In case you missed it (though I don’t know how that you could), the big debate now rocking the insular Washington, D.C., journalistic community involves writer and blogger Andrew Sullivan and whether Sullivan is or is not an anti-Semite. This because of an essay about Sullivan published in the New Republic by that magazine’s long-time literary editor Leon Wieseltier.
Of course, the insular journalistic community has rallied to Sullivan’s side, and insisted that its old friend and colleague, good-old irascible Andrew, is no anti-Semite.
That may be true, but it misses Wieseltier’s real point, which is not that Sullivan is an anti-Semite. No, Wieseltier’s real point is that Sullivan is a nasty crank and intellectual bully—and Wieseltier is absolutely right about this.
Indeed, Sullivan commits myriad calumnies against logic and reason while indulging his most angry, bitter, and bile-fueled feelings toward a select group of people and organizations, including (and perhaps limited to): Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the pope, the Catholic church, George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, John Yoo, Marc Thiessen, and the U.S. military.
Wieseltier, in fact, makes this point about Sullivan while defending the esteemed Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer. Krauthammer, Wieseltier notes, is Sullivan’s intellectual polar opposite—a man of calm and careful reason and thoughtful analysis:
“Whatever the merits of his [Krauthammer’s] views, I do not see that his motives are despicable.
“Moreover, Krauthammer argues for his views; the premises of his analysis are coldly clear, and may be engaged analytically, and when necessary refuted. Unlike Sullivan, he does not present feelings as ideas… Sullivan is hunting for motives, not reasons; for conspiracies, which is the surest sign of a mind’s bankruptcy.”
Wieseltier hones in on Sullivan’s odd obsession with Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu, and suggests that “something much darker”—perhaps anti-Semitism—may be at work in Andrew’s strange mind.
My colleague at NewsRealBlog, Jeannette Pryor, agrees with Wieseltier. Sullivan, she notes, laments the “massive influence” of the American Israeli Political Action Committee. Yet, what, she asks, is the alternative? What are the practical, real-world consequences of Sullivan’s lament?
Indeed, what if AIPAC were, as Sullivan seems to want, an unsuccessful and non-influential lobby? Answer: “the cessation of American support for Israel and the subsequent destruction of a people he (Sullivan) [says] he really, really likes.”
Pryor makes a good point; however, I am loath to ascribe motives to Sullivan; and I cannot and will not assess what is in his heart. While Sullivan may be motivated by anti-Semitism, he also could be motivated by any number of other things, including: iconoclasm, a contrarian nature, and willful self-deception and self-delusion. Who knows.
What we do know is that, as Wieseltier points out, Sullivan rants and raves wildly like the nasty crank and intellectual bully that he is.
[Sullivan’s] answers may be inferred from his various ejaculations — ‘the pulverization of Gazans,’ for example, is a phrase that is calculatedly indifferent to the wrenching moral and strategic perplexities that are contained in the awful reality of asymmetrical warfare — but they are not so much answers as bar-room retorts; moody explosions of verbal violence; more invective from another American crank.
Exactly so. Sullivan doesn’t so much argue as inveigh. Facts and reason are anathema to him. Self-indulgent emotional tirades are what he likes and practices. It’s all about, as Wieseltier keenly observes, Andrew’s own self-induced and self-stimulated intellectual orgasms and ejaculations.
Does this make Sullivan an anti-Semite? No, but it does make him a journalistic and blogging bully who is intellectually dishonest and deranged. That’s why, I for one, am glad that Wieseltier wrote his piece taking Sullivan to task.
It’s about time, after all, that someone stood up to this bully and hit back. For too long people within Washington, D.C.’s insular journalistic community have made excuses for Andrew—excuses for the intellectual shoddiness of his work, and for his wild and reckless rhetorical fire, which seems more intent on killing than engaging debate.
Finally, someone of stature and influence—namely, the courageous and brilliant Leon Wieseltier—has stood up to this nasty crank and intellectual bully. And yes people like me—people who don’t think Sullivan’s necessarily an anti-Semite—are cheering Wieseltier on.