanksgiving may not have been the actual fowl consumed by the troops, we realized that the war was all failure and lies and failed lies about lying failures, and we can’t do anything and the Plan was wrong and Mission Accomplished, yeah right. Oh, and We Support the Troops.
Posted by Justin Katz at 12:24 AM | Comments (1)

October 26, 2004

I've About Had It with the Deliberate Deafness

Here's Andrew Sullivan on Bush's recent comments in support of civil unions:

Who knows what to make of George W. Bush's statement today that he now favors civil unions for gay couples--although his party platform is against them. For what it's worth, I tend to think this is his real position, rather than a belated realization that his extremism on this matter has cost him many votes. But if it is his real position, why didn't he say so before? And how can he support the FMA which specifically bars the "incidents of marriage" for gay couples? President speak in forked tongue.

You know, I'm really beginning to rethink my belief that Andrew Sullivan is a conniving activist; he may very well have convinced himself right into delusion. That part about "a belated realization that his extremism on this matter has cost him many votes" is almost too much to take. Sullivan has personally done everything he possibly could, over the past couple of years, to paint everything having to do with preserving traditional marriage in Fundamentalist Red, and now he has the gall — the gall — continue behaving as if there is no dispute about what the FMA will do, let alone as if he isn't on the wrong side of the analysis.

In fact, I was inclined to allocate some blame to Sullivan's historically obscuring rhetoric for the fact that Michael Totten, writing on Instapundit, would declare Bush's statement a flip-flop. Totten subsequently updated with a link to Eugene Volokh's explanation of why he's wrong, but it is only through the deliberate avoidance of the discussion by folks such as Sullivan that people wouldn't at least know that another side exists. Here's one version, from February, of my explanation about why "incidents of marriage" won't prevent the creation of civil unions (see also here, here, here, and multiple other posts on this blog for more):

So, a legislature could pass a law giving a $10,000 down-payment gift to married couples. It could pass another law giving a $10,000 down-payment gift to civil-unioned couples. Yet, the judiciary could not introduce that same policy arbitrarily, and if it somehow found a right to $10,000 written into the constitution, it's extremely difficult to see why it would be limited to married people, or civil unions, or groups of people, or what have you.

In this example, the FMA would restrict both the legislature and the judiciary from expanding that $10,000 marital perk to others on the basis of its being a marital perk. In the amendment's language, the fact that married couples are currently entitled to the money, of itself, cannot be construed to require that other couples or groups are similarly entitled. But a legislature, by its nature, isn't limited to discerning what the law requires or restricted from setting up parallel perks; a judiciary, by its nature, is.

These arguments have been around for years. I know: I've been one of the people making them for that long. If you haven't heard them — particularly if you've paid as much attention to the issue as Andrew Sullivan has — it's because you haven't been listening.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:03 PM | Comments (7)

October 19, 2004

Quod Erat Demonstrandum

It's of dubious sagacity to take anything Andrew Sullivan writes as being more sincere than an activist's rhetoric. However, something that he wrote about the name-drop heard 'round the world raises an interesting point:

In many speeches on marriage rights, I cite Mary Cheney. Why? Because it exposes the rank hypocrisy of people like president Bush and Dick and Lynne Cheney who don't believe gays are anti-family demons but want to win the votes of people who do. I'm not outing any gay person. I'm outing the double standards of straight ones.

Note the false dilemma: one must either support same-sex marriage, or one must believe that "gays are anti-family demons." With a single logical fallacy, Sullivan sweeps away any possibility that a person can have principled reasons for taking the President's position on the issue. Swept away, too, must be any comprehensible description of the Christian "respect for the person" approach.

There's simply no use engaging such people as Sullivan in discussion — which, I increasingly suspect, is sort of the point of what they're doing.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:01 AM | Comments (17)

October 14, 2004

A Marriage Solution for an Isolated World

Right at the outset, let me say that I respect Noah Millman's thinking and writing. When I manage to read his blog, I find him always thoughtful and usually correct. Still, a recent post of his, arguing that "the fight to prohibit the redefinition of marriage as a unisex institution is deeply hypocritical," falls in the category of rhetoric that many conservatives find sufficiently persuasive to let a difficult practical decision loiter unto irrelevance.

To speak bluntly, Noah's is a dangerous, destructive argument to put forward without heavy disclaimers that some restrictions may apply — that the issue is beyond its reach when spilled from intellectual isolation into a society in which those who respect neither side of the intraconservative debate really do wish to institute their undermining policy. Consider, for example, the ease with which he slips by the entire same-sex marriage fight:

The only states that have even talked about redefining marriage this way have been forced to do so by the courts. The solution to that problem is to punish the courts - systematically, by reducing their power, and not in an ad-hoc fashion by exempting this or that law from review or amending the Constitution every time they rule in a way the people dislike. Believe me, they'll get the message; they sure did in the 1930s.

If you're a supporter of the Federal Marriage Amendment and you didn't just slap your head in astonishment that you missed such a straightforward answer, then count me among your company. We face a judiciary with nigh irresistible momentum toward implementing a liberal cultural regimen as the law, and Noah's solution is not to stand firm on a specific issue about which a significant majority is in agreement in the hopes of bending back the culture.

Rather, his solution is to maneuver through procedural abstractions that are at least two steps removed from any specific matter that has the emotional power to raise the average American's ire. Not only would he leech the public will for action, but he'd attract another politically imposing group to the other side, because the attack would be more directly against their interests: lawyers. Restricting the judiciary on huge cultural questions is one thing; directly assaulting the power of the courthouse is another.

While writing about divorce, Noah mentions that "we're talking about changing a culture, not building a machine." His phrasing is so true, and so relevant, that it's jarring that he does not apply the principle to the ostensible topic of his post. In the process of cultural change, the first step is to arrest an insidious trend; only then can we overlay a beneficial one. Failing to work in that direction risks wasted effort, wasted ammunition, and broadcast strategies. Reducing the judiciary's power, as a cause of its own, would trigger red flags among any number of groups that find the political landscape such that they can't outright support same-sex marriage, or that haven't realized the judicial implications of resistence to same-sex marriage.

And the redirected action would very likely be for naught. The component of his suggestion by which he would fortify marriage — tightening divorce laws — would only further motivate the juristic incubi. Citizens who wish to leave open the option of divorce for themselves and citizens who wish not to have a previous marital decision come under retrospective scrutiny are not the only parties with an interest in maintaining a culture in which divorce is easy and in which that ease requires further contractual protections. Add children into the mix, and the number of forms and legal challenges only increases. Divorce is practically an industry unto itself.

If we believe in the undeclared intentions of the judiciary, generally speaking, to redefine marriage, as well as the difficulty of depleting the power of that branch of government, is it rational to trust that the judiciary would leave tightened divorce laws alone? Couldn't quick divorce suddenly become yet another invisible-ink right in the Constitution? I would suggest that the distinct matters of activists judges and protecting marriage coalesce such that those who oppose the former ought to, first, throw their weight behind those who support the latter, not the other way around.

The same-sex marriage issue pits traditional conservatives against a radical movement that simply does not accept basic premises of governance, culture, or even of rationality that one might suppose to be common ground. Therefore, if we address each battle without reference to the fundamental differences (as Noah has done in separating judicial activism and SSM as issues), then that radical movement — which readily subordinates all to its driving intellectual and emotional needs — will roll right over those who stand against it in any particular.

Noah's prescription, in other words, fits neither the circumstances nor the opposition. Nowhere is this impression more bolstered than in his closing "open question" to Andrew Sullivan. In response to a Sullivan post about an evangelical's call to shift emphasis to divorce, Noah writes:

So here's my question: are you *predicting* that an attack on no-fault divorce is coming ("divorce is next" is how you title this item) and hence warning straights, in effect, "first they came for the gays"? Or are you mocking the Christian Right for *ignoring* divorce and focusing only on sins their flocks would not commit ("Why not combine . . . amendments 'defending' marriage with bands on no-fault divorce? Well, you know the answer.")? Are you attacking your opponents for *not* really caring about marriage, or warning us that they *do* really care?

Consider, by way of indirect evidence, a bit of another post from Sullivan, from January:

So how does Derbyshire propose to "tighten access" to marriage, as currently conceived? He offers nothing. Would he crack down on Las Vegas marriage laws? Would he lobby for a constitutional amendment banning no-fault divorce? Would he require waiting periods before marriage is legal? No word yet. Methinks he's blowing smoke. When those in favor of traditional marriage start proposing measures that would infringe on heterosexual abuse of marital privileges, I'll take them seriously. Until then ...

The answer to Noah's either/or questions is: "Yes." Sullivan is mocking a group he sees as hypocrites. When they cease their hypocrisy, he will take them seriously... seriously enough to warn others what a bunch of oppressive, out-of-touch kooks they are. To my experience, most of those who actually advocate against same-sex marriage are not hypocrites, inasmuch as they would gladly put divorce laws on the table for reassessment. And Noah would surely agree that they are not kooks.

The topical sequence in which cultural change must be pursued and what can be accomplished at each stage are legitimate matters for debate. However, to pick up Noah's Biblical imagery, presuming a beam in the collective eye of heterosexuals, in order to characterize SSM supporters as having only a mote, tars even the most intellectually and personally consistent advocates for traditional marriage with the indiscretions of other heterosexuals — who, again to my experience, are exponentially more likely to support same-sex marriage anyway. Disparaging supporters of the FMA in this way is merely a method of obviating a somewhat cold, certainly difficult assessment of the choices that we actually face.

Posted by Justin Katz at 6:50 PM | Comments (20)

October 9, 2004

The Changing Tone

I don't recall ever daring to offer a timeframe for the reconstruction of Iraq, in part because I expected five years to be an absolute minimum for clearing debris and diehards both, and that's too long a time to make guesses on such things. Moreover, such reconstruction isn't likely to be an orderly trend; sometimes it's going to feel as if things are going smoothly, then some chaos will seep in, requiring further measures. Well, we're about a year-and-a-half out from the war, and the most disheartening reality is the changed tone of some of those who supported it.

To be sure, when National Review publishes a gloomy cover asking "What Went Wrong?," a moment to consider what I might have missed is in order. As one would expect, the piece by Rich Lowry from which the cover's question is drawn is much more even and nowhere near an assault on the Bush administration, which the cover leaves open as a possibility. Let me say that again: the nature of the piece itself is what one would expect from an intelligent, fair, and conservative writer like Lowry. But the opinion world has become a surreal place, and even if that were not the case, the piece's presentation practically invited predictable commentary from the likes of Andrew Sullivan.

For his part, if nothing else, Mr. Sullivan provides the opportunity to solidify one's vague unease into the feeling that the recent past has already been successfully rewritten:

Thanks for all your emails about why the Bush war-plan did not even try to secure many of the Saddam weapons sites that might have contained WMDs and actually did contain ammunition that was subsequently looted. I'm sorry to say no one has a persuasive answer. One option is that the military was so intent on decapitating the regime that they ignored these real potential threats, regarding them as less of a priority. But wasn't the entire point of the invasion to prevent loose nukes, chems and bios from getting to terrorists? Another option is that there were simply too few troops to do all that needed to be done. But that ignores the fact that these weapons sites were left unguarded for weeks, while the borders were essentially open.

Sullivan implies a conclusion of incompetence on the administration's part. (How could an administration that supports the FMA properly run a war, after all?) Incompetence, however, requires that the action that retrospect suggests would have been better ought to have been clear under the circumstances of the day. To remind myself of those circumstances, I first perused some of my archives from the weeks surrounding the main thrust of the war.

