Andrew Sullivan
Journalist and Blogger
04:26

Rational Conservatives Still Exist

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There are still rational voices on the right that have withstood the Republican push towards fundamentalism.

Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan is a conservative political writer and commentator and one of the pioneers of political blog journalism. He was born in England, where he attended Magdalen College, Oxford, but moved to the US in the 1980s to pursue a Masters in Public Administration and a PhD in Political Science at Harvard. He has remained in the US and has focused his writing on American political life.  

In 1991 at the age of 27, Sullivan was appointed editor of The New Republic, over which he presided for 250 issues until he resigned in May 1996. Sullivan's tenure at TNR was often turbulent, controversial, and pioneering. The magazine expanded its remit beyond politics to cover such topics as the future of hip-hop, same-sex marriage, and affirmative action in the newsroom. TNR also published the first airing of 'The Bell Curve,' the explosive 1995 book on IQ, and 'No Exit,' an equally controversial essay that was widely credited with helping to torpedo the Clinton administration's plans for universal health coverage. In 1996, Sullivan was named Editor of the Year by Adweek magazine.

Sullivan is openly gay and has been a key figure in the public discourse on such issues as gays in the military and same-sex marriage. His 1993 TNR essay, 'The Politics of Homosexuality,' was credited by the Nation magazine as the most influential article of the decade in gay rights. His 1995 book, 'Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality,' was published to positive reviews, became one of the best-selling books on gay rights, and was translated into five languages. He followed it with a reader, 'Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con,' and testified before Congress on the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. His second book, 'Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival,' was published in 1998 in the United States and Britain. It was a synthesis of three essays on the plague of AIDS, homosexuality and psycho-therapy, and the virtue of friendship. Sullivan tested positive for HIV in 1993, and remains in good health.

In the summer of 2000, Sullivan became one of the first mainstream journalists to experiment with blogging and soon developed a large online readership for his blog The Daily Dish. He has blogged independently and for Time.com, but in February 2007 he moved his blog to The Atlantic Online where he now writes daily.

Transcript

Question: Who are the most rational conservative voices in politics?

Andrew Sullivan: There are the beginnings of an intellectual revolution at what conservatives... what has been done to conservatives as a governing philosophy in America.  And I think one of the roles the Daily Dish are now trying to play is to be a place where those voices can be... can be brought to a wider audience.  So I think of Bruce Bartlett, who along with me in the early part of the Bush Administration, called them out on their fiscal irresponsibility, is a voice that I am very happy to keep bringing.  I think much later, someone like David Frum has come to that recognition even though I think we are going to still disagree about foreign policy. 

I think there are some Libertarian voices that are out there and I think the younger generation of reasoned people, I think of people like Damon Linker, there are people out there.  Unfortunately, what’s happened in Washington and more generally is that the conservative movement is bankrolled by certain large donors with certain overwhelming interests and they police the discourse with a ferocity and a lock-step mentality that has frozen conservatism as a philosophy in place and turned it into ideology that cannot ever change.  Or aligned it with such fundamentalist concepts that there can be no real conservative dialogue, because dialogue is not what fundamentalism is about.  And the price of simply existing as a conservative in Washington, to be in good standing, is to obey the dictates of whichever this constellation of donors and organizations from Heritage to AEI to even something like Pajamas Media, which is apparently financed by people also financing West Bank settlements is, if you stray you are expelled and then also thoroughly demonized. 

So intellectually, we are, you know, the blogosphere allows these kinds of ideas to percolate.  And I mean, Conor Friedersdorf for example is a young conservative whom I brought on specifically with the mandate of, because... find, encourage, let us bring to light that young writers right of center, who are not yet... who have not yet been basically bought by this establishment and then coerced to certain positions.  Daniel Larison is another person.  Now, these people don’t all agree, by all means.  That’s the point I mean, but the do not... they have acknowledged that conservatism in the past 10, 15, 20 years; it’s not that there was a great period of pure or great conservatism; we’ve never had this sort of populist, xenophobic racist, bigoted strains.  It’s that... that was always there.  It is that there was also a lot of good stuff there that we were responding to contingent situations, such as the collapse of the social democracy model in the 1970s, like a really smart critique of the welfare state, and a really, I think critical insight into how one defeats Soviet communism. 

What’s happened is that all that stuff has slowly been marginalized and all the worst has come to the surface.  And that won’t change overnight. And I think from everything we are seeing, talk radio and these, I think essentially corrupting institutions in Washington are turning conservatism into something that is really very creepy, but also emotionally and psychically powerful for people.  

So what do you do is, all you can do is write books, write articles, write blogs that articulate what you believe.

Recorded on October 12, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller


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