Leon Wieseltier has launched a scathing attack against Andrew Sullivan in The New Republic. He begins with an Auden quote Sullivan glibly highlighted a couple of weeks ago about the difficulties of explaining the doctrine of the Trinity to TNR readers. (As both an avid TNR reader and a Christian, the closest I have ever come to apprehending the doctrine of the Trinity was during an abstruse lecture by a friend on the works of Meister Eckhart, which is a pretty shaky high point. Perhaps I would understand it better if I stopped reading The New Republic?) From there, he dives right into what he obviously considers Sullivan's deep-seated problem with Jews, which permeates his writing about Israel, Palestine and the war against global jihadism.

The article is lengthy, and to pick quotes piecemeal would be to create an incomplete, flawed picture of the broadside. For those of you who are interested in this kind of thing (and presumably those of you who aren't have stopped reading by now), it's worth reading in its entirety. While there are bits I find unpersuasive (I think Wieseltier's denial of Jewish fundamentalism is a distinction without a difference, and I think he maligns Obama by describing him as "enchanted" with Muslims, rather than simply interested and respectful), on the whole he makes a strong argument for a shallowness of thought on Sullivan's part about Jews, Israel and Palestine.

He concludes:

There are decent and indecent ways to advocate change. About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot, or is he just moronically insensitive? To me, he looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left. He is the master, and the prisoner, of the technology of sickly obsession: blogging–and the divine right of bloggers to exempt themselves from the interrogations of editors–is also a method of hounding. Of course, it is impossible to know what is in a man’s heart; but on the basis of what Sullivan has written, I would urge him to search his heart. Such a reckoning would involve more than the “my bad” efficiency of internet introspection. I do not expect to see it. If explaining the Trinity to readers of The New Republic is not easy, imagine how hard it will be to explain all this.

As to the central question at hand, I think Wieseltier is being unfair to Sullivan (and also too easy on Charles Krauthammer). I have been a regular reader of Sullivan's writing in a variety of settings for over a decade, and I do not think he is a bigot, at least as far as Jews are concerned. However, I do think (as Wieseltier writes earlier in the piece) that Sullivan confuses his feelings with ideas.

Anyone who reads Sullivan for very long will begin to notice when he's gotten a bee in his bonnet about something. The most recent, and utterly unmistakable example, is Sarah Palin. Now, make no mistake. I think Palin is a disgrace, and the prospect of her further political ambitions is genuinely terrifying to consider. But Sullivan's approach to her borders on the unhinged, and his adulation for Levi Johnston creates the kind of embarrassment that moves one to avert one's eyes. (Dude, he's not going to write a book, and even if he does it will make no difference.) Prior to the advent of Palin's run for the Naval Observatory, he directed his loathing toward Hillary Clinton. (It seems a distant memory now, but his hatred for her was no less intense for its lack of staying power.) To a lesser extent, his obsessions with such things as legalizing pot or (heaven help us) the attractiveness of beards are similarly irksome.

In some cases, this has been a service to our political discourse and understanding. In particular, his coverage of the Iranian protests was yeoman's work, and deserves to be lauded. His exploration of the debate around late-term abortion following the Tiller murder is another such example. But when he feels strongly about a subject, and his emotions take over, his thinking becomes shallower and his tone becomes more strident in equal measure. This same belligerence typifies his talk show appearances, which is one reason I don't watch them. (Also, my cable is disconnected.)

Wieseltier mistakenly ascribes to bigotry what he more correctly describes as shallowness and emotionalism. When Sullivan gets upset, as often as not his thinking becomes muddled and his tone gets uncivil. Witness his immature and unfortunate decision to careless toss around the word "retard," a bloggy way of giving Palin the finger (again). I don't think Sullivan hates the Jews, or Israel, or is guilty of the kind of casual anti-Semitism of which Wieseltier accuses him. I think he's just mad, and sloppy, and has a bigger forum for his thoughts than is good for him.

Update: Sullivan's thorough, heartfelt and moving response is here. I think it demonstrates all of his best qualities, and why his is among the most widely read blogs in existence.


  1. I agree. I haven't read Wieselter yet, but I always took Sullivan's Israel stance as him posturing as a Very Brave Person Who Tells the Truth.

  2. Are y'all sure it is Sullivan's opinion and not that of his bylineless underbloggers? 8^)

    I gave up on Andrew years ago. He's a hopeless farrago of opinion, doesn't seem to have any core principles, and prone to saddling up his donkey and tilting at windmills. Heck, it is a wonder that he han't been hired by Teh Smartest Administration Evah as he'd fit right in.