One incident, although limited in scope, did much to return me to my frame of mind at the time. Remember that guy who ran out to the U.N. inspectors with a notebook? The inspectors ignored him, and Saddam's people took him away. It may be that reasonable people now will be less inclined to believe that the notebook held any information of value, but when the incident happened, we were still able to believe that it could have been anything. Moreover, as Roger Simon mentioned last month, the inspectors' reaction to the desperate Adnan Abdul Karim Enad sent a puzzling chill down many an American back:

This marked the beginning of my disaffection with the United Nations, of my wondering which side they were really on. My confusion, and ultimately disgust, only increased when the revelations of Oil-for-Food appeared.

Knowing what we now know, one wonders if the U.N.'s lack of interest had something to do with their being able to believe that the notebook could have contained information about just about anything. The underlying threat of unknowns also applied to Saddam's possible strategies. Remember this?

Shahristani said he believed Saddam planned to make his last stand in Baghdad in the event of a US-led attack and use the capital's four million residents as human shields.

"There has even been discussion within his circle to set up what they call a chemical belt around Baghdad using his chemical weapons to entrap the residents of Baghdad inside," he said.

Shahrastani quoted his informants as saying Saddam was banking on 50,000 to 100,000 soldiers to defend the city, but the scientist doubted they would fight to the last man.

Would avoidance of WMD-complicated urban warfare justify leaving some weapons sites unsecured, in Sullivan's view? How about the psychological strategic gain that the nature of the win garnered — and without which the post-attack phase of the war mightn't even have been as positive as it's been? For a taste of the gain, we need turn to none other than Andrew Sullivan and his writing at that time:

Three weeks. Under 100 American casualties, half of which came from accidents. No use of tactical WMD. Extraordinarily targeted bombing; exceptionally light force; oil wells intact; Israel secure; Turks kept at bay. War is terrible, of course. It may flare up again for a while. There's still a chance of last-minute atrocities. And every civilian casualty is a tragedy. But it's beginning to look as if this was an amazing military campaign, something of which the American and British people - and their governments - can be deeply, deeply proud.

More:

This is an amazing victory, a victory over a monster who gassed civilians, jailed children, sent millions into fruitless wars, harbored poisonous weapons to threaten free peoples, tortured thousands, and made alliances with every two-bit opportunist on the planet. It's a victory over those who marched in the millions to stop this liberation, over the endless media cynics, over the hate-America crowd, and the armchair generals. It's a victory for the two countries in the world that have always made freedom possible and who have now brought it to another corner of the world made dark by terror. It's a victory for the extraordinary servicemen and women who performed this task with such skill, cool, courage and restraint. It's a victory for optimism over pessimism, the righting of past wrongs, the assertion of universal truths against postmodern excuses, and of political leadership over appeasement. Celebrate it. Don't let the whiners take this away from you or from the people of Iraq.

Or his criticism of the naysayers of the day:

THE COMING SPIN: You can see it now. Chaos. Looting. Disorder. Losing the peace. It's not that there won't be some truth to these stories; and real cause for concern. The pent-up fury, frustration and sheer anger of three decades is a powerful thing, probably impossible to stop immediately without too much force. And the last thing we want is fire-power directed toward the celebrating masses. The trouble is that they could become the narrative of the story, especially among the usual media suspects, and erode the impact and power of April 9. By Sunday, or sooner, you-know-who will probably have a front-page "news analysis" that will describe the joy of liberation being transformed into the nightmare of a Hobbesian quicksand of ever-looming cliches.

And how about some admonishment of the New York Times's opinionistas:

We liberated it with astonishing precision and with an amazing lack of damage to critical infrastructure. The fact that there's chaos in the interlude between Saddam's thuggery and a new government is a simple fact of human life. Tom[ Friedman]'s absolutely right about the need to invest time, money and care in rebuilding Iraq. But part of the impetus in America for such a task must come from genuine pride in what we have achieved; and a deeper understanding of its moral significance.

One wonders what happened to the necessity of genuine pride in moral significance that Sullivan finds it conscionable to even consider voting for somebody who would say that our "amazing military campaign" was really "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." One can only hope — and pray... often — that 2005 will find the administration embarking on its second term and the world of political opinions returning to equilibrium.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:16 PM | Comments (1)

September 11, 2004

Drifting To and Fro

As is often the way when one drifts toward or away from some habit or topic, I've been surprised, recently, to read people mentioning Andrew Sullivan's blogging activities. When he left for his August break, his blog left my mind, and I haven't been back since. Sullivan has descended from indisputably must reading to hackdom.

Intending not to return to the Daily Dish seemed such a natural decision that I let myself repose in a blissful world in which nobody paid attention to its author. Some posts that I've come across today suggest that, while that world was only a fleeting illusion, the opposite may be only a fleeting reality.

Jonah Goldberg, noting Sullivan's activist-speak reference to "principled conservatives," says, "These little jabs get so tiresome." Yes, indeed, they do. I, for one, am getting to the point of finding it a curiosity that people continue to respond to them more seriously than to the latest Dowd inanities.

Marc Comtois, in fact, is thinking about removing Sullivan from his list of links — not so much as a response to Sullivan's monomania, but because links are a species of recommendation. And as Marc advises:

Andrew, if it seems that all those with whom you once agreed now disagree with you, but still agree with each other, it is true: that should tell you which entity seems to have changed philosophically. It is you, not us, who has become inconsistent. You are not some righteous lone wolf standing on a hill howling at the moon with a song of ideological purity because his pack left him. Instead, you have wandered from the pack and, despite our howls, you ignore us.

For one example of Sullivan's drift, we turn to Paul Craddick:

After quoting a pargraph from the article, Sullivan writes, "I have to say I'm delighted by Cato's stand. Bush is slowly destroying conservatism's small government credentials and commitment to expanding personal freedom." Yes indeed, the institute is unhappy with the Bush administration for record deficit spending, and its regulatory record. Strangely, though, Sullivan omits what may be Cato's biggest complaint about Bush:

'But the tipping point was the invasion of Iraq. As early as December 2001, Institute scholars were writing op-eds urging the administration not to go to war against Saddam Hussein; when it did, Cato was one of the first think tanks to warn that the lack of postwar planning would doom the reconstruction effort. In October 2003, several Cato foreign policy experts joined the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, co-organized by its director of foreign policy studies, Christopher Preble. Today, Cato is unabashed in its calls for an immediate exit from Iraq, a view encapsulated in a March USA Today op-ed by Preble titled "wisest move: leave soon." The Institute's link to its Iraq Web page reads "exit: iraq." Indeed, when it comes to the war, Cato sounds like The Nation--in a March Chicago Sun-Times op-ed, Cato fellow Stanley Kober even called out the administration for not listening to its international critics and failing to retain international support.'

There mightn't be a more perfect illustration of the rot that has invalidated Sullivan's podium for calling anybody unprincipled. Overwhelmed by his feelings about the one issue that can, for him, subsume the importance of defeating Islamic fascism, Sullivan links arms with others who strongly opposed, and continue to oppose, what he once correctly understood to be a step toward that defeat. And he doesn't bother to address the incongruity.

One can trace the incidentals of Sullivan's turned head in his apparent misunderstanding of conservatism's lessons. While it may accord with the libertarian subset, his limited, short-sighted conception of what it means to have a "commitment to expanding personal freedom" is clearly not conservative.

A lesson that those who look to tradition are apt to retain, but that Sullivan has lost, is that personal freedom is a much fuller concept than "things I can do" — or, more psychologically appropriate, "things others can't tell me I can't do." Exhibit A: Sullivan's own political and analytical servitude to the desperately immediate cause of homosexuality's normalization.

Sullivan must manage to find the freedom of he who transcends practicality's limits such that disappointing impracticality can be acknowledged. Otherwise, his chains will drag him down.

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:40 PM | Comments (2)

July 5, 2004

Murder and Trimester Legerdemain

Astute readers will note that I've moved Andrew Sullivan farther down my blogroll, which I maintain according to the order of the sites that I try to visit each day. Frankly, I feel that the revelation of his drastically different presentation for different audiences granted permission to conclude that time would be better spent reading and addressing other writers. However, before I move on, so to speak, something that Sullivan posted last week has continued to bother me:

But the Church does not always spend enough time absorbing scientific developments - especially when they conflict with established dogma. Case in point: there's an obvious distinction between personhood and life - as Wills points out. Sperm is life, but it is not a person; fertilized eggs are routinely aborted naturally (is nature murderous?); miscarriages are a sad but permanent part of our biology; intuitively the abortion of a two week old fetus does not seem to us as equivalent to the abortion of one at six months; and so on. To my mind, life and personhood are so important as values that considering conception as their mutual origin is the safest moral option. But I wouldn't insist on baptizing or formally burying a miscarried fetus. And I can see perfectly well how others might disagree on when personhood begins; indeed, how the Church itself once disagreed. This makes the issue not one of theological certitude but of moral judgment. And that's why I believe that in the political realm, keeping abortion legal in the first trimester differs from condoning it. It's a balance between women's control of their own bodies, the prudential difficulties of making abortion illegal, the allowance of a free people to make such moral judgments for themselves, and the need to retain respect for human life - even if it is not indisputable that a person is at stake. If I were a public official, that judgment alone would make me ineligible for the sacraments. And that shows how rigid the Church has now become.

One could observe that the "rigidity" of the Church has been a complaint of Sullivan's with respect to his central concern, a factor that justifies speculation about his motivation for pushing the organization out of politics. But what leapt out at me was the parenthetical question: "is nature murderous?" As an excuse to believe what one desires, that might be passable rhetoric, but even a moment's consideration proves it to undermine the very lesson that Sullivan wishes to draw.

The question functions rhetorically because it's a truism. Because of the lack of motive, it is a quality of nature that it is not murderous. Of course, nature kills all the time; in fact, it will get everybody eventually. "Is nature murderous?," thus applied, therefore either absolves or implicates every instance of a human's death at the hands of fellow humans. An earthquake in California could collapse a wall on top of homosexuals; that fact does nothing to justify Islamicists' doing the same. Nature sometimes claims the lives of the pre-born; that fact does nothing to justify secularists' doing the same. If the pre-born are human beings with a right to live, killing them with the motive of convenience is no less murder than any other calculating killing.

With the matter of whether the pre-born are "persons," Sullivan turns his head from truth even more profoundly, albeit more subtly. What could the Church possibly learn about the "personhood" of young humans by "absorbing scientific developments"? It seems to me that honestly doing so would lead to the change in position to which Sullivan alludes. Science has allowed us to trace the development of a person back to the moment at which two distinct cells carrying two people's DNA combine to form a brand new entity, which thereafter proceeds to develop through the human lifecycle, if not prevented from doing so.

Conception is a clear milestone for when a particular human being becomes a particular human being. Yes, an embryo has no brain, no heart, no arms, but it develops them of its own initiative; nobody reaches into the womb to contribute them. If the Church — any church — were to declare personhood to be a subsequent implantation from God, then it would have failed to absorb scientific developments.

All that remains is Sullivan's "intuition" that there's a personhood-related difference between a two-week old and a six-week old. And to be sure, supporters of abortion have nearly reached the point of declaring the mother to grant personhood, saying that an organism is a person when the mother wants it. Unfortunately, that encourages a view of personhood that is not inherently permanent, because a mother can want and then not want a child. Moreover, it brings us back to the question of when what might be called autonomous personhood begins — that time at which the mother can no longer "kill" her child.

