The "Oblivious Understatement of the Year" honors -- or "Undies" -- is an award I just invented to honor public persons who say shit so dumbfoundingly hilarious it stops you in your tracks hard enough to crack the air. (Note: The name also-rans for this award were "The Louis'" -- named for Captain Renault who was famously "shocked...shocked..to discover gambling" going on in Rick's casino in Casablanca...and the "Oh really? So you're just figuring this shit out now?" award, but I couldn't figure out a clever nickname for that one.)
Today's honoree is Mr. Andrew Sullivan: the gay, Catholic, Tory who came to our shores unweaned from Margaret Thatcher's teat, took up residence in the Church of Saint Reagan and has made his fortune by carrying water for the American Conservative movement for pretty much his entire adult life.
Here is what Mr. Sullivan had to say on May 1, 2014 on the subject of racism in America in the wake of Klavern Bundy and Donald Sterling opening their respective mouths and turning loose their Inner Klansmen:
Another disadvantage I have in grasping all this is that I wasn’t born in America and didn’t grow up here – and so the contours of America’s long and hideous conversation about race are not in my bones. All I can say is: I’m trying to fit all the new data points in my worldview, and haven’t reached a conclusion.
Fitting "all the new data points" into his worldview sounds like an excellent project for Mr, Sullivan to begin...
But it's not 1984.
Nor is it 1994.
Nor is it 2004.
It is 2014.
Also Mr. Sullivan is not a bricklayer, or an estate planner, or a landscape architect or the practitioner of any other profession in which one might be forgiven for completely missing the fact that the entire Modern American Conservative Movement was built on a platform of openly pandering to bigots, gun fetishists, seditionists, homophobes and anti-science Fundamentalists. No, for the last 30 years Mr. Sullivan has been a Conservative public intellectual: one who has made a fine living from closely observing the political and cultural currents of his adopted country and then writing about them in major national publications from the Conservative point-of-view.
Or as one nefarious, fringe blogger has written in many different ways, many times over the years:
Dear Future Generations,You want to know what life was like for Liberals in America during my lifetime?First they ignored you.Then they laughed at you.Then they fought you.Then they got gigs in national magazines repeating as breathless epiphany things you had been saying for thirty years.
And thus do we once again find Mr. Sullivan's astoundingly laggard intellectual freight train ever so gradually easing itself into the same station where the Dirty Liberals have been for the last few generations. The same Dirty Liberals whose existence Mr, Sullivan will occasionally recognize in order to fiercely deny that he is one of them (or to try to get one fired) but certainly never to acknowledge that Liberals have been right all along about anything. No, Mr. Sullivan treks these wide, wild and never-before-explored territories of American history, culture, politics, economics and identity alone, with naught but the light of True Conservatism to guide him, discovering these Important Truths all along the way and sharing them with his readers.
But as perfectly foolish as Mr. Sullivan's remarks are standing all by their lonesome, they aren't really Undie-worthy -- they don't really park themselves out on the Waveland Avenue of cluelessness -- until you take a step back and view them in their wider, ludicrous perspective.
Specifically, the fight over who gets credit for the recent, amazing progress that proponents of marriage equality have made.
You see, now that the history of marriage equality is being taken down in book form, Mr. Sullivan has flung himself bodily into a fierce civil war over who is receiving the plaudits for being the True Heroes of Marriage Equality. In post after post after post, he goes after Jo Becker's Forcing the Spring as a "troubling travesty of gay history". And Mr. Sullivan really does make an excellent point, as Frank Rich points out in New York Magazine:
While I often disagree with Andrew Sullivan, he is right to call this out as a genuine injustice. For a journalist to write a book that says, in essence, that the struggle for marital equality “had largely languished in obscurity” until 2008 and the battle over Proposition 8 in California is tantamount to saying that the black-civil-rights struggle didn’t get going until President Obama was elected president that same year. Obviously Becker’s intent wasn’t malicious, and the heroes in her book are real heroes. But by minimizing those who fought this issue from its emergence as far back as 1989 is to rob the more recent developments on same-sex marriage of all context, to deny credit to some giants in the fight (starting with the lawyer Evan Wolfson), and, perhaps most depressingly, to minimize the bravery of those who sacrificed a lot to pursue this cause at a time when it and its adherents were ridiculed and ignored, including by much of the Establishment press, Becker’s own employers the Times and Washington Post included.