  3. sorry Doctor, I disagree, as was mentioned in the replies: If he wants to not to be perceived in that way, let him moderate his views and be more careful with the language he deploys when writing about Israelis and Jews. Words don’t exist in an historical vacuum and in this case there is a two thousand year history that one needs to pay attention to when describing Jews.

    And, once again gj, utterly useless posting. Did you read LW's posting or Andrews reply and Chaits follow up? Of course not, that would mean knowing what you are speaking about. Just another excuse to make a lame dig at Obama

    I found Andrews reply with regard to the Auden quote to be weak. LW's initial paragraph was trite and unconvincing and none of his readers came to defense of it. Andrew went after the low hanging fruit (as are you in referencing it) the substance is in the lack of care in language Sullivan uses.

    I simply don't see the logic in Sullivan's change in worldview. Anti-Americanism I can see change as administrations change, but the criticism against Israel is not based on that, and in fact Israel has tried every avenue to secure peace I can think of short of surrender. Can anyone explain to me how Sullivan went from A to Z in what seems like one jump. And can anyone also explain to me why A was even wrong to begin with (or was Arafat really a peace loving misunderstood hippie?)


  4. A few wee follow-up thoughts.

    GJ, one might get the impression from your making a comment totally unrelated to the point of the main post that you don't like President Obama.

    Charo, I'm not sure how making reference to LW's opening is in any way going after "low-hanging fruit." LW talked about it, and I briefly referenced it. Had I left it at that (which is what Sully did as of the last time I checked -- I haven't read The Dish today), perhaps your criticism would be fair. But, as I moved on to other matters, I think perhaps you're not giving me much credit.

    Indeed, as with ever so many things, Sully positions on Israel have changed without much intellectual rigor. Same with health care reform. Wasn't too long ago he was casting a gimlet eye on it, and was in the McArdle camp that it would stifle innovation, etc. Suddenly he's all for it. As with most of his opinions, his emotions shifted and as a result so did his thinking, with little time spent actually working through the reasons thus for.

  5. Fair enough DrDan. I should have been more careful in including you, it was a throwaway line that wasn't fair.


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  7. I don't like Big-ears Barack? Ya think?

    For at least five years, just going to a concert meant having to suffer through liberal snickering and mockery of the Previous Administration. I was called names because I supported some, not all, but just some of the policies of the Previous Administration. Well, today there isn't enough popcorn in the Universe as I watch the Current Administration grapple with responsibility for the country. I have a guilty sense of schadenfreude, but I must admit I do enjoy hearing the same people who were shrill about occupying the moral high ground now talking about the virtue of civil discourse (usually right after making a nasty teabagger comment). So, yeah, I guess this is a bit of therapy after listening to so much of the left go on about how things would be different if only the right were stripped of power. It is easy to mock, and I'm enjoying it too much. Of course, the sobering part is all the people that the Current Administration is hurting, and the depth of the fiscal hole it is digging for our children, so I really should try to be more of an adult about politics.

  8. gj, dude, I would have no problem with logical criticism of Obama, but you are just unhinged. When Obama walked in the door there were 8 trillion in projected deficits, this would have been true if McCain walked in a well. The economy was in freefall, the credit markets nearly frozen, add to that two deficit funded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a quasi-war in Pakistan, and anyone walking into the office was in for some deep hurting.

    Contrast that with what Bush faced when he walked in: budget surpluses, a very minor recession. Now, of course, with 9/11 I would have been perfectly willing to allow the surpluses disappear. Not everything was Bush's fault (the execution of the war in Iraq was, as was the unfunded Prescription drug giveaway) but I am willing to give Bush credit where it is due, such as the surge in Iraq.

    I wish Obama would explicitly praise that aspect of the Bush administration, instead of implicitly endorsing it by retaining (or promoting) all of the architects of it. Funny how you don't give any credit to Obama for that.

    It is incontrovertible that things are better than they would have been if McCain was elected. His "stimulus" would have been far less effective and the unemployment rate would have been much higher. Now you can argue that our "better" now is worse than borrowing our way to it, but you would be wrong. Obama did what Hoover should have done, which was prevent a deflationary spiral and massive unemployment through a massive (not nearly enough) temporary stimulus program.

    Of course, you can't refute any of this you are so transfixed by neanderthal Republican talking points: "deficits bad, except Republican deficits good" At long last, can you not own up to reality?


  9. Incontrovertible, eh? I do not think that word means what you think it means.

    And really, if you are going to claim that the government's problem is that it isn't spending our children and grandchildren's money fast enough, please tell me why the UK isn't the picture of financial health?

  10. Andrew Sullivan has nothing to offer the world, Leon Vee-zel-tee-ay little more.

    Why do you people reply to this John madman? You're feeding his delusions of legitimacy.