In being thus brought back, we return also to the realization that Sullivan slipped his own deadline for murder into the debate: "I believe that in the political realm, keeping abortion legal in the first trimester differs from condoning it." Clearly, as the issue now stands, pro-abortion politicians are not working according to this definition, as their votes perpetuate abortion up to, and often including, partial birth at full term. Is that an evil worthy of "theological certitude" and judgment of ineligibility for the sacraments?

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:22 PM | Comments (11)

July 2, 2004

A Strategy on Schedule

So this gay-audience–focused piece, Andrew Sullivan posts on his own Web site:

One of the staggering features of America, after all, is its vastness and diversity. By diversity, I don't mean the usual pablum of racially obsessed left-wing bores. I mean real diversity. I mean the bizarre notion that South Beach and Tallahassee are not just in the same country but in the same state. I mean the idea that the West Village and West Virginia are both equally American. Maybe it's because I come from somewhere else, but I wasn't in this country for long before I realized that its federal system is not just a curiosity. It's the only thing keeping this fractious and divided country in one ramshackle piece. ...

So let's be federalists for a while. Until public opinion shifts to a deeper understanding of the humanity of gay people, let's show the world by example what that humanity is. Change does not come instantly. And it takes maturity to see that.

Somehow, Sullivan's timing of this mature piece (and his promotion of it) seems conspicuous, given the impending vote on the FMA. He offers various bits of advice that those who do not wish for same-sex marriage to be litigated into national law, but who are hesitant to take explicit steps to stop it, will find encouraging to hear:

Call off the lawsuits. Let Governor Romney enforce that ancient 1913 anti-miscegenation law to prevent out-of-state couples from getting married. Wait until the generational shift increases support for our equality.

Surely he doesn't believe that such advice will really be followed. And so it has gone, from Sullivan and others, with rhetoric assuaging the reasonable among the cause's opponents and litigation continuing apace. In warning of a backlash, he hopes to preempt one, and he obscures how reasonable that backlash would be, given our "diversity":

ttempts to litigate the national legitimacy of Massachusetts marriages will only risk disaster--by giving credence to religious-right fears that gay marriage in one state will mean gay marriage in every state.

One wonders how much Mr. Sullivan actually believes his various predictions — or, given their persistence against his counsel, other advocates for his cause do. Many of them seem to think the matter irrelevant, but among those who concede the legitimacy of the concern, activists' confidence that laws permitting same-sex marriage will quickly prove "their benign impact, their humanizing potential, their socially beneficial effects" seems an open question.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:32 AM | Comments (3)

June 28, 2004

The Subtext Revealed

Don't miss Bill's interview with Andrew Sullivan on INDC Journal (even if it doesn't strike you as something in which you'd be interested).

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:42 AM | Comments (1)

June 17, 2004

Talk About Boggling the Mind

One has to wonder what Andrew Sullivan believes conservative positions to be:

Let's list a few: the WMD intelligence debacle - the worst blow to the credibility of the U.S. in a generation; Abu Ghraib - a devastating wound to to America's moral standing in the world; the post-war chaos and incompetence in Iraq; an explosion in federal spending with no end in sight; no entitlement reform; a huge addition to fiscal insolvency with the Medicare drug entitlement; support for a constitutional amendment, shredding states' rights; crusades against victimless crimes, like smoking pot and watching porn; the creeping fusion of religion and politics; the erosion of some critical civil liberties in the Patriot Act. I could go on. Is there any point at which a conservative might consider not voting for Bush?

It looks like he thinks "conservative" means "small-government liberal"; as with his morphing of Ronald Reagan into his own image, rather than trace the intellectual processes whereby people with whom he shares some opinions branch away from him, he ignores the division. More significant, however, are the first few in his bill of accusations. Here, it isn't that conservatives aren't concerned about faulty intelligence, America's moral standing, or setbacks in war, but that they don't buy the anti-Bush spin that Sullivan has been so keen to promote of late. Consider his subsequent post, in response to a New York Times piece about a single captured terrorist who apparently slipped through the cracks for a few months in Iraq:

Besides, the reason that the suspect was regarded as so important, apparently, was because he "possessed significant information about Ansar al Islam's leadership structure, training and locations." And yet - here's the mind-blowing part - he was only interviewed once in "one cursory arrival interrogation"! Here's a military desperately trying to get information on the insurgency; they go to extraordinary lengths to sequester a key informant; they do something that is "deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law," according to the Taguba report; both Tenet and Rumsfeld sign off on this shady business; and then ... nothing! It boggles the mind. Here we have two features of the Iraq occupation that we have slowly come to see close-up: the violation of settled military ethics and international law, authorized by the highest authorities, and complete incompetence.

Actually, this is spin on top of spin. Apart from whatever twists the Times put on the story — and I love the reporters' concern that a terrorist who would otherwise be actively attacking our troops is "still languishing at the prison" — Sullivan ignores the timeline, exaggerates the implications, and diminishes the role of the CIA in order to get more directly at Rumsfeld.

A quick review: the prisoner was captured in July 2003, and CIA officials interrogated him in "an undisclosed location outside of Iraq" until October. At that time, George Tenet requested that Rumsfeld hold the prisoner in military detention in Iraq, and Rumsfeld agreed to do so, with lawyers signing off on the decision at every step down the chain of command. In January, the CIA asked about the prisoner (whether as routine procedure or with the intention to interrogate him [again], we don't know), but his location wasn't immediately available. Either before or after this point, the military police sent requests up the chain of command for guidance, which presumably would have ultimately come from the CIA, and by the end of May/beginning of June, Rumsfeld's top intelligence aide, Stephen Cambone, personally contacted the CIA "to request that the agency deal with the suspect or else have him go into the prison's regular reporting system."

In summary, a terrorist who had been interrogated for about four months fell into the gap between the military and the CIA for a few months thereafter. Only a person whose standards for military efficiency, while actively fighting insurgents and rebuilding a distant country, are impossibly high for ulterior reasons would hyperventilate over this single incident. Of course, Sullivan would suggest that this incident is representative, but with a news media actively seeking out any and every lapse, oversight, or extreme act, any endeavor, let alone one as massive as a war and occupation, could be painted with similar hues of incompetence.

The interested observer can only opine that Sullivan would not wish his own professional activities to be treated with the same degree of scrutiny and inflation. Indeed, he lashes out with arrogant defensiveness when it's suggested that he's been working around "an extremely significant silence":

Pace Jonah, I have been quite clear in this blog that, in my judgment, no self-respecting gay person could vote for Bush; and I consider myself a self-respecting gay person. In my first response to the FMA, I wrote that "[t]his president has now made the Republican party an emblem of exclusion and division and intolerance. Gay people will now regard it as their enemy for generations - and rightly so." I wrote in a fit of hyperbole on March 3 that Kerry "will get every gay vote and every vote from their families and friends." Get the drift?

He hasn't been so clear, apparently, as to prevent Glenn Reynolds, who is closer to Sullivan than to Goldberg on same-sex marriage, from being surprised at the news that Sullivan "rejected Bush's candidacy last month." I guess the fact that Reynolds wasn't aware of Sullivan's piece in the Advocate indicates a condescension that is "insulting to gay people," as well.

Of course, Goldberg's comments were entirely from the point of view of "readers of Sullivan's site," and as Sullivan admits, his "pieces are written for a specific audience." The question that Goldberg is not alone in having, in light of the Advocate piece, is why Sullivan has allowed his blog's audience to believe that his mind wasn't made up about "who's the better candidate for the next four years." Personally, I'm inclined to agree with a comment by Sage to my post on this topic last night:

I am of the opinion that Sully has kept his game of hokey-pokey going for so long because the Daily Dish is such a cash cow for him. It remains so only so long as he gets to play the enigmatic "conservative." The moment he is recognized as just another gay advocate, he loses his status as the maverick, the non-partisan, the invincibly honest intellect.

So, Andrew, do we get the drift, yet?

Posted by Justin Katz at 8:41 AM | Comments (3)

June 16, 2004

Caught in the Conflict

Well, well, well. I'm certainly anxious to see how Andrew Sullivan attempts to wriggle away from the tidbit that Jonah Goldberg has dug up:

As even moderate readers of Sullivan's site can attest, his positions of late have been something of a moving target. I get lots of conjecture from our mutual audiences about "what's going on" with Sullivan and it varies in persuasiveness. Whatever his motivations, no one who reads his stuff can deny that he's moved increasingly into the anti-Bush camp, often for reasons that don't seem powerful or at least persuasive enough to match his pro-Bush conviction from, say, this time last year (See my "everyone into the pool" post below).

But I must say I was surprised to discover this link from the gay magazine The Advocate. It seems that Andrew had been unequivocal about his opinions on Bush in that publication but not in his blog

Even Glenn Reynolds thinks it a significant enough find to merit a link, so it isn't just a social conservative thing. Of course, it's not much of a surprise to those who've been watching Sullivan over the past year or more, but perhaps the truth will spread.

Until very recently, even many of those who vehemently disagree with Sullivan about homosexuality have thought his analysis of other issues to be worthwhile. It seems to me reasonably clear, now, that the list of topics upon which he can be taken seriously as anything other than a gay advocate — even if the issue is not comprehensibly related to homosexuality — has dwindled to the point of nonexistence.

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:41 PM | Comments (4)

June 15, 2004

A Classic Strategem

You don't get much clearer examples of a certain strategy of rhetorical activism than this. Andrew Sullivan writes:

Jonathan Rauch evaluates Virginia's new law, forbidding same-sex couples from even setting up their own private contracts to protet their relationships:
Before Thomas Jefferson substituted the timeless phrase "pursuit of happiness," the founding fathers held that mankind's unalienable entitlements were to life, liberty and property. By "property" they meant not just material possessions but what we call autonomy. "Every man has a property in his own person," John Locke said.

It is by entering into contracts that we bind ourselves to each other. Without the right of contract, participation in economic and social life is impossible; thus is that right enshrined in Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution. Slaves could not enter into contracts because they were the property of others rather than themselves; nor could children, who were wards of their parents. To be barred from contract, the founders understood, is to lose ownership of oneself.

To abridge the right of contract for same-sex partners, then, is to deny not just gay coupledom, in the law's eyes, but gay personhood. It disenfranchises gay people as individuals. It makes us nonpersons, subcitizens. By stripping us of our bonds to each other, it strips us even of ownership of ourselves.

Americans have a name for the use of law in this fashion, and that name is Jim Crow.

Yet the social right finds nothing wrong with this. And no anti-gay marriage conservative has condemned it.

Completely ignored is the fact that conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage don't agree with Rauch and Sullivan about the law's breadth and effects. This is a classic political move of which Sullivan makes frequent use — casually treating a matter of dispute as if opinions are unanimous in order to engage in ad hominem through imputation. The "social right finds nothing wrong with this" because they don't believe that "this" is what's in play.

I'm not going to repeat my opinion about the Virginia law in response to Rauch, because both sides are now simply repeating themselves. Rauch, however, is doing so not to persuade, but as a call to action. The Washington Post headline of his piece is "Virginia's New Jim Crow." He declares that awaiting the judiciary's opinion "could take years." That being the case, people around the country ought to give the legislature "some help in recognizing its error," through boycotts and media pressure.

