Politics of Personal Destruction Mark II
I try not to comment about hypocrisy in politics because switching sides on issues of “principle” is such a routine part of partisan game-playing that commenting about it would be like writing a post declaring that water is wet, that Death Valley is hot, and that Perez Hilton is annoying. But very occasionally, an incident comes along that is so glaring in its clueless exposure of the seedy underbelly of political debate that it requires a moment of stunned observation, sort of like watching a guy immolating himself while giving a lecture on fire safety.
The recent complaint by Andrew Sullivan about politics being “total war” is such a moment. It is not that Sullivan is wrong, but rather that he is so incredibly right at the same time he is so incredibly clueless about his own contributions. Sullivan is complaining about Andrew Breitbart’s efforts to bribe into the open the archives of ”Journolist”, an invitation-only virtual treehouse where good-hearted liberals shared their most intimate feelings of hatred for non-liberals before being repeatedly exposed for the sophomoric “mean girls” clique that it was. Breitbart’s efforts to keep the story alive for yet another round is also sophomoric, but Sullivan elevates it to a high crime against the very existence of civil society, a threat to all that is good and decent in the blogging world. (Apologies to those who just laughed their morning coffee right up into their sinus cavities.)
As Breitbart gleefully points out, Sullivan has himself been on the front lines of trying to dig into private lives for no other reason than political destruction with Sullivan’s long-running vendetta against Sarah Palin and her family and his efforts to force Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan to publicly debate her sexuality. What Bill Clinton once decried as “the politics of personal destruction” (while himself maintaining a “permanent campaign” that featured a “war room” and a staffer dedicated specifically to deal with “bimbo eruptions” by attacking their character) has indeed become routine — with Andrew Sullivan himself championing the tactic when it suits his purposes. To complain about it when the tables are turned in a much more mild context than Sullivan himself pursues is perhaps the most clueless post in the history of blogging, and that says quite a lot.
In the end, Breitbart’s $100,000 reward for the archives of “Journolist” will have no more impact than the “Journolist” clique itself had. It will serve only to reinforce each side’s hatred and contempt for the other, and justify their mutual belief that people on the other side deserve no quarter, no apology, and no hearing. But if Sullivan really wants to help turn that around, he needs to first give up his own leading role in the process. Maybe he’ll start with an apology to Sarah Palin and Elena Kagan. But I wouldn’t bet $100,000 on it.