Friday, June 18, 2004

The backstab blogger: would anyone give a fuck?

After what I imagine was a long day sitting blankly at the keyboard, Hugh Hewitt of the Weekly Standard finally thought of a way, however strained, to give blogs some cultural cachet.
Similarly, the inevitable backstab blog has to be on some political consultant's mind. Get it started and growing as a pro candidate X blog. Build an audience via tried and true techniques --including the purchase of blog-ads-- and then, late in a campaign, have the blog turn on candidate X. If any of the high profile lefties at work today--the Daily Kos or Atrios, for example--were to suddenly turn on Kerry, citing implausibility fatigue, for example--that would be news and a blow to Kerry. Could Kos really be working for Rove? The costs of starting a blog are so low that the mischief potential is quite high.

Problem is, we know what a "backstab blogger" looks like. It looks like Andrew Sullivan. Indeed, he's backstabbed twice. The first time round he adopted the persona of a reformed liberal. For example, in this 2002 Salon piece Sullivan, after a long, tendentious examination of a Gore speech where he blatantly mischaracterises every single thing Gore says, he has the chutzpah to castigate Gore for being slippery because Gore's carefully chosen words frustrate Sullivan's own attempts to place strained interpretations on them:

I'd like to think, as a former Gore supporter, that the new Gore is a genuine, born-again lefty. But that gives him too much credit. All this speech does is show that he's one of the most naked opportunists in American politics. He will shift and bob and change stance purely on the grounds of his own self-interest. He will level the worst charges against an opponent -- and then refuse to take responsibility for his words.

Tendentious attack reading (dubbed "fisking" by the bloggers) is one of Sullivan's specialties, but that's not what concerns us here. What concerns us is simply how Sullivan loves to cite his liberal past, to establish his credentials much in the way a reformed alchoholic would.

Now Sullivan has backstabbed again. He hasn't quite flipped to the left. But after years of rubbishing left wing critics of the Bush administration for their slanders against the Bush administration in a time of war, Sullivan has suddenly turned into quite the Bush critic himself, turning out vituperative anti Rumsfeld rhetoric that could be at home on any liberal blog, as well as penitant reconsiderations on the war in Iraq:

But hasn't the last year changed things somewhat? From the fall of Baghdad on, we have seen little but setbacks. Our goals in Iraq now are limited to making the place less dangerous and oppressive than it was under Saddam. If a Democrat had this record, do you think National Review would let it pass? Look, I am far from being persuaded that Kerry can do any better in the war. But I cannot support this president on the war as enthusiastically as I once did - because the mounting evidence suggests a much more mixed record.

If this still sounds a little equivocal, you must realise it's practically "The Confessions of Augustine" when contrasted with his previous pro-war fanaticism.

Why the change of heart? Well, Sullivan himself is quite clear about it:

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."

All the lies, the deceit, the manipulation, the intellectual dishonesty, the disasters and abuses and corruption, the men dying for Bush's mistakes: that wasn't enough to make Andrew Sullivan jump ship. But when Bush makes good on what any fool could see back in 2000 -- his debt to the religious right -- and does something that affects Sullivan personally -- that's the tipping point. The truth is, despite his newfound critical eye, Sullivan would still be the bloviating pro Bush hack he once was -- if not for Bush pushing the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Sullivan is the ultimate backstab blogger. He's burned all his bridges with the left. Nobody will forgive him for the mendacious serves of vitriol he dealt out during the years when he was a partisan right wing ideologue. But his new tone has abandoned the right as well. And the Free Republic crowd has turned on him. Ohh, how they have turned on him:

As someone who was once a daily reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and who had enjoyed his appearances on C-Span and elsewhere de-constructing the errors of the left, I like many find his obsession with gay marriage and his new overall tone unreadable and increasingly detestable.

[..]

Andrew remains as his our (sic) own little "Typhoid Mary" spreading HIV (and poisonoud ideas) while he mounts the pulpit preaching to the American public that gays are wholesome and “just want to be loved”, meaning they just want to get married and live normal monogamous lives.
And now he's a different kind of hypocrite -- one that pretends that gays are actually interested in marriage, whereas he knows that gays are gays because they are running away from monogamy and that a fulfilled gay life is one filled with hundreds of partners, not one partner.

So. What would a backstab blogger actually achieve? Would his conversion be politically damaging? Would he persuade others to follow his example? The Andrew Sullivan case suggests rather the opposite. He would be regarded as a mendacious flip-flopper, willing to switch sides through fashion or self interest.

It didn't have to be this way. If Sullivan had been a fair-minded commentator on the right (they do exist) he wouldn't be in the bind he's in now. But he wasn't; he was a partisan hack. And when partisans outlive their usefulness to the cause, they are tossed aside. I don't know enough about the political circles Sullivan circulates in to know if his fate will be one of lonely abandonment by all. But if it is, it would be a kind of justice.