Then Rauch brings up another incident that actually represents the current cultural struggle much better than he realizes:

... when Rhea County, Tenn., tried to ban gays from living there, it became a national laughingstock and hastily backed down.

Of interest, in this comparison, is not just the suggestion that Virginia, despite legitimate disagreement about what it has done, ought to become a place of derision. It's also that Rhea County provides an example of a case in which there was no disagreement, and yet Sullivan, among others, attempted some of his same tricks.

The significance of Rauch's comparison goes still deeper. Yesterday, Jeremiah Lewis noted another story out of Rhea County:

Judges have once again called upon the fallacious and errant "Separation" argument to support activism concerning religious activities in conjunction with government-sponsored programs and institutions. Here, a voluntary Bible class has been deemed in violation of the separation of church and state because it teaches the Bible as a religious truth.

Seventy-nine years ago, the Scopes Monkey Trial raised the question of whether it ought to be legal to teach evolution in Rhea County. Now, a three-judge panel of a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the county's schools cannot teach the Bible as if religious claims about it are true. Perhaps social conservatives can muster some small gratitude to our opponents for having the patience to allow the courts to work their magic on that issue.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:47 PM | Comments (1)

June 9, 2004

Sidestepping the Constructive Objection

It's really too bad. Although he found a more direct quote than anything in the speech that I cited in response to him, Andrew Sullivan doesn't bother to engage the more purposeful and potentially constructive aspects of the objection. He sidesteps:

"Society has always regarded marital love as a sacred expression of the bond between a man and a woman. It is the means by which families are created and society itself is extended into the future. In the Judeo-Christian tradition it is the means by which husband and wife participate with God in the creation of a new human life. It is for these reasons, among others, that our society has always sought to protect this unique relationship. In part the erosion of these values has given way to a celebration of forms of expression most reject. We will resist the efforts of some to obtain government endorsement of homosexuality." - Ronald Reagan, July 12, 1984. That's a useful reminder to me not to get too carried away by Reagan's differences with Bush-style conservatism.

Why won't he explore the disparity between the position that he would have wished for Reagan to take and what Reagan did, in fact, say? As Rod Dreher once asked himself, "if we liberals were wrong about [communism], and Mr. Reagan was right, what else did the old man know that I didn't?"

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:13 PM | Comments (2)

June 8, 2004

Andrew Sullivan's Straight Line for Reagan

PROEM:
Click "Turn Light On" at the top of the left-hand column for a simpler page design that may be easier to read.


Yesterday morning, I bookmarked a Reagan speech to which John Hawkins linked on his main page, my intention being to read it while I ate lunch. Before that break had arrived, a layer of dispirited frustration had coated my general sense of loss as a result of Andrew Sullivan's telling and predictable emphasis while writing about Reagan. From his initial reaction:

he paid respect to religion but never turned Republicanism into what it is today - a repository for sectarian scolding

Expanded the next day, first in context of the Texas GOP's platform:

If you want to know why someone who loved Ronald Reagan can no longer support the Republican Party, then the extremism of George W. Bush's own party in his home state is Exhibit A.

Then, answering the question, "What does Reagan's legacy demand of us now?"

... he would not have played the anti-gay card that Karl Rove has; and he would never have recast his party into one where only fundamentalist Christians are ultimately, fully at home. Unlike Bush, Reagan was a man of ideas, an intellectual, a man who had thought long and hard about the world and developed keen ideas about what was needed to fix its problems. ...

It is a long road from [Reagan's benign, chuckling steeliness] to the dour cynicism of Karl Rove and joyless puritanism of John Ashcroft. There was always the old Democrat in Reagan's new Republican, a deep sense of civility, a wry sense of humor, a faith leavened with skepticism, a conservatism informed by liberalism's faith in the future. It is not too late to rescue this legacy from the clutches of today's acidic, sectarian GOP. But time is running out.

As did Ramesh Ponnuru, I saw this as an instance of the manifest and active desire of some "for a Reagan in their own image." The dispirited frustration mentioned above was not unlike the feeling a child has when, throughout the course of playing a game, his cousin simply claims all of the pieces for himself. There is no effort, on Sullivan's part, to take Reagan as common ground with those who oppose same-sex marriage and thereby to pursue understanding and resolution.

So then I ate lunch and read Reagan's 1984 remarks at an ecumenical prayer breakfast in Dallas:

I believe that faith and religion play a critical role in the political life of our nation -- and always has -- and that the church -- and by that I mean all churches, all denominations -- has had a strong influence on the state. And this has worked to our benefit as a nation.

Those who created our country -- the Founding Fathers and Mothers -- understood that there is a divine order which transcends the human order. They saw the state, in fact, as a form of moral order and felt that the bedrock of moral order is religion. ...

George Washington referred to religion's profound and unsurpassed place in the heart of our nation quite directly in his Farewell Address in 1796. Seven years earlier, France had erected a government that was intended to be purely secular. This new government would be grounded on reason rather than the law of God. By 1796 the French Revolution had known the Reign of Terror.

Is this merely an example of what Sullivan means when he writes that Reagan "exploited the religious right"? If so, his exploitation was thorough, gigantic, apocalyptically cynical.

The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable. And as morality's foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related. We need religion as a guide. We need it because we are imperfect, and our government needs the church, because only those humble enough to admit they're sinners can bring to democracy the tolerance it requires in order to survive.

Recall that, last June, Sullivan declared the Republican party mere steps from imposing theocracy because Bill Frist called marriage a "sacrament" that overlaps with the "legal entity of a union between... a man and a woman." Taking that as the measuring scale, Sullivan has a Lewisian choice: Ronald Reagan was either a wicked liar or a "theocon," by the Daily Disher's definition.

Now, Sullivan could point to Reagan's calls, within the speech, for tolerance of all religions and even of non-religion. Although requiring quite a reach to same-sex marriage, that would raise a valid field of discussion, essentially addressing whether such tolerance necessarily draws a distinction between Reagan and Frist — whether Reagan's insistence that we "mandate no belief" would have made the transition from private practice to public institution, or whether he would have sided with traditionalists in this instance of applying "moral teaching to public questions."

It would go beyond my knowledge, into presumptuous dishonesty, were I to claim to know. However, one needn't have extensive understanding of Reagan's views to observe that Sullivan assumes, as is his wont, that there are no exits before support for same-sex marriage from opposition, for example, to laws barring homosexuals from teaching in public schools. This simplistic progression is fine, as a personal belief, but a public intellectual ought to be able to trace the thinking of the other side in all of its complexity. Instead, Sullivan claims for his policy preference the inevitable cloak of "modernity," about which Reagan "was definitely more easy-going... than the current Republican leadership." But modernity, whatever its definition, changes from decade to decade.

Sullivan cites the public school example in his reply to Ponnuru. Widening the gap between the two issues is that California's 1978 ballot initiative Proposition 6 included, as public homosexual conduct, "advocating, soliciting, imposing, encouraging or promoting of private or public homosexual activity." As part of his statement against it, Reagan wondered whether even opposition to the proposition, if it had passed, might be considered advocacy. The distinctions are manifold. Surely there are people who opposed or would have opposed Proposition 6, then, who also oppose public recognition of same-sex marriage, now, and I'd argue that Reagan would have been among them.

In his speech at the prayer breakfast, Reagan traced the judiciary's assault on public expression of religion, beginning with the 1962 case in which the Supreme Court "banned compulsory saying of prayers" and expanding from there, until:

Today there are those who are fighting to make sure voluntary prayer is not returned to the classrooms. And the frustrating thing for the great majority of Americans who support and understand the special importance of religion in the national life -- the frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance, freedom, and openmindedness.

Such arguments are very much in line with those presented against same-sex marriage — particularly judicial imposition thereof. Isn't there direct route from Reagan's stated position on public religion in 1984 to opposition to SSM now? Aren't there lines crossed between standing up for homosexual teachers in 1978 and advocating for the redefinition of marriage now? Of course. Many conservatives — including myself — drew the line on the tolerant side of the sodomy issue.

Reagan expressed one more truth, on that August morning in 1984, that Sullivan seems to have forgotten:

When John Kennedy was running for President in 1960, he said that his church would not dictate his Presidency any more than he would speak for his church. Just so, and proper. But John Kennedy was speaking in an America in which the role of religion -- and by that I mean the role of all churches -- was secure. Abortion was not a political issue. Prayer was not a political issue. The right of church schools to operate was not a political issue. And it was broadly acknowledged that religious leaders had a right and a duty to speak out on the issues of the day. They held a place of respect, and a politician who spoke to or of them with a lack of respect would not long survive in the political arena.

Can Andrew Sullivan not step outside of his advocacy far enough to see, from a social conservative's perspective, the differences between America now and the America that watched Ronald Reagan leave office? Let alone the California of 1978. I think he can — or at least he once could — but that it requires a proximity of sympathy that his activism precludes.

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:36 PM | Comments (13)

June 5, 2004

Upper Crust Second Class?

There's just something about this instance of a successful white male Oxford and Harvard graduate journalist quoting a successful white male Georgetown graduate politician:

The president decided to trot out a constitutional amendment to remind us, even though we are already reminded daily, that we are second-class citizens. In case we harbored any illusions that we were equal, he wants to write this into the Constitution.

It is only by my own fault (with perhaps a touch of misfortune) that I am not a successful white male Ivy League–level graduate something. Having thereby gained the view of the state to which I've providentially slipped, I find these tones of put-upon deprivation jarring, to say the least. That many more Americans could languish in Andrew Sullivan and David Catania's degree of "second class"!

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:56 AM

May 6, 2004

Morality, Religion, and Politics in Black and White

Andrew Sullivan is right about the significance of any American Catholic Church action to make a policy of denying Communion to "pro-choice" politicians:

Cutting off people from the sacraments is a drastic step for the church to take; taking on almost all one political party and a hefty swathe of another in a democracy as large and influential as the United States would be a political Rubicon for the Catholic church.

Unfortunately, he doesn't stop there:

I wonder if, under theo-conservative logic, the withholding of the sacraments should be restricted only to public officials. Why not any lay Catholic who publicly dissents from Church teaching on matters of faith and morals? Why not pundits, writers, and, er, bloggers? And why just abortion? Why not those who express enthusiastic support for the death penalty, which is clearly condemned by the Vatican in almost all cases? Why not those who oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment, which is all that keeps us from sliding into the end of civilization, according to National Review? What are the exact lines of demarcation here? I ask, because purges rarely end where they start, and it would be good to read a thorough piece detailing who should be thrown out and who would be allowed by the bishops to stay.

These scattershot litanies of rhetorical questions are certainly a potent weapon. They tempt one into their mire because each point lends itself to easy response, yet they take time to wade through, and lead only to the conclusion that the writer doesn't really care to hear the answers, anyway. For the initial "who else" theme, suffice to say that it's quite a bit simpler to comment on the views of public Catholics, and that the opinions of Catholics who are federal legislators can be more directly and calamitously put into action.

For the "what next" theme, perhaps it will do to suggest that leniency, as well, rarely ends where it starts. What are the lines of demarcation for that? Ought a politician who proposes legislation permitting the post-birth abortion of children who exhibit signs of homosexuality be permitted to take of the Eucharist? As Amy Welborn puts it, "The problem with this is that without nuance, any effort immediately gets boiled down to a checklist." One would think Sullivan's penchant for nuance elsewhere, not to mention his Christian foundation, would overcome the tendency of libertarians to demand universally applicable rules.