Mr. Sullivan himself also makes clear that while the cause welcomes all comers -- even 11th hour arrivals who might have been opponents of the cause until very, very recently -- it is indeed a fucking travesty to use the power of the written word to mutilate history to the point where those 11th hour arrivistes become the heroes of the story, and those who did all the heavy lifting for decades while struggling against an Establishment bent on ridiculing and ignoring them are wiped from history altogether -- made unpersons by the stroke of a pen:
For Becker, until the still-obscure Griffin came on the scene, the movement for marriage equality was a cause “that for years had largely languished in obscurity.” I really don’t know how to address that statement, because it is so wrong, so myopic and so ignorant it beggars belief that a respectable journalist could actually put it in print. Obscurity? Is Becker even aware of the history of this struggle at all?The intellectual foundation of the movement is also non-existent in Becker’s book – before, wait for it!, Ken Mehlman and Ted Olson brought Republican credibility to the movement. Yes, that’s her claim. My own work – penning the first cover-story on the conservative case for marriage equality in 1989, a subsequent landmark re-imagining of the gay rights movement in 1993, and a best-selling book, Virtually Normal in 1995 – is entirely omitted from the book, along with the critical contributions from other conservatives and libertarians, from Jon Rauch and Bruce Bawer to John Corvino and Dale CarpenterThis is where the book becomes truly toxic and morally repellent. I’ve been a part of this movement for twenty-five years, either as an activist speaker/writer or as a close observer on this blog for the last decade and a half. What Becker writes about Evan and the movement is unconscionable, ignorant and profoundly wrong.For me, then, the key question about this book is how on earth such a distorted and ahistorical and polemical attack on the architects of the marriage equality movement can have been written.The answer, I think, is access-journalism. It’s clear from the notes in the book that an overwhelming amount of the material comes from the sources she embedded herself with. Other figures with real knowledge of the movement barely get a phone call. (Wolfson got one peremptory one late in the day; I got none.) In other words, this is access-journalism at its most uncritical and naive worst. There is no indication that Becker has any clue about anything that happened before 2008, and every indication that thereafter, she simply parroted the spin of those she had access to. And so the book is best seen not as as act of journalism, but as a public relations campaign by Boies, Olson and Griffin to claim credit for and even co-opt a movement they had nothing to do with until very recently.
Take a breath.
And re-read that entire passage from Mr. Sullivan, but this time mentally swap in the name "Sullivan" or "Brooks" or "Douthat" or "Friedersdorf" for "Becker" and replace the details of the marriage equality movement dating back to 1989 with the details of Liberalism in America dating back to before you were born.
Isn't this a fun game!
Now that you've gotten the hang of it, please proceed to perform the same ideological reassignment surgery on this passage, also from Mr. Sullivan (emphasis added):
But is it journalism never to seek any alternative views, or objective facts or actual history outside the bubble of access journalism? Is it journalism to make grand and sweeping statements about gay history, thereby revealing that you know nothing about it?Now of course I am an interested party here, having been part of the movement for twenty-five years, but who, like so many others, got wiped from history in Becker’s ridiculous book. ...And so her book simply distorts and misleads and delivers excruciating contortions of logic and history again and again. (For even more evidence of this, see Aravosis.) Moreover, all the distortions in the book – about every moment in the movement – have the same effect: making Griffin and Boies and Olson into Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr and Lyndon Johnson rolled into one. That’s why this book is such a travesty of both history and journalism and why the NYT’s publishing an extract from it is something their public editor should look into. It’s also why the movement has to take a long, hard look at its biggest organization, HRC, and ask why its executive director, for the first time in the marriage movement’s history, is trying to make one individual – himself – the alpha and omega of the entire breakthrough.
But what finally raised Mr. Sullivan's blog to the level of being a truly Undie Award-worthy enterprise was this amazing post in which Mr. Sullivan surveys the devastation left behind by 40 years of American Conservatism and identifies a lone, heroic soul who was finally willing to stand up and point out that some of Saint Ronald Reagan's legacy is, in fact, not that great.
And that brave little soldier is...
...For me, though, these clips make Paul’s candidacy more appealing, not less. What the GOP needs is an honest, stringent account of how it has ended up where it is – a party that has piled on more debt than was once thought imaginable and until recently, has done nothing much to curtail federal spending. Reagan was a great president in many ways, as Paul says explicitly in these clips.But Reagan introduced something truly poisonous into American conservatism.It was the notion that you can eat your cake and have it too, that tax cuts pay for themselves and that deficits don’t matter. This isn’t and wasn’t conservatism; it was a loopy utopian denial of math. And the damage it has done to this country’s fiscal standing has been deep and permanent. It is one of modern conservatism’s cardinal sins. And Paul is addressing it forthrightly – just as he is addressing the terrible, devastating consequences of neo-conservatism for America and the world in the 21st Century.
What we desperately need from the right is this kind of accounting. It’s what reformers on the left did in the 1990s – confronting the failures of their past in charting a new future. Taking on Reagan on fiscal matters may be short-term political death, as Corn suspects and maybe hopes, but it is vital if the GOP is to regain some long-term credibility on the core question of government solvency. Compared with the ideological bromides and slogans of so many others, Rand Paul is a tonic. And a courageous one at that.
After I read this, and mused over it few a few days, I went looking through my shelves of unused adjectives for just the right way to button up what was becoming an unreadably long essay.
And you know what? It turned out I needed to look no further than Mr. Sullivan's own words --
There is no indication that Sullivan
Beckerhas any clue about anything that happened before 2008, and every indication that thereafter, she simply parroted the spin of those she had access to. And so the bookblog is best seen not as as act of journalism, but as a public relations campaign by Boies, Olson and Griffinto claim credit for and even co-opt a movement they had nothing to do with until very recently.
-- to find just the right way to sum up Mr. Sullivan's work.