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Daddy’s Boy: Andrew Sullivan’s Presidential Crush

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Posted on Jun 5, 2012
AP/Nam Y. Huh

Andrew Sullivan speaks at the 2004 convention of the Log Cabin Republicans in Palm Springs, Calif.

By Scott Tucker

President Obama was crowned with a rainbow halo on the May 21 cover of Newsweek along with a story by Andrew Sullivan headlined “The First Gay President.” Yes, because if Bill Clinton was “the first black president,” then all other nonsense follows. Sullivan had stated in an earlier blog post that he had been “at a loss for words” and was moved to tears. In this Newsweek article, Sullivan wrote that “when I watched the interview, the tears came flooding down.” Later, on “The Chris Matthews Show,” Sullivan said he was at first “steeled” in case Obama disappointed gay people again: “And then I sat down and watched our president tell me that I am his equal. And I am no longer outside—I’m fully part of this family. And to hear the president who is in some ways a father figure speak to that—the tears came down like with many people in our families.”

Surfing such a tidal wave of pathos is a far better career move at this time than trying to swim against it, but the search for drier and firmer historical ground must continue in any case. And the notion that we, the people, are now grateful children of the paterfamilias in chief is breathtaking. As Glenn Greenwald noted in “Andrew Sullivan’s Father Figure” in Salon, “this has to be one of the creepiest episodes in American punditry in some time. … ” Greenwald wrote, “There was a time when I thought Sullivan’s serial blinding reverence for political leaders—Reagan and Thatcher, then Bush 43, now Obama—was the byproduct of some sort of transferred British need to be the subjects of a monarch.” Greenwald recognizes, however, that all too many Americans share similar reflexes. The wider political pathology here is authoritarianism, and not simply a garden variety of British royalism.

On the specific issue of gay marriage, Greenwald quoted Sullivan’s constant criticism of gay groups and activists in his blog posts for The Daily Beast. “We will win not by begging presidents to back us (they have no role in a matter involving state legislatures, governors and courts),” Sullivan wrote in 2011. And just one week before Sullivan called Obama a “father figure,” he questioned the motives of gay activists who dared to criticize the president’s opposition to marital equality. Sullivan wrote, “This desperate desire among some gays for some kind of affirmation from one man is a little sad,” but that was then. The next week in Newsweek, Sullivan wrote, “To have the president of the United States affirm my humanity—and the humanity of all gay Americans—was, unexpectedly, a watershed.” Greenwald wrote, “It’s dangerous, literally, to be willing to twist one’s views this way to glorify whatever the leader does at any moment.”

The personal sincerity of Sullivan is not my concern, and is not my subject here. Instead, my treatment of his ideas and public persona is frankly instrumental. To get from here to there—from the public persona of Sullivan to the public record of Obama—is necessary, but one of the central features of political “centrism” in our time is the outer ring of professional obfuscators that surrounds an inner circle of career politicians. Even that inner circle obscures the real inner sanctum of the corporate state, since Congress has now devolved into the front office of the ruling class. Sullivan does cross party lines since he has been (in Greenwald’s words) the “media hagiographer” of both Republican and Democratic presidents. Indeed, the bipolar politics of Sullivan are premised upon bipartisan business as usual, and his “centrist” ideology is a perfectly orthodox form of opportunism.

“I never understood the power of a president’s words until that day,” Sullivan continued on the same show. “This man saying, ‘I’m with you. I get it. You’re like me. I am like you. There is nothing between us.’ ” This is the trouble with reducing law, love and language to emoticons. There is, in fact, a Grand Canyon of legal and social discrimination between Obama’s marriage and my own marriage. After 33 years of life together, Larry Gross and I were married in a brief civil ceremony on Cesar Chavez Avenue in Los Angeles. The legal door to do so had opened briefly in California, but a state referendum (funded heavily by the Mormon church and backed by conservative Christians) shut it again soon after.

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In the 21st century, this is the consequence of allowing the constitutional rights of citizens to be given or denied by mere majorities. If a doctrine of “original intent” rules out equality of kinship for same-sex couples because the 18th century founders had nothing of the kind in mind, then we must accept all the other crazy consequences, including owning slaves, forbidding interracial marriage and making women dependent on the votes of men. So far as equality of marriage and kinship are concerned, the United States is now a disunited patchwork of common sense and common nonsense, so that my marriage is null and void in more than 30 states. The “full faith and credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 1) is consequently an open question only in regard to same-sex marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The career of a single journalist such as Sullivan cannot exist outside the wider political ecosystem of the corporate state. Under a “two party system,” the political opportunism of Sullivan is nearly contractual among whole battalions of pundits and journalists seeking to make the most of their opportunities. Just as corporate lobbyists seek access to whatever party is in power, likewise journalists must gauge their own “nonpartisan” status with great care. Bipartisan business as usual defines the bipolar politics of many journalists, and Sullivan is exemplary rather than singular in this regard. At moments when the civil and human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people rise in the news cycle, Sullivan has become the go-to gay pundit for Newsweek cover stories, cable talk shows and even the satire shows of Stewart and Colbert.


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