The conclusion exposed through whittling the rhetoric down is that Sullivan doesn't fundamentally acknowledge the depth of the Church's opposition to abortion. "I see every reason for the church to make a positive case loudly and often about the moral gravity of abortion." A positive case about moral gravity? Encouraging positive action to oppose the killing of demonstrably innocent human beings indicates an "impulse to publicly shame, purge and purify religion"? To be fair, I suspect abortion isn't Sullivan's primary topic, here; rather those (we) damnable theocons are.

This suspicion finds support in Sullivan's subsequent and related piece on The New Republic's Web site. Most obviously, in attacking Robert Novak et al., Sullivan drops the inclusion of both political parties from his assessment of what the Church is doing:

Catholicism cannot be simply translated into being a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative. It is about faith and morals, not about partisanship. It is also about a stance toward human beings that concedes that we are all human, all sinners and all capable of error. Sincere politicians who differ on conscientious grounds on some matters of faith are not always being bad Catholics. By carefully weighing the issues, by finding the difficult link between their private faith and their public duties in a secular, multi-faith democracy, they are often being good Catholics in a complex modern world.

It's interesting to note that Sullivan believes politicians to be capable of a careful balance on issues that the Church apparently cannot muster. But since the reference is to an ideal, sincere politician, I suppose such an attribute might be found in him, as well. The matter of partisanship comes up again when Sullivan quotes Novak quoting Deal Hudson as saying, "Anytime our leaders allow the life issue to be made one of many issues provides cover for Kerry's effort to attract Catholic votes." Sullivan explains the statement as follows:

The premise of Hudson's remarks is that all traditional Catholics have to vote for a pro-life Republican (since the Democrats are institutionally committed to abortion rights). Any other position must be condemned by the hierarchy and in the most painful personal way--by denying the sacraments to the individual concerned.

Contrary to the parenthetical, Hudson said nothing about Democrats' institutional commitments. If the party position were the determiner, then why would a particular Republican have to be pro-life? Politically concerned Catholics understand not only that an individual is responsible for his own actions, but also that it is critical to insert into institutionally hostile groups believers who will witness to the proper attitude. Sullivan's reinterpretation isn't a small matter. Most profoundly, it allows him to elide from demands on a politician to demands on voters. He concedes that Kerry doesn't appear to be taking a careful, "reluctant" approach to resolving political and moral demands, but in contrast, he presents the Church as acting in a way that it is not:

For the Church to start picking political candidates would be a death-knell to its ability to be a trans-political religious organization. Separating the Church from electoral politics is in fact a defense of Catholicism from the depredations of politicized religion that has so infected the Protestant right, which is now a de facto branch of one political party.

Nobody in the hierarchy (that I've seen) has declared Kerry unfit for office or insisted that his Catholic supporters should cease to take Communion. Sullivan, lover of nuance to complexity that he is, reduces the options for everybody (except politicians) to two: either the Church must offer consequence-free suggestions, or it must act specifically against any politician who differs with any of its teachings, from capital punishment to "regressive tax policies"; either Catholic voters must place abortion in the same category as every other social issue, or they must use abortion as an unadulterated litmus test.

The latter point allows him to go one step further and, by lumping abortion in with capital punishment, pull President Bush into the dispute. In the context of the actual question with respect to handling John Kerry, this makes absolutely no sense. Bush is not Catholic, and Catholics are not being told how to vote. At most, conservatives in the Church are suggesting that Kerry oughtn't be allowed to portray himself as a Catholic in good standing — some for political reasons, yes, but also because Kerry's activities and the Church's silence about them has the effect of distorting what its moral position is. (And if Catholic voters could only vote for Catholics in good standing, Bush would be out of the running from the start.)

This distinction between endorsing a policy and endorsing the endorser of a policy comes up again (and not just by Sullivan) with respect to Rick Santorum's support of Arlen Specter. I'm as disappointed as anybody in the sequence events in Pennsylvania, but I've been bewildered by the currency that statements such as the following from Sullivan have had:

Didn't Santorum effectively urge voters to support someone who favors abortion in some cases against a candidate who opposes it in all circumstances? Shouldn't the Vatican be refusing to grant the sacraments to Santorum because of his deviation from the official all-or-nothing line? Wasn't he giving voters Catholic "cover" for voting for an abortion supporter?

First, it must be noted that "all or nothing" is Sullivan's insistence; for the Church, it's closer to "for some, under certain circumstances." Second, he glosses over the degree to which a point that he makes toward his own position applies to that of his opponents, as well. If a politician can vote in support of abortion given a larger context of issues, surely voters can vote for a politician despite a given policy disagreement. I'd argue that voters — once removed from the actual issue and twice removed from an actual abortion — have considerably more room for judgment.

One gets the impression that Sullivan believes only politicians can be trusted with balancing difficult factors. Or else, that actions that have political ramifications must be taken for political reasons and aligned with the rules of politics, even when they are founded in religion. That approach to life and society strikes me as neither Christian nor American.

Posted by Justin Katz at 3:20 PM | Comments (1)

April 27, 2004

Notes on the Marriage Debate

For three full weeks, I've held on to Andrew Sullivan's "fisking" of Shelby Steele. To be honest, I had intended to let it slide, at first — not knowing much about Mr. Steele, and believing that the form and style of fisking plays to Sullivan's weaknesses, not his strengths. Fisking his efforts, in turn, is more work than it seems worth. So, rather than reread the thing and offer a polished rebuttal, I thought I'd just (essentially) post the notes that I made a few weeks ago in response to the piece and some related entries on his blog.

If one reads broadly from Sullivan's marriage library, a tacit underscore becomes apparent that seems to hold for many other advocates for SSM: he wants marriage just to be another choice. Homosexuals can live the free, libertine lifestyle, or they can marry. No stigma or objective preference is intended to attach to either. However, for the broader society, marriage is meant to create expectation.

The nature of straight relationships is such that the wilder, multifarious practices that even the "conservative" Sullivan has been known to laud would be detrimental to society. Heterosexuals simply cannot afford to make marriage just another option. A strong cultural expectation of marriage is most important for those whose behavior makes marriage preferable even though it mightn't be what they would choose in a void. A couple whose members thoroughly commit to each other purely as a matter of choice — considering that commitment to be absolutely binding (as Sullivan believes all marriages should be) — are in no need of a public institution, or at least the "spouses" need it less. To get to the point, marriage isn't meant to be a choice, strictly speaking, because those who would choose it don't require incentive, and the real benefit of marriage isn't the perks, but the familial structure for children.

Sullivan flips the emphasis, saying that some straight marriages are childless, so homosexuals' natural childlessness isn't a factor. But he's wrong to disconnect marriage from procreation in such a way. Even leaving aside that the connection still exists in fact, it must continue to exist in principle. Both marriage and procreation may not be individually connected with sex, but it is crucial that they remain connected with each other.

This statement is sure to elicit guffaws from SSM supporters, but marriage is less about whether two heterosexuals do procreate than that, barring relatively uncommon problems, they can. Much has been made of the truism that birth control has disconnected sex from childbirth. However, in terms relative to choices of lifestyle, even birth control does not open the promiscuous "choice" that marriage is meant to foreclose. Most forms of contraception require some degree of control over the circumstances of the sex. With multiple partners, particularly for men, it becomes exponentially more difficult to ensure effectiveness.

Even so, Sullivan might argue, marriage is ultimately about family, and "marriage discrimination" drives wedges into families. It has been my reading experience that Sullivan usually means this to refer to the homosexual adults and their parents and siblings. Most dramatic, in this line, is his periodic reference to figures who oppose same-sex marriage, but who have gay sons and daughters:

When "pro-family" types talk about wedge issues, they don't often concede that one of their wedges is to split families apart. And part of the point of civil marriage for gays is to bring families back together.

It's truly dissonant for a self-proclaimed libertarian to be pushing the concept that government action can confer legitimacy on offsprings' lifestyles in the eyes of their parents — particularly when this is an area in which the libertarian view would actually be correct. To the extent that families' wounds related to homosexuality aren't healed, a marriage ceremony that comes "close enough" to meeting the parents' thwarted visions of their children's futures will be of limited value. Legal accoutrements will be of even less. On the other end, families not currently divided over the issue will not find themselves more not divided because of a government stamp.

Beyond all the policy judgments made at a distance, I wonder if Sullivan, sitting at his computer, staring aimlessly out the window, ever meditates on why parents would work against the immediate interests of their own children. Yeah, there are certain to be instances of parents' lashing out and/or harboring some unspoken hope that preventing the institutional normalization of gay relationships will push their children back toward more-normal lives. But couldn't it be, just maybe, that they believe — also or instead — that the issue is important enough to merit resisting the pull of personal accord?

Posted by Justin Katz at 9:13 PM

April 19, 2004

Unspinning Evangelical Marriage Poll Numbers

Andrew Sullivan is surprised and encouraged by a poll showing that white evangelicals are human beings with a variety of concerns, which they approach with varying emphasis. Who'd have thought such a thing could be possible?

While I must admit to some reluctance to temper Sullivan's revelation, it's important to note that he gets the numbers wrong. Some of the blame belongs with his source and its source, both of whose contributions are probably some combination of error and spin. Here's Sullivan's first claim of fact:

52 percent of evangelicals said they preferred the matter to be handled by the states.

Here's how Frank Langfitt of the Sun-Sentinel (which I'm pretty sure is Sullivan's source) put it:

52 percent would prefer to rely on state laws to prevent gays from marrying rather than altering the U.S. Constitution.

That language comes directly from the PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly summary of its survey. But they're all wrong. Here's the actual question that respondents answered (see page 12 on this PDF):

Should the U.S. Constitution be amended to ban gay marriage, or is it enough to prohibit gay marriage by law without changing the Constitution?

The first thing to note is that the number is actually 52% of the 85% who oppose gay marriage. More importantly, the summary writer inserted the concept of state law and introduced the notion of preference, and then Sullivan replaced the emphasis on prevention with generic "handled by the states." The question, itself, however, is one of effectiveness — whether regular ol' laws, federal or state, would be sufficient. The survey doesn't explore whether proven inadequacy of statutes would switch support toward an amendment. Mention of the judiciary might have yielded higher support for an amendment, for example.

Here's Sullivan's second claim of fact:

Moreover 48 percent of evangelicals said that support for marriage rights for gays would not disqualify a candidate from their vote.

He actually got that backwards, as checking his source shows:

only 48 percent of white evangelicals said a candidate's support for gay marriage would disqualify him from receiving their votes.

The "only" is a bit of mild editorializing on Langfitt's part, not included in the PBS summary. Still, PBS assists him by failing to mention that the 48% compares with only 38% who would still vote for a candidate who disagreed on the issue.

The number mix-up is probably an honest mistake on Sullivan's part. However, to the degree that he strengthens the language with his rhetorical boilerplate ("support for marriage rights for gays"), he highlights two important omissions that begin with the summary.

First, another 7% said it "depends." The question is sufficiently open regarding both the degree of disagreement and the areas of agreement that some folks (myself included) would leave room for an election offering the choice between, say, a candidate who would abandon the war on terror and issue an executive order instituting gay marriage and one who would be strong against terrorism and offered some mild, qualified support for gay marriage. Seen in such a light, the 48% is astoundingly high.

Second, if I'm reading the survey data correctly, this question was asked of the total population. In other words, the 38% who would vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed about gay marriage might include as much as 10% who would — despite disagreement — be voting for a candidate who opposes gay marriage.

