Up And Down With Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan is not a useful metric for measuring the opinions, stances or engagement of American voters slowly waking to the reality of a presidential election next month. The Daily Beast blogger and Newsweek essayist is, by any rational assessment, a demographic of one—a conservative liberal gay Republican Obama loyalist and Irish-English Oxford man who sought and secured permanent U.S. residency. But when I returned to the media world last week, after a six-month sabbatical, it was immediately evident that the best way to “catch up” with half a year’s political media freakouts was by studying Sullivan’s blog and Twitter output, backwards. Seared in my brain was an airport-newsstand glance at that Newsweek cover of Barack Obama looking like Augustus Caesar, with the words “The Democrat’s Reagan” followed by the only byline that could possibly go with such a sweeping, over-the-top pronouncement.

Just two weeks later, Sullivan watched the same dull debate I saw, but to him it wasn’t just a lackluster performance from a president who sat out the primaries. It was the worst disaster of the Obama presidency. There are no small moments in Andrew Sullivan’s online world.

Everything means Everything, all the time, and the only respite is the “Mental Health Break” viral videos and the weirdly depressing snapshots from his readers’ windows. Like some CGI action movie, Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog is all explosions and implosions and dazed weeping survivors seeking only a catchphrase that will keep the wounds and memories fresh until the next apocalypse, tomorrow.

Sullivan’s blog and Twitter feed can be a car wreck–a car wreck witnessed from a window, close enough to be tearfully blogged but too far away to actually walk outside and help–but his online persona is unique for its lack of cynicism and irony. Peggy Noonan’s grand pronouncements read like they’ve been fished from a shoebox of 30-year-old cocktail napkins, and the only believable emotion at National Review‘s “The Corner” is Kathryn Jean Lopez’s unrequited love for Joseph Ratzinger. As Obama’s re-election by electoral college votes has been fairly certain all year long, pundits on the right have been transparently trying to wring a daily outrage from a dried-up sponge. For a self-described conservative writer in America, Andrew Sullivan is the only one who seems to believe what he’s writing … which is problematic, for a paid political thinker, when that belief also makes you a supporter of the liberal Democrat president.

The cable-news hacks and professional political surrogates drip with insincerity. It was an amusement at my last job to collect screen captures of the pundit panelists reading sports sites or shopping online before and after commercial breaks. Sullivan approaches this tired game with the enthusiasm of a TV recap blogger, one of those ultra-fans who can quickly create a deep timestamp philosophy from the shoddiest episode of “Doctor Who.”

What I’ve learned from reading Sullivan backwards is that Obama’s re-election was inevitable, that he would remake the nation in ways unseen since FDR or Eisenhower or Lincoln or whoever, that Obama was “moving in for the kill” with a probable landslide victory as recently as two weeks ago, that Obama intentionally destroyed this safe re-election, and that even Sully’s dogs are suffering wild mood swings.

Studying the very recent past through the Andrew Sullivan lens is important because his very human up-and-down reactions to the White House horse race are a favorite of the Washington and New York press corps. National media figures lost their real emotions around the time they realized it would take constant brutality to get to the top of the heap, and my suspicion is that Sullivan is read carefully to see what “humans are supposed to feel.” His outbursts of sincerity are processed and regurgitated by the cynical people who create each news cycle’s National Narrative … and that’s why the top story on Google News is still the debate from a week ago.




Ken Layne was editor of the political disaster site Wonkette from 2006 to 2012, and invented blogging along with Andrew Sullivan.