An excellent paragraph by an excellent journalist on the very interesting mind of Andrew Sullivan and his adolotion of Obama:
Sullivan, a Burkean by philosophy but a radical by temperament, is the most interesting critic of his former conservative allies, and I’ve learned a lot about conservatism agonistes from reading his blog. He says that conservatism isn’t about solving problems but about recognizing the limits of man’s ability to do so, especially in the form of organized activity called government. His breakdown can’t help stacking the deck: conservatism is modest, skeptical, narrowly focussed on what can be done; liberalism tries, promiscuously, to satisfy everyone’s needs. Sullivan believes that the Republican Party went astray when it forgot its philosophical principles and started throwing more feed at the hogs of the electorate than Democrats. He is, in the terms of my article, a purist rather than a reformist, but his unhappiness with the movement is so great that it’s driven him into the arms of his exact opposite, Barack Obama, who is philosophically liberal and temperamentally conservative. Sullivan knows that his Oakeshottian version of conservatism is a very hard sell in a country that expects problems to come with solutions, and he seems to acknowledge that its future here belongs with the reformists like David Brooks, Ross Douthat, and Reihan Salam, who are readier than he is to accept that people have a right to want their government to improve their lives, not just to instruct them in the vanity of human effort. I read Sullivan every day, partly to find out how far his disenchantment will carry him in the very strange direction of Obama-style uplift—how long his temperament will win out over his ideas.
Sullivan posts too much to read in RSS, but it’s worth a weekly check-in for a stimulating perspective on the political scene.
2 comments on “George Packer on Andrew Sullivan on Obama”
I think an important aspect of Sullivan’s love affair with Obama is that he sees it as a way of punishing Republicans. Bush came into office saying he and his staff should be held accountable. The only way to do that, if you don’t like the results, is vote for someone else. If Obama is elected, I give it 12 months max before the honeymoon is over for Sullivan.
I grew up in a strongly Republican household in Georgia and watched the party evolved from Goldwater-style fiscal conservatism (when, by the way, Republicans in Georgia were practically an endangered species), to a maximalist authoritarianism with a strong strain of Christian fundamentalism. Not coincidentally, the Republican party came to dominate Georgia politics and the rest of the South.
If you don’t like this, the only way to communicate your displeasure it is to not vote for it. If that means voting for Obama, so be it.
In the interior stage of my imagination I would have cast Andrew Sullivan as Edmund Burke to Barack Obama’s Thomas Paine, until he upset the placid equilibrium of its spectral world.
When Sullivan declaimed “..conservatism as a pragmatic, minimalist sensibility toward governance…”, the thespian boards vibrated in sympathy, but when he declared, “A permanent Iraq presence really does mean an imperial future for the US…”, they groaned in certitude that we live in a US with an imperial present.
Edmund Burke may be the spiritual father of American conservatism as dimly conceived in the brain of George W. Bush, where lies ‘…are more important than laws…’, but the rot at its core spills forth as our troops are sent deeper into the burning sands of the Middle East by a vulgarian ‘old boy’ aristocracy of oligarchs, our very own ‘confederacy of dunces’.