I don’t read Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish on a daily basis, or even on a weekly basis. (God knows nothing I’ve ever written has turned up in it.) But most of what I’ve seen, I’ve liked. Sullivan was one of the first to recognize the musical “Book of Mormon” as a backhanded salute to faith and good works, rather than simply a backhand. When it emerged that Michele Bachmann’s old church identifies the pope with the Antichrist, he observed that, in the UK (where he’s from), and in Ireland (whence hail his parents), “the Pope is the Antichrist” is nothing but a family-friendly thing to chant from the stands when certain football teams battle on the pitch.
In other words, the man is a confirmed non-hysteric in matters religious — a type I aspire to imitate.
That Sullivan is also gay, and HIV-positive, and a Tory, and a Catholic, I also knew, but only in the way I know, say, that Al Franken is a Minnesotan. How, exactly, he was able to resolve the contradictions inherent in those identities I had no idea. The English-Irish thing sounded like trouble enough, as Shane McGowan could probably confirm, given a few cups of espresso.
In his Esquire profile, Mark Warren tries to do it all justice. He credits Sullivan and his conservative outlook with redirecting the gay rights movement (or, if you prefer, the gay agenda) toward those markers of solid citizenship, the rights to marry and serve openly in the armed forces. In 1988, when Sullivan first unveiled his vision, in an essay for the Advocate, he didn’t win himself many friends:
Sullivan was accused of wanting to assimilate gay culture out of existence. He was called a “collaborator” and “the gay Antichrist.”… The following year, when the idea of domestic partnerships first began to take root, Sullivan saw the very real danger that these well-meant laws — Aww, the liberals are doing something nice for us! — would actually have the effect of establishing a permanent status for gays as second-class citizens. A separate-but-equal legal ghetto. All my liberal friends were saying, How can you possibly not like domestic-partner laws? I was in an editorial meeting at The New Republic railing about it, and finally Michael Kinsley said, Maybe you should write that down.
“And because [Sullivan] was going to die, “ Warren continues, “he undertook to argue the idea of homosexuality from every angle…And through the book that came of it, Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality, Sullivan in a sense redefined homosexuality and argued himself into existence at the same time, just as he feared he would cease to exist.”
Being a knee-jerk liberal and obsessive underdog champion, I don’t particularly enjoy hearing that I should take my paternalism and do something Robert Mapplethorpe-ish with it. Nevertheless, I admire swagger and intellectual rigor. Sullivan’s got both, so two points to him. It’s on the third point, though, that I consider myself indebted, and that is his status as a blogging pioneer. When Sullivan started the Dish, Warren writes, “nothing but pornography and the Drudge Report” was on the ‘net:
Once he learned the basics, Sullivan would blog from ten or so at night until two or three in the morning, reading The New York Times and other papers as the next day’s editions went online, teeing off on something stupid from Maureen Dowd — I’d have a go at her before anybody’d read her column. It was fun! — writing his pieces and posting them all at the same time for people to read over their second cup of coffee. And those posts would just sit there for the
Ever the rebel, Sullivan found it “all the more exciting because the traditionalists thumbed their noses.”
It pained me a little, though, to read that Sullivan “soon realized that it wasn’t enough to have your say once a day, that for this form to work, it would have to be ongoing, never-ending, to be updated as often as humanly possible.” Not all of us are machines, sir. As for me, I’m lucky to commit one bad idea to print per day. Pushing the envelope of human possibility would mean blogging more nonsense even than the Internet could easily stand.
Also, Sullivan greets Warren in boxers. True to the blogger-as-slacker stereotype, he really works in them. I’m not sure I’m ready to dress up that much.