Thus do numbers transform in meaning and significance. Polls don't offer the most concrete of data, in the first place, but as the layers of spin and misreading pile on, they shift from cautiously useful, to useless, to detrimental.

Posted by Justin Katz at 10:36 AM | Comments (5)

April 16, 2004

Of Smears and Cover-Ups

Andrew Sullivan has let slip that he's preparing to unleash an assault on Marilyn Musgrave, whose name has become attached to the Federal Marriage Amendment. By way of answering the question of his post, "Who Is Marilyn Musgrave?," Sullivan declares:

Her record is almost entirely devoted to an obsession with homosexuality.

Somehow consistent with her being "almost entirely devoted" to a different issue, Musgrave's "other obsession is the reintroduction of the military draft, and virulent opposition to any legal abortions." Then Sullivan continues with a litany of social matters, providing narrow (linkless) effects of her voting record, that makes him somewhat less balanced than Musgrave's 2002 campaign opponent, Stan Matsunaka.

This is in marked contrast to the absolute lack of evident research in an earlier post in which he compares the rejection of a homosexual candidate for state school board in Iowa with the premeditated murder of a gay man. Apparently, the concern in the former case isn't just that Jonathan Wilson is gay, it's that, as a member of the school board, he would consider promotion of gay issues central to his job. And indeed, a little research about the circumstances of his being voted off of the Des Moines school board reveals this concern not unreasonable:

Right now, the coalition is concentrating on defeating veteran Des Moines school boardmember Jonathan Wilson, who earlier this year confirmed widespread rumors that he is gay. Wilson took that step in the midst of a heated dispute over a proposal - since shelved by the school administration - to ensure "issues related to gay/lesbian/bisexual people are thoughtfully infused in the educational programs and activities."

Oh yes, the desire not to have homosexuality "infused" into the educational life of one's children only differs in degree from luring a homosexual to his death.

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:25 AM | Comments (2)

April 12, 2004

Coming Round to Civil Unions

Citing some new polling data from the Los Angeles Times, Andrew Sullivan writes:

The latest breakdown shows about 25 percent favor of marriage rights, close to 40 percent support civil unions, and 33 percent favor giving gay couples nothing at all. What strikes me about that finding is that the polls haven't changed much on marriage - with one significant difference. The middle group of Americans - tolerant, but queasy, say - have now come round to civil unions. Civil unions are, in fact, the natural compromise right now. Bottom line: around two-thirds of Americans believe that gays should have either marriage rights or something close to that (called something else). I'm encouraged.

What strikes me about the finding is that it's the first time I can recall the question being posed as a three-way option. The Washington Post, for example, has been measuring civil union support separately from the yes-or-no on marriage. The latest results presented that way, from early March, find 51% support for civil unions, but support for same-sex marriage split 38% for, 59% against.

Sullivan (aided by the AP summary that he cites) adds a few percentage points in his direction when summing up the L.A. Times poll. And it's mildly interesting to note that he gives a "close to" percentage for "civil unions," the only category for which his AP source actually provides the exact number, whereas he translates "about a quarter" for marriage and "about a third" for neither into actual percentages. Looking at question 34 on the PDF of the raw data, the breakdown is actually 38% civil unions, 24% marriage, 34% neither. As the saying goes: you can take the blogger out of the Old Media, but you can't take the Old Media techniques away from the blogger.

With actual numbers in hand, and assuming some legitimacy to comparison, it seems that the civil union percentage doesn't primarily come at the expense of support for same-sex marriage. If anything, it draws down the opposition number more. That serves to further emphasize that Sullivan is wrong to characterize people's view of civil unions as "something close to [marriage] (called something else)." As I noted when he pulled the same trick with the Post poll, I would have been captured in the "civil unions" category, and I envision them as something quite distinct from marriage.

Sullivan thinks that the "job now is to persuade the middle ground that civil unions would be a far bigger blow to marriage than allowing gays into the institution." However, it's at least as likely that succeeding in such persuasion would result in people's returning to complete opposition. Whatever the case, it's odd to find Sullivan "encouraged" at the civil unions news, considering that they've been considered the "compromise" for years and that, in June 2002, he declared it "time to stop the mealy-mouthed talk about civil unions as some sort of option for homosexual citizens."

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:11 PM | Comments (2)

So Much for Terrorism

Andrew Sullivan's latest Sunday Times of London piece is, frankly, astonishing. Here's his political advice for John Kerry:

It would go something like this: "Thank you, Mr president, for your leadership in difficult times. You took some tough decisions in good faith. I disagree with you but I will not let our troops down and I will not abandon Iraq. But you, Mr president, are now part of the problem. You are too polarizing a figure to bring real peace to Iraq, and have bungled the post-liberation too badly. Your failure to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction has undermined your credibility as a war-leader. You are too unpopular to allow European governments and the U.N. to cooperate fully in the war. One of the advantages of a democracy is that we can pursue the same goals over time with different leaders and different strategies. I intend to win the war in Iraq because we cannot afford to lose it. But I also intend to bring our allies more centrally into the task, to increase troop levels in the country, to appoint Richard Holbrooke to oversee our cooperation with the incoming Iraqi government, and ask former president Bill Clinton to re-open peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. I will be tough on terror and tough on the causes of terror. I can complete what you started. In fact, I alone can complete what you started."

There is some ambiguity about whether Sullivan believes what he's telling Kerry to say and actually wants Kerry to say it and win or is just fulfilling his role as a political writer. Generally, I think he takes too much of a personal and activistic approach to his work to be offering detached analysis. If that's the case, then I can't help but wonder where his boundaries are beyond which principle must bend to desire. Put another way, I wonder how similar his own balance of principle and desire is to Kerry's:

Can Kerry say such a thing? Well, history shows he can say almost anything if it's to his political advantage. Last week, he junked his entire primary season promises and pledged to enact steep spending controls in office on the old Gingrich-Clinton formula. He has kept his options open on the future in Iraq, while being lacerating about how we got where we are. A neo-hawkish ouflanking of Bush is therefore a perfect electoral gambit. After all, what lies ahead in Iraq is not, in fact, a very Republican project. It's classic nation-building - the kind of thing Clinton and Gore once favored and George W. Bush once resolutely opposed. Were Kerry to take this tack, it would, of course, be a turning point rich in irony, especially when viewed through the prism of Vietnam. Whereas Richard Nixon inherited a Democratic war, Kerry, the man who found his first fame in anti-Vietnam protests, would inherit a Republican war. Whereas Nixon was doing all he could to find a way out with honor, Kerry would be doing all he could to find a way to win for the sake of democracy. Yes, we may be seeing a strange replay of Vietnam. But in reverse. And, quite possibly, with an entirely different ending.

So, the Democrat replacement, in this Vietnam mirror, might win the war that the Republican cannot. The gaping contextual hole that Sullivan leaves open is that of the larger War on Terrorism. Even if he is correct to imply that Democrats are better at nationbuilding (as opposed to just giving it more lip service), it undermines all of his previous support for the war to tease out Iraq from the rest of the anti-terror assault. Nationbuilding isn't all that's left to do, in the larger picture.

Worse: Sullivan acknowledges — as a plus — that such a statement from Kerry would be entirely cynical. What's to stop him from taking a "neo-hawkish" stance to win the support of Andrew Sullivan, only to junk it and pull a neo-Zapatero move once in office? Does Sullivan even care?

Posted by Justin Katz at 7:18 AM | Comments (6)

March 31, 2004

You're Messing with Me, Right, Mr. Sullivan?

I don't believe that Andrew Sullivan has any real sense of this blog. He's surely come across its name, and mine, and he may have read a post or two over the years. Today, however, he's written something that almost seems a direct wink in my direction. What it means that this is most definitely not the case is actually a bit more saddening than the fact of my limited reach.

Toward the end of a post on March 1, I predicted that Sullivan would make the following "outrageous argument":

A lot of the initial gutsy moves required to kick off the War on Terror have already been made. Once in office, Kerry wouldn't pull back on that progress, and what we need now is a President who will refocus international cooperation toward the group effort of the more-subtle work that lays ahead

On March 19, I wondered whether he had already come close enough. Today, I'm glad that the judges never returned a ruling; Sullivan offers the "strongest argument" for Kerry:

we have already gained as much as we can for the time being with hard power and war; he won't pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan; he won't be able to duck a serious response to another terror attack; but he might help ease some of the hatred of the United States that this president has - undeservedly, in my view, but still undeniably - ratcheted to unseen levels.

Rationalization? I'd say so.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:48 PM | Comments (2)

March 29, 2004

Take Your Time Andrew

Andrew Sullivan, back from his break, has responded to Kathryn Jean Lopez's suggestion that he's in the market for rationalizations to back for Kerry for President:

I'm mystified by this remark. It has always seemed to me that a political writer is not necessarily partisan. Some of us are actually trying to figure out who's the better candidate for the next four years and haven't made our minds up already. This time in the last election cycle, I was for McCain before I was for Gore. It took till the fall for me to realize where Gore was headed and narrowly opted for W. And one of the unique joys of a blog like this is that a writer can actually think out loud in real time together with the readers. Is that a crime? Am I supposed to stop thinking at all? Now, no one need wonder for more than a few nano-seconds whom National Review will endorse this fall. That's fine. But it's equally fine for others to take a more independent approach. There's a difference between "rationalizations" and "reasons."

Notwithstanding Sullivan's quick recourse to the lingo of victimization and recrimination, nobody has suggested that he isn't free to argue and think out loud whatever he wishes. Lopez was merely alluding to the impression — shared, I might add — that he would like some way around the obvious priority that must be given to the War on Terror.

When one can almost visibly watch a writer struggle between candidates who respectively appeal to his reason and emotion, it is fair to suggest that rhetorical justifications to go with the latter are indicative of rationalization.

Posted by Justin Katz at 11:25 PM | Comments (1)

March 19, 2004

Let's Ask the Judges

On March 1, I predicted that Andrew Sullivan would — sooner than later — argue something similar to this:

A lot of the initial gutsy moves required to kick off the War on Terror have already been made. Once in office, Kerry wouldn't pull back on that progress, and what we need now is a President who will refocus international cooperation toward the group effort of the more-subtle work that lays ahead.

Today, he comes close enough that I have to ask the judges if it gets me on the scoreboard:

Here's a question worth asking: whatever John Kerry's record, could he afford in office to be weak on terror? Wouldn't he be obliged to continue Bush's policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and even, as he has already promised, actually increase troop levels in those countries? I don't think it's out of the question. ...

Although I hope Poland stays the course in Iraq, I do think [its President] has a point [about WMD concerns]. and he's not the only one. A considerable number of Americans - including many in the pro-war camp - believe this administration has not been forthright enough about the reasons for the intelligence failure.

Perhaps he's not there, just yet, but Sullivan is certainly close, and certainly on the right trajectory.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:25 PM

March 18, 2004

Pushed into a Corner

PROEM:
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 7:07 PM | Comments (19)

March 12, 2004

Sullivanalia

Andrew Sullivan's been busy twirling reality, and I've fallen behind in noting it. But note it I must, so I'll try to do so quickly.

First up is Sullivan's analysis of a Washington Post poll on gay marriage. He acknowledges that one "can make too much of these polls," but seems to take that as permission, not a caveate. While it is true that:

Nevertheless, it's clear that a majority opposes the extreme step of amending the constitution to prevent any state anywhere from enacting civil marriage rights for gay couples.

