The Weathervane as Metaphor

Andrew Sullivan relates to the public discourse as a weathervane does to the weather. To read his blog regularly is to experience the fads and fashions of the middlebrow masses, their momentary enthusiasms and hatreds, their cultural and political prejudices frozen in time, and forever preserved by Google and the gods of the internet as the perfect record of post-9/11 folly.  

Notwithstanding a few idiosyncratic tics — tirades about gay marriage and an awful obsession with the “real” parentage of Sarah Palin’s daughter’s baby, or something — Sullivan’s years-long record as an online commentator limns a fever chart of the post-9/11 madness that nearly overcame American democracy and still poses a threat to liberal values. 

Among pundits in the English-speaking world, Sullivan has achieved a truly special status: he’s a veritable canary-in-the-mine when it comes to identifying impending disasters. Whenever he’s embraced a particular folly – whether it be the idea of “liberating” the Muslim world at gunpoint, invading Iraq (or nuking it), or  smearing anti-interventionists as a “fifth column” sympathetic to al-Qaeda – it soon became ubiquitous. He was always in the vanguard, the one who set the standard in the War Party for new ways to argue for the very policies he now rejects as misguided, and worse. When the first antiwar protesters peeked their heads out from under the avalanche of post-9/11 war hysteria, it was Sullivan who claimed that some nut-ball handing out copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion on the fringes of an antiwar protest was somehow representative of the antiwar movement. 

Now the blogosphere is abuzz with angry denunciations of Leon Wieseltier’s ridiculously vicious hit-piece in  The New Republic claiming Sullivan is a closeted anti-Semite, and “outing” him as an anti-Jewish bigot, all without actually saying it. I’ll leave others to describe the absurdity of Wiseltier’s specific charges, and let them defend Sullivan against these admittedly unfair charges, while I just kick back and enjoy the spectacle, a little morality play which might be titled “Hoist With His Own Petard.” 

Back when it was okay, and even fashionable, to smear anti-interventionists as purveyors of the Protocols, and it was dangerous to be considered part of a “fifth column” because John Ashcroft might be inspired to lock you up and throw away the key, Sullivan had no compunctions about acting out his chosen role as the War Party’s Grand Inquisitor – including impugning the loyalty of the staff of this Web site.  

As the political weather turned, however, so the weathervane began pointing in another direction. Sullivan became a devoted Obama-ite, albeit still hanging on to the bare threads of his alleged conservatism. Several mea culpas later, Sullivan has seemingly come nearly full circle, with a strong critique of neo-conservatism such as one might easily find throughout our archives. That he is now subject to the sort of attacks he used to specialize in, launched by his former chums over at The New Republic, is a glorious confirmation of cosmic justice, enough to awaken the stony heart of even the most hardened and militant atheist to the possibility of divine intervention in the affairs of men. 

Yes, the charges of anti-Semitism leveled at Sullivan are unfair, and yet they meet the test of justice. So I must disagree with the estimable Glenn Greenwald, lately the recipient of Sullivan’s lash, who nonetheless leaps to Sullivan’s defense, and writes

“What one thinks of Andrew Sullivan, or how angry he’s made one over the years, ought to be about the most irrelevant factor imaginable in determining one’s reaction to this TNR attack.  Sometimes, even people you don’t like are the targets of odious and harmful accusations, and sometimes, even your Bestest Friends, fellow party members and listserv pals might do wrong things that merit criticism.  Wieseltier’s polemic is a classic example of anti-semitism accusations tossed around with no conceivable basis and for purely ignoble ends.  It’s the very tactic that has caused significant damage in the past.” 

One finds very little with which to disagree, except I would edit that last sentence to read: “It’s the very tactic used by Sullivan that has caused signfificant damage in the past.” Sullivan has not only attacked the antiwar movement as a veritable den of neo-Nazis, he has routinely smeared anti-interventionists such as Pat Buchanan and even echoed claims made in The New Republic that accused Ron Paul of being a closet “white nationalist.” Now that same transmission belt of slanderous innuendo is running in reverse, unleashing its poison on him, and it couldn’t have found a more deserving target.  

I won’t go into a long, whiny disquisition on my own unfortunate run-in with the pro-Israel fanatics who label each and every critic of Israeli government policy an “anti-Semite.” Suffice to say that the editors of the Huffington Post have banned me from their sacred precincts on account of the devotees of that particular cult: I guess cultists of all sorts have something in common, perhaps a liking for ideological conformity.  

In any case, the antics of the Israel lobby have become so carelessly aggressive, these days, that it is no longer possible to deny the extent of its influence, which is often decisive – not just in the halls of Congress, which Pat Buchanan famously and accurately described as “Israeli-occupied territory,” but also in the media.  

We have covered a number of stories, here, that the Andrew Sullivans of this world were either excusing or completely ignoring – until the political weather changed, that is, and the weathervane began pointing in another direction …. 

Pundits, I believe, must be held accountable for their past judgements on key matters, and certainly in the age of the internet the pixel trail is easy to follow. Of course, Sullivan is protected by his corporate sponsors, in this case the owners of The Atlantic: he used to run an “independent” web site that was heavily subsidized by Big Pharma. In such circumstances, being not only wrong but spectacularly misaken is cost-less, except in terms of being respected by anyone with any intelligence. It does explain, however, how the most consistently wrong-headed of the pundit class are nonetheless continually rewarded for their wrong-ness, and granted ever greater honors and prestigious pulpits from which to preach the gospel of wrong-headedness. 

There is, however, another kind of punditry, one that fulfills the original promise of the internet as a communication device between writer and reader, and it is being practiced right here.  

If we were as consistently wrong as Sullivan has been, Antiwar.com wouldn’t have lasted beyond the first few years. Instead of going with the flow, and bending to every wind, our commentary and reporting has consistently gone head-to-head with the conventional wisdom – and been proved right with enviable regularity. That’s why we have readers and supporters who signal their support by contributing financially to the maintenance and upkeep of this site – because we’ve built up a reserve of trust in our good judgement.  

You’ll note the Sullivanian evolution from devoted Bushian to slavish apologist for Obama and all His works: just as a flower follows the sun, so Washington’s courtiers turn their faces toward the warming glow of presidential power. A shill for whatever regime is in power, Sullivan and his fellow swimmers in the “mainstream” are dedicated to one thing and one thing only: advancing their paltry little careers. This means flattering the powerful, following the party line, and never stepping outside the bounds of “respectable” opinion.  

We, on the other hand, have followed a different path. And that, as Robert Frost – another America First “isolationist” – put it, made all the difference. What enables us to take the path of speaking truth to power is you, the reader, our readers, many of whom have stuck with us though the years, and many more who are new to our pages. We  don’t have the big corporate or philanthropic donors, and we’re glad of that: such arrangements always come with strings.  

America badly needs the kind of no-strings journalism we’re providing in the vital realm of foreign policy. The “mainstream” media has failed so often, and in so many different ways, that it’s no wonder major newspapers are dying. Now they’re wailing that they deserve government bailouts, too – as a reward, no doubt, for following the government line so assiduously over the years.  

We aren’t asking for a government bailout, and wouldn’t take it even if it were offered: what we need is your support. For years we’ve provided the best foreign policy coverage and commentary on the internet: you know you can find out the origins and meaning of the latest crisis by logging on to Antiwar.com. That kind of reliability is worth paying for – so don’t delay, contribute today

Read more by Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].