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.

Obesity hitting prime time

Obesity is hitting the prime time, which means that it's time for politicians to propose modestly paternalistic measures against it while vested interests splurge on a propoganda offensive against the "Nanny State."

Mark Latham's proposal to ban junk food advertising during children's TV programs is a reasonable one. Junk food vendors spend millions marketing their products every year. They wouldn't do this unless it payed off. Yes, there are those who say it is paternalistic, a violation of the divinely ordained workings of the free market. But there's a level of hypocrisy here.

John Howard may claim that "the question of what children eat is ultimately the responsibility of parents", but not so long ago his party was responsible for slapping tighter restrictions on sex and violence on TV. The familiar argument that parents should be responsible for what their children watch was tried, only to be rejected by communications minister Alston.

So keeping kids from junk food is the responsibility of parents. Violent video games, TV, and booze, all of which are banned from being promoted during children's time, isn't. Why the inconsistency?

Actually, Alston was right. Some things are harmful to kids, and the government is entitled to step in. A ban on the marketing of junk food to kids is paternalistic, but only modestly so. It interferes with no one's rights to buy any food they want, only with an alledged right to promote junk food to kids. With 30 percent of children overweight or obese, it's time to do something. Would this measure actually be successful? Well, it's worth a try.

Perhaps Howard is simply alert to favorable media coverage during the coming election. But surely commercial TV would never stoop so low as to let their fiduciary interests influence the impartiality of their current affairs coverage?

Well, last night Ten news decided to quote their own chief executive, John McApline, leading the propoganda offensive against the suggestion. It would "compromise the ability of broadcasters to continue to provide quality children's programming", which is certainly a novel way of describing endless reruns of Pokemon and Dragonball Z. Future highly impartial stories on the topic are expected.

I expect quality children's programming will survive this. It is true that children's TV on commercial stations is almost obscenely dependent on junk food advertising. But, of course, there's subscription TV. Secondly, there's the beloved ABC. Thirdly, food marketers can always move to selling healthier options, just as the BBC has committed to licensing characters like the Teletubbies to promote healthier snacks in the future.

Either that, or they'll just nab children during the family hour instead. Every regulation, alas, has a workaround.

Notes from a non-addicted blogger

Stephen Dawson, of Australian Libertarian Blog, wonders

Is a Tim Blair or an Andrew Sullivan a balanced individual or an addicted blogger? I don't know either personally. But who cares (aside from them, themselves, and their loved ones)? All the rest of us benefit from their 'addiction'.

Duh. Does Dawson even have to ask? At the moment Andrew Sullivan seems to be writing about 9-10 items a day. And not short posts, either. Long, rambling posts, often unintenionally revealing of a man whose politicial life is unravelling and yet who feels a need to record it compulsively.

Of course, Sullivan is now a semi-professional blogger, so he he can do this all day. The question is, why would anyone want to? I wonder who actually benefits from, say, today's output, which includes Andrew's rambling ruminations on sexual attraction, and two additions to Andrew's now regularly updated enemies list of "conservatives I once eagerly went to bed with, but have now revealed their true colours by attacking me now that I've parted the ways with GW Bush over the gay issue." In case you were wondering, the additions are Jonah Goldberg, and his rather explicitly homophobic mother, Lucianne.

Anyway, Dawson's comment is precipitated by a piece in MIT's technology review, is blogging the new crack?, itself citing a New York Times story on a man who ruined a vacation with his wife because of his compulsive blogging.

Libertarians will never understand this, but some things are good for people to do, and some things aren't. And when blogging takes over your life, this isn't good. Indeed, it's pathetic. And other people are entitled to give you a reality check, yes, even to judge you.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that I'm proud to have a chronically late, infrequently updated, and largely unread blog. At least this way, nobody can accuse me of blog addiction.