Sullivan stretches the truth with the final two words here:

When people realize that the Full Faith and Credit Clause does not affect civil marriage, I think their opposition will grow some more.

Sullivan also says that "opposition to the amendment has firmed up." Here's the raw data. Although support for the amendment is down a little from February, that's because it leapt up that month. Depending on the wording, 44% or 43% supported the amendment, up from 38% in January, while 53% or 54% oppose, down from 58% in January. Of course, the Post helped out, in this regard, by leaving the results of its September survey off the list. At that time, support was at 36%, while opposition was as high as 60%. The trend isn't of increasing opposition to the amendment.

The big news, for Sullivan, is that support for civil unions is growing. Again, though, the Post helped him to spin, writing:

About half the country -- 51 percent -- favors allowing gay couples to form civil unions with the same basic legal rights as married couples, up 6 percentage points in less than a month.

But here's the question (italics added):

On another subject, do you think homosexual couples SHOULD or SHOULD NOT be allowed to form legally recognized civil unions, giving them the legal rights of married couples in areas such as health insurance, inheritance and pension coverage?

Depending on my mood and attention, I might have answered "should" to that question, and I certainly wouldn't have thought myself to be rubber stamping "the same basic legal rights as married couples."

At that same link above, Sullivan begins what has proven to be a budding campaign to attack the Catholic Church for "hypocrisy" in allowing a relatively small number of annulments while still having the gall to oppose gay marriage. As he subsequently discovered, that small number is 10%, or about one-fifth the number of marriages ending in civil divorce. Interestingly, eight of that 10% comes from within the United States. Of course, it is disheartening that so many marriages do end thus; the same is true of the leap from 300 to 60,000 U.S. annulments per year since the 1960s. This, however, is foolishness:

I wonder if Kurtz will write an essay blaming the Catholic church for the decline in marriage in America, as he has blamed gays for it in Scandinavia. This one institution has presided over an exponential increase in de facto divorces in the U.S. in the last forty years. And getting an annulment really isn't that hard: 90 percent of applications for annulments are granted. Maybe Kerry didn't need any extra influence at all! It's the Catholic church that has opened the door wide to the decline of religious marriage in America. So where's National Review on this one? 60,000 Catholic annulments for straights a year, and NRO devotes all its energies to gays?

Remember when Sullivan attacked Kurtz, saying his analysis would be "laughed out of a freshman social science class"? Well, at the very least Sullivan isn't inclined to hold himself to a higher standard. Of course, one could still respond that he's simply cited yet another reason that traditional marriage requires firming, not loosening, and one could point to the fact that he doesn't actually mind annulments. Much more interesting, however, is the vindictive direction in which Sullivan is willing to take this. The Church is going to deny him its stamp of approval on his love life? Well then, how about he stokes another scandal?

MEMO TO THE BOSTON GLOBE: Those guys won deserved kudos for their coverage of the Boston arch-diocese's treatment of child abuse charges. How about looking into the annulment issue?

Elsewhere, Sullivan has the cheek to quote C.S. Lewis to back his cause. From Mere Christianity:

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one; the other is the quite different question -- how far Christians, if they are voters or members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.

That's the entirety of Lewis's handling of the matter in this book, essentially as an aside, and Sullivan mightn't like Lewis so much were he to flip back a few pages and see homosexuality denounced as "unnatural" and "perversity." More to the point, however, Sullivan appears to have overlooked this passage in a previous chapter:

The second thing to get clear is that Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying 'Do as you would be done by' to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have. It is meant for all men at all times and the particular programme which suited one place or time would not suit another.

So the paragraph that Sullivan promotes as "an extraordinary contrast to the current religious right" emphasizes nothing so much as the danger of his own program. Every statement about "marriage" — in law, in theology, in whatever — ever made in Western society before very recent years presupposed that it meant a man and a woman. One cannot simply assume that Lewis wouldn't have changed his policy preference had civil marriage come to mean something other than marriage. After all:

Everyone knows that the sexual appetite, like our other appetites, grows by indulgence. Starving men may think much about food, but so do gluttons; the gorged, as well as the famished, like titillations.

... You find very few people who want to eat things that really are not food or to do other things with food instead of eating it. In other words, perversions of the food appetite are rare. But perversions of the sex instinct are numerous, hard to cure, and frightful.

It's interesting that Lewis picked that particular appetite for an analogy, considering that Sullivan found a way to direct reports about American obesity directly to his bitterness:

Of course, I would take this view because I'm libertarian on these kinds of issues. But I am a little perplexed by the silence of the religious right. I mean, isn't gluttony a deadly sin? Shouldn't fat people be shamed, denounced, or loved and saved? This affects far, far more people than, er, well, you know where I'm going here. How many sermons have you heard inveighing against extra fries? Just asking.

Actually, I think I've heard multiple mentions from the pulpit of the sin of gluttony and its relevance to modern obesity. That, as it happens, is multiple more sermons than I've heard "inveighing" against homosexuals. Although, I admit that I haven't heard so much as a whisper that I oughtn't marry a chocolate cake.

Now that we've come back around, as always happens with this issue, to things being what they are not, we close with an anecdote that Sullivan has passed along from one of his friends:

We emphasized to the clerk and her manager that Amy and I don't live together, we don't love each other, we don't plan to have kids together, and we're going to go on living and sleeping with our same-sex partners after we get married. So could we still get a marriage license?

"Sure," the license-department manager said, "If you've got $54, you can have a marriage license." ... It's not the marriage license I'd like to have, of course. But, still, let me count my blessings: I have a 10-year relationship (but not the marriage license), a house (but not the marriage license), a kid (but not the marriage license), and my boyfriend's credit-card bills (but not the marriage license). I don't know what a guy has to do around here to get the marriage license. But I guess it's some consolation that I can get a meaningless one anytime I like, just so long as I bring along a woman I don't love and my $54.

It's a cute and clever trick in order to illustrate a point of view, and tricks and raw emotion are the two central weapons of the movement. But tricks could be concocted to suggest that anything is unjust. After all, one could bring a cat to the town clerk and request a dog license. The cat might be many years old. It might share the living space. The person might pay its vet bills. None of this, however, transforms that person into a dog owner.

Posted by Justin Katz at 1:56 AM | Comments (9)

March 7, 2004

Sunday Sullivanalia (With a Frum Bonus)

Michael Williams highlighted this part of Sullivan's comments from my previous Sullivanalia post:

[Mel Gibson] believes that all non-Catholics are going to hell, another heresy.

In an update to his post, Michael beat me to clarifying this point because, in looking into it, I decided to devote a little time to straightening the matter out entirely. As I suspected, the truth actually does much more to illustrates Sullivan's defamatory strategy than to mitigate it. As I noted at the time, he first posted on the relevant Gibson quotation last Monday:

GIBSON ON NON-CATHOLICS: They're all going to hell. That includes all those evangelicals who are flocking to his movie and even his wife.

The internal link goes to an Arizona Republic blurb from February 12, which makes reference to a Gibson interview with the Australian Herald Sun. I can't find that interview online. However, the Arizona Republic piece is actually an abbreviated version of a blurb on MSNBC from February 10. Here are all of the direct quotations:

Gibson was interviewed by the Herald Sun in Australia, and the reporter asked the star if Protestants are denied eternal salvation. "There is no salvation for those outside the Church," Gibson replied. "I believe it."

He elaborated: "Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She's a much better person than I am. Honestly. She's, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it's just not fair if she doesn't make it, she's better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it."

Gibson also said in the interview that he was nearly suicidal before he made his controversial film. "I got to a very desperate place. Very desperate. Kind of jump-out-of-a-window kind of desperate," he said in the interview. "And I didn't want to hang around here, but I didn't want to check out. The other side was kind of scary. And I don't like heights, anyway. But when you get to that point where you don't want to live, and you don't want to die, it's a desperate, horrible place to be. And I just hit my knees. And I had to use 'The Passion of the Christ' to heal my wounds."

The second statement isn't directly relevant. It does, however, enable us to conclude, with a high degree of certainty, that the Herald Sun interview, whatever it claimed to be, recycled material from Peter Boyer's piece on Gibson in the September 15 New Yorker. Both quotations are verbatim.

You might recall that Boyer's essay was most noted for a comment that Gibson made therein about New York Times columnist Frank Rich: "I want his intestines on a stick. . . . I want to kill his dog." That ought to give some indication of Gibson's state of mind. During the interview period, Gibson had come under attack from major papers on both coasts, and an ad hoc council of Christians, Jews, and academics had recently submitted to him a sort of list of editorial demands presuming to censor certain aspects The Passion of the Christ. Gibson made the statement that found its way into the Herald Sun while flying cross-country:

We talked of the nature of Gibson's faith, and I asked him about an aspect of Vatican II which has not been much discussed in the debate over his film. One of the council's most significant acts was its Decree on Ecumenism, which declared that all Christians, even those outside the Catholic Church, "have the right to be called Christian; the children of the Catholic Church accept them as brothers." This effectively overturned the Catholic notion that the only true course to salvation was through the Catholic Church.

I told Gibson that I am a Protestant, and asked whether his pre-Vatican II world view disqualified me from eternal salvation. He paused. "There is no salvation for those outside the Church," he said. "I believe it." He explained, "Put it this way. My wife is a saint. She's a much better person than I am. Honestly. She's, like, Episcopalian, Church of England. She prays, she believes in God, she knows Jesus, she believes in that stuff. And it's just not fair if she doesn't make it, she's better than I am. But that is a pronouncement from the chair. I go with it."

With that, Gibson excused himself, and headed toward the galley of the plane, where an attendant had laid out supper. I glanced up at the video monitor at the front of the cabin, showing our progress on the journey to Washington. We were forty-five thousand feet over the high plains of Colorado, heading toward Kansas, according to the monitor, which displayed the name of the town shimmering faintly below us. It was a place called Last Chance.

Those who take Christianity seriously enough to debate it will likely know that this very topic can be the subject of lengthy discussion — as can many matters having to do with faith. Here, as his very last comment to a reporter before he heads off for dinner, Gibson offers a first premise. Among the wrinkles that would be ironed out over the course of discussion is precisely the difference between not achieving salvation and, as has been subsequently presumed of the statement, "going to hell."

Gibson clarified some in his interview with Diane Sawyer. Although the summary of that interview that ABC provides doesn't include the exchange, I've confirmed it in enough places to believe that this is accurate:

Diane: When we talked with Gibson and his actors, we wondered, does his traditionalist view bar the door to heaven for Jews, Protestants, Muslims?

Mel: That's not the case at all. Absolutely not. It is possible for people who are not even Christian to get into the kingdom of heaven. It's just easier. I have to say that because that's what I believe.

Diane: You have a non-stop ticket.

Mel: Well, yeah. I'm saying it's an easier ride where I am because it's like...I have to believe that.

The bottom line is that Mel Gibson isn't, and doesn't claim to be, more than a very active layman. This, as it happens, is a pretty intricate and weighty matter, and it appears that he's still working out the specifics — as is the entirety of Christendom. Since most of the evidence lies in postmortem events, the vagueness of "It's just easier" is understandable. (To give just a quick idea of two difficult aspects that come into play: one is whether a particular person's incorrect faith is something for which he or she is culpable; another is, essentially, the idea of Purgatory and what that might entail.)

