Dec 10, 2013
Daddy’s Boy: Andrew Sullivan’s Presidential Crush
Posted on Jun 5, 2012
By Scott Tucker
The role of intellectuals in preserving or challenging state power can be overestimated, not only because writers and academics are often victims of vanity, but also because the far right imagines the Ivy League, the Democratic Party and the mainstream media are all complicit in a Marxist conspiracy. The corporate consensus spanning those three institutions is, on the contrary, still fairly secure though showing signs of fracture.
The mainstream media invest Sullivan with the authority to be an unofficial ambassador from the internal colony of gay Americans, but only so long as he remains a reliable journalistic ambassador of the corporate state. Sullivan was not officially appointed to such positions by any class or party, but the positions are always open to talented entrepreneurs. Moreover, a publicity agent of American capital and culture must not be denied personal agency: After all, Sullivan gladly jumped over the pond from Britain, and he steps up into this public role of his own will. Unsurprisingly, the economy of opinion-making rewards him for doing so.
The objective elements of such a social contract should be emphasized, and not dozens of subjective speculations. The fact that Sullivan is openly gay is one aspect of his persona as a public intellectual, so in this same economy of opinions his views on politics and gay marriage have gained great currency. His functional role as an enterprising ideologist of “centrist” capitalism has earned him the megaphone of the mass media, and indeed his view of same-sex marriage differs in no important point from any argument for straightforward assimilation. Fewer people will be alienated from the existing political system, and more people will be delivered into stable domestic units of sexual and material consumption. All problems solved.
Sullivan had nothing to do with the radical founders of the American gay movement, including socialists such as Harry Hay, nor even with the more conservative gay members of Hay’s generation who dared to demand their share of assimilation. He never took their risks, he has no background in civil disobedience, and he has never taken a share in the long and unheralded haul of community organizing. Once others had paid the price of breaking barriers, he came along just in time to get hired at The New Republic as an open gay writer and editor. In Sullivan’s version, he was a brave dissenter against political conformism on the gay left, and especially in regard to the issue of gay marriage. The story is not so simple, however, and indeed not so personal.
In The New Republic, Sullivan once wrote, “The denial of gay marriage to gay people is therefore not a minor issue. It is the entire issue.” When my book “The Queer Question: Essays on Desire and Democracy” was published in 1997, I responded: “As a socialist, I can’t agree, but I credit Sullivan with having more spine and spirit on this issue than many ‘progressives,’ both straight and gay, whose marriages to the Democratic Party have been a long martyrdom. Or worse, a long collaboration.”
That was then, and now Sullivan is a cheerleader for the Obama administration. On Jan. 23, the cover of Newsweek featured this article by Sullivan: “Why Are Obama’s Critics So Dumb?” The “centrism” of Obama is just common sense, in Sullivan’s view, and the same cover called out to Newsweek readers: “Niall Ferguson Ends Class Warfare.” When May 21 rolled around with another cover story on Obama by Sullivan, Newsweek readers were also offered “Colin Powell’s Rules to Live By.” The company Sullivan keeps in Newsweek is not under his editorial control, but that company is certainly a Who’s Who of corporate and imperial “centrism.”
Sullivan wrote in the July 1994 issue of Out magazine, “I choose liberalism’s approach, which says we don’t want to raise deep issues about identity, because once you do that, politics gets nasty. If it’s about identity, you wind up, at the extreme, with apartheid or Nazi Germany. Liberalism talks about raceless, sexless citizens, and tries to insure some form of equality among them. … ”
That neatly paraphrased a similar position taken by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a former adviser to the Kennedy and other administrations, in his book of 1991, “The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society.” The politics of identity is not an easy subject to summarize, especially as the very phrase “identity politics” was turned inside out over the years by a number of hostile critics. But those who first used the phrase include the African-American writer Barbara Smith and others who wrote and published the Combahee River Collective Statement of 1977. They did not propose a politics of separatism, the very tendency the liberal proponents of American assimilation warned against, but rather addressed “a politics that grew out of our objective material experiences as black women.”
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