So, to trace back to the present: Gibson made a quick remark about a sincerely debatable theological question that he later clarified (although not comprehensively). The Herald Sun picked up those comments, and either that paper or MSNBC added the "going to hell" layer. On this slim basis, Andrew Sullivan accuses Gibson of heresy, adding this single statement to his litany as if Gibson laid out his view in a theological press release.

ADDENDUM:
I hesitate to include David Frum in this post, because I hold him in higher esteem than I do Sullivan. But it fits, so here it is. You can read Frum's thoughts on Gibson's interview with Peggy Noonan for yourself, but of the above-mentioned interview with Diane Sawyer, Frum writes:

Gibson used equally stilted language when asked a similar question by Diane Sawyer on ABC: "Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenceless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion." Here again, Gibson seems to bypass the issues of (1) the numbers killed; (2) whether those people were deliberately murdered; and (3) whether that murder proceeded from Nazi ideology.

The internal link is to a piece that is more about Gibson's father. I'm not sure why Frum didn't look for the Sawyer interview itself, but even ABC's summary extends the quotation. Here's the full exchange:

Gibson: You know, do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do. Absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.

Sawyer: Are you looking into the face of a particular kind of evil with the Holocaust?

Gibson: Of course. You're looking- yes...

Sawyer: ...What is the particular evil there?

Gibson: ...what's the particular evil? I mean, why do you need me to tell you? It's like, it's obvious. They're killed because of who and what they are. Is that not evil enough?...

He doesn't recite the boilerplate statement that Frum desires, but Gibson does suggest deliberate killing proceeding from an ethnic ideology. He also comes pretty close to the "don't be absurd" that Frum would have preferred in the Noonan interview.

Frum subsequently posted a number of readers' notes suggesting that he made too much of Gibson's remarks. (Although I only skimmed them, I didn't see any that mention the extended quotation above.) Frum confirms that he's got no special knowledge of Gibson's view, but he still laments that he "can't help wondering why [Gibson] isn't making it easier" for him to offer his stamp of confident approval.

Look, this is a sticky, emotional area, and I've no reason to stick my neck out for Gibson, with whom I surely don't agree on everything. Is he speaking as he does for no reason other than to avoid slamming his father? I don't know. But I will admit that, between Frum, Krauthammer, Sullivan, and the various complaints that I've read about this movie — including the would-be, self-appointed, stolen-script censors, I'm a little... well... disconcerted by the degree to which people who don't believe in their message or import feel at liberty to dictate an interpretation of the Gospels.

There's a line that can be crossed — that has too often been crossed with blithe strides during the past several decades — and can result in unhealthy polarization. Gibson has been on the receiving end of attacks that did cross that line, and I can't say I'm inclined to judge him harshly if his language in these instances indicated a desire not to legitimate expansion of the evidentiary markers of what Frum calls the "primordial anti-semitism" of some on the cultural right.

ADDENDUM II:
I thought it would be clear in my presentation above, but just in case it is not, here's my assessment of Mel Gibson's take on the salvation of non-Catholics based on the limited information available. For preliminary context, I think this is a tough theological question, with a degree of inevitable ambiguity. I don't think Gibson has given it adequate consideration to have a comprehensive "position," and he doesn't seem particularly comfortable discussing it.

With the statement in the New Yorker, I think that, at a stressful time, on his way out the door for dinner, Gibson tried to offer a more profound statement than he was prepared to make. Whether or not he had devoted further thought in between, with the Sawyer interview, I think he was clarifying his bottom line conclusion, which had been obscured by his too-quick declaration while flying over Colorado.

Overall, he doesn't seem to be the greatest analytical speaker, and my main purpose above was to highlight the utter lack of basis for claiming that he thinks everybody who doesn't share his exact religion is going to Hell.

Posted by Justin Katz at 4:29 PM | Comments (13)

March 6, 2004

Sullivanalia

Let's go back to Thursday for a moment, and Andrew Sullivan's summary of his view about civil disobedience. There's something similar, here, to my objections about the civil rights lingo cooption. As I've complained before, to compare the San Francisco marriages to staying seated at a segregated lunch counter is grossly to misrepresent the two events; the mayor, in this case, is serving the lunches. Similarly, is it really "civil disobedience" when civil officers lead the charge?

This matter comes together in more nettlesome ways when Sullivan writes:

Where such civil marriages can legitimately take place under the law (as appears to be the case in Oregon), there's no problem.

Yet, as Michael Williams points out, administrators in Oregon have been behaving in ways that put the legitimacy of their action in a murky light, to say the least. Mark from Outdoors Pro explains:

During the press conference this morning, Commissioner Serena Cruz seemed almost giddy about this. It's obvious how this entire thing came about. These four commissioners decided that they wanted to "legalize" gay marriage, so they instructed their lawyer to come up with a legal argument, however flimsy, to justify it. In the process, they completely avoided any possibility for contrary arguments to arise until after they'd started issuing licenses, making it more difficult to "undo" their actions.

The commissioners' "closed-door meetings" weren't just closed to the public. Also locked out (not informed, to be more precise) was the only male commissioner — also the only one opposed to gay marriage. Moreover, the three-day waiting period was waived.

Bringing it back to Sullivan, all of this points to something that I've been saying lately: he — and I think he's representative of his side — uses words differently than most everybody else. When he says states should address whether to accept out-of-state gay marriages with "democratic deliberation," he means that the courts decide. As he explains today, democracy applies in that the people of a state have the ability to pass laws to preempt the courts' (or the attorney generals') decisions:

Nothing is being forced on New York State. If New Yorkers wanted to pass a law, like 38 other states, that would refuse to recognize Massachusetts' marriages, they could easily do so. But they haven't. State autonomy means that states not only can refuse to recognize another state's marriages, but that they can agree to recognize them as well. Liberal states might well decide to recognize Massachusetts' marriages. That's not a violation of the principle I laid out at all. [David] Frum doesn't seem to have the faintest grasp of the legal principles involved here.

That last sentence is pretty bold. Sullivan must be aware — and his careful language these past fifteen years attests that he is — that when most people hear the phrase "let the states decide," they imagine the voters, or at least the legislatures, doing the deciding. The word "decide" tends to carry an active connotation. Keep an eye out for this sort of thing when discussing gay marriage. Not surprisingly, given the central issue of dispute, words don't always mean what you think they mean.

(I also want to note the gall that it took for Sullivan to complain that Frum "refuses to answer my simple question." Reading disputes that others have had with him will show that this is a frequent complaint of Sullivan's opponents.)

Keeping with Sullivan's aggressiveness, yesterday, responding to Krauthammer's review of The Passion (my take on that here), it seems to me that Sullivan gets darn near libel:

Gibson doesn't recognize the authority of the current Pope; he doesn't recognize the current mass - the central ritual of Catholics across the world. People are mistaken in believing that he merely prefers the Latin mass; he doesn't. He favors the Tridentine mass, a relic. He believes that all non-Catholics are going to hell, another heresy. He is clearly and palpably anti-Semitic. His movie is an act of aggression against Jews, and, as such, is an act of aggression against Catholicism and the current Pope's heroic efforts to confront the shameful history of the Church with regard to the Jewish people.

While it's great to see that, in addition to his newfound dislike of pornography, Sullivan has renewed his affection for the Pope, I wonder from where Sullivan's getting his information. He hasn't, as far as I've seen, presented any of it, and certain points are, last I heard, more applicable to Gibson Sr. than to his famous son. Somehow, too, I'm sure that others (perhaps among my readers?) more familiar with Gibson and the Tridentine mass will find more Sullivanesque distortion going on in that passage. For my part, I'm left only able to marvel at this:

He doesn't mention that young Jewish children actually turn into demons at one point in the movie, a device that only students of medieval anti-Semitism would notice. In fact, one reason that today's viewers do not notice the hatred of Jews in the movie is because, mercifuly, they are not familiar with the medieval tropes that signal evil and that Gibson trafficks in. Gibson knows.

Mel Gibson — anti-Semitic mastermind! Of course, one could note that the children torment Judas, and if we assume that the city is entirely Jewish, it would have been a bit odd for non-Jewish children to be playing in the streets. (I read, somewhere else, the point that Jerusalem was a crossroads, making it a presumption that only Jews would have been among the crowd.) More stunning, however, is Sullivan's admission that "only students of medieval anti-Semitism" would notice it. It seems to me that 1) a person could find any artistic device used for objectionable purposes throughout history, and 2) that it was an odd strategy of Gibson's to hide messages in his movies that only his enemies would spot. Ah but Western Christians and Jews aren't the target market of Gibson's propaganda, according to Sullivan's fevered mind:

And he knows how his movie will play in those parts of the world where anti-Semitic tropes are still recognized.

The sheer brilliance of Mel Gibson is clear. He made a movie about the crucifixion of Christ, complete with heavy reference to the theology of the Eucharist, so that Muslims and Euro-secularists would see it and get all riled up at the Jews. It isn't even vague attempts to further domestic bigotry of which Sullivan is accusing Gibson (which would be a serious enough accusation). He's imagining an intricate and well-researched plan to spark violence in other parts of the world.

Is this part of the world included, I wonder?

Posted by Justin Katz at 2:44 PM | Comments (3)

March 5, 2004

Sullivanalia

I'm always suspicious when a large block of text begins with the phrase "I am moved beyond words." The post that this curious admission begins is ostensibly meant to encourage gay marriage activists to been unmistakable in their respect for the law... except where some sort of loophole can be found, or where those doing the disrespecting don't skip town afterwards, or when those breaking the law promise to switch to other methods when they are unequivocally told that, yes, the law means what it says.

Also remarkable is the admission (which shouldn't be surprising to anybody paying attention) that Sullivan believes that New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is fully authorized such that his "momentous ruling" that Mass. marriages will be legitimate in New York is an example of when "a state decides to recognize civil marriages for gays performed in another state." Says Sullivan:

We need patience now as well as anger, calm as well as determination. Above all, we must respect the law itself. It is the fabric of our democracy. If we trivialize or violate its importance, civil rights are meaningless. For gay people and for everyone.

Trivialize the fabric of our democracy? Perish the thought!

Meanwhile, he's also just posted a piece written for the Sunday Times of London, which does exactly as I expected: relates The Passion of the Christ to his quest for gay marriage. After peddling that "wedge issue" nonsense — nonsense, particularly, because he casts it as if the President picked homosexuals as the unimportant group of the season to attack for political gain — Mel makes his entrance:

Into this pleasant atmosphere came Mel Gibson, with a film about the Passion of Jesus. In most circumstances, this kind of movie would be primarily a cultural event. But this time, it was deeply politicized. The film was shown in advance to select groups of religious right intellectuals, theologians and activists - as well as to very conservative Catholics. (A similar group of conservative Catholics were granted a presidential audience days before he unveiled the amendment to ban gay marriage.)

America, Sullivan tells the Brits, is really two countries:

One side looks at a movie and sees love; the other side looks and sees hate. Gays and evangelicals; Jews and Catholics; urbanites and heartlanders; blacks and whites.

And the issue that runs exactly at the middle line? You guessed it. (The black/white clause is tacked on inexplicably, so I can only imagine that Sullivan is playing to prejudices about American racism.) And the man responsible for this polarization? Why, George W. Bush.

Was it confusion, then, that left Sullivan speechless? I thought civil disobedience was "how change happens," used to "dramatize current oppression." Guess accepting the consequences means complaining that the other side doesn't just roll over.

Posted by Justin Katz at 12:30 AM