Sullivan's Travails

"BUSH AND IMMIGRANTS: Maybe the president was listening to the Pope. But the trial balloon… offering amnesty to three million illegal Mexican immigrants, and the latest version of it (we're down to two million now), is perhaps the boldest initiative of the Bush administration yet…. And it's great politics - managing to put the Democrats on the defensive and woo an important voting bloc. Bush and Rove realize that if they win the same share of the minority vote in 2004 as they did in 2000, they're finished…. One other small suggestion. Immigration issues could also help woo the gay vote. Most other western countries now allow some means of immigration for foreign same-sex spouses and all of them allow unrestricted immigration for people with HIV. If the Bushies found a way to move immigration law on these matters as well, the impact on another winnable bloc could be enormous."

AndrewSullivan.com

7/24/2001

Peter Brimelow suggested I give pundit/celebrity Andrew Sullivan "a boot" over this mildly silly paragraph on his popular website. But, really, taking umbrage over Sullivan's lapses in logic is a little like waxing indignant over how there's something inauthentic about Madonna's various incarnations as a cowgirl, devoted wife and mother, lesbian, Puerto Rican, Marilyn Monroe, and virgin. The best reaction is to just sit back and enjoy the show.

And quite a show it's been (at least by the not-always-scintillating standards of opinion journalism), ever since Sullivan began shooting himself up with prescription testosterone about three years ago. Injecting the manly molecule transformed him from an underachiever, dragged down by his battle against his HIV infection, into just about the biggest ball of fire in the opinion industry.

Now, this may sound like gossip, sensationalism, or an invasion of the New Republic Senior Editor's privacy. And, indeed, most people who have written about Sullivan's comeback have shied away from explaining its chemical cause. For example, Howard Kurtz's long, admiring profile in the Washington Post last April never mentioned Sullivan's new testosterone habit.

The main exception to this genteel silence is Sullivan himself, who published a remarkable 7,000-word ode to testosterone in the New York Times Magazine on April 2, 2000:

"My appetite in every sense of that word expanded beyond measure. Going from napping two hours a day, I now rarely sleep in the daytime and have enough energy for daily workouts and a hefty work schedule. I can squat more than 400 pounds. Depression, once a regular feature of my life, is now a distant memory. I feel better able to recover from life's curveballs, more persistent, more alive… Soon after I inject myself with testosterone, I feel a deep surge of energy. My attention span shortens. My wit is quicker, my mind faster, but my judgment is more impulsive."

The negative side of Sullivan's impulsiveness injections was noted by one prominent biologist, who wrote to me, "Sullivan's self-indulgent piece of happy preening is an advertisement and a goad for the many innocents out there who have not shot themselves up, yet, with anabolic steroids. Physiologically, and depending upon dose, this can be akin to playing Russian roulette. It's shocking that this thing was published without other comment, or at all."

Yet there's also a positive side to Sullivan's store-bought ballsiness. For example, he inserted in his article one of the blunter dismissals of feminist dogma yet seen in the New York Times:

"Since most men have at least 10 times as much T as most women, it therefore makes sense not to have coed baseball leagues. Equally, it makes sense that women will be underrepresented in a high-testosterone environment like military combat or construction. … [G]ender inequality in these fields is primarily not a function of sexism, merely of common sense."

Almost unbelievably, Sullivan even got away with pointing out - in the Times of all places! - that race differences exist in testosterone levels:

"Several solid studies, published in publications like Journal of the National Cancer Institute, show that black men have on average 3 to 19 percent more testosterone than white men. This is something to consider when we're told that black men dominate certain sports because of white racism or economic class rather than black skill."

Sullivan's fuel-injected cockiness, combined with his longstanding urge to be a celebrity (during his ill-fated tenure in the Nineties as editor of The New Republic, his picture used to grace billboards for a national clothing store chain), is making him into a semblance of such press barons of yore as Lord Beaverbrook. They were journalistic celebrities who threw themselves into intense but mercurial feuds and fads. They fascinated a generation of newspaper readers wishing to find out just what wacky trouble the boss had gotten himself into today.

Sullivan is a sort of youngish Lord Copper (the owner of the Daily Beast in Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece Scoop), retrofitted for the age of identity politics. Although he is constantly denouncing identity politics when other people (especially blacks) engage in them, Sullivan's own elaborate and widely publicized identity accounts for many of his views. He tirelessly reminds us that he is - let me see if I can remember the full litany - a gay British Catholic immigrant HIV-positive conservative.

Sullivan's crusades for classic identity politics obsessions like gay marriage and allowing HIV-infected aliens to immigrate are closely tied up with his campaign to publicize his own identity. You don't become a celebrity by being better informed and more insightful than your peers (although it can occasionally help), but by making your personality better known. Otherwise, a brilliant but self-effacing journalist like Frank Miele of Skeptic Magazine would be more famous than 98% of the talking heads you see on TV.

Sullivan, especially in his current testosterone-marinated state of mind, probably lacks the attention span for a Big Book. But in terms of the talents it takes to be an outstanding pundit - broad knowledge, pugnacity, and that quick verbal and argumentative facility found so often among the English and the Jews - he stands comparison to such spectacularly gifted Anglo-American commentators as Christopher Hitchens, John Derbyshire, John O'Sullivan, and the tri-national Mark Steyn. So I'd say Sullivan's ceaseless promotion of his personality is probably the right career strategy for him.

Sullivan's daily weblog is enjoyable for its "Perils of Pauline" aspect. As Sullivan himself explained, "One of the best things about this new kind of journalism is the instant response of readers. If I screw up, you let me know. If I ask for suggestions, you send them in droves. If I write something more than usually boneheaded, many of you politely point out I'm full of it."

The fun works like this: Sullivan shoots off at the mouth, and then is immediately pummeled by emails from readers pointing out the flaws in his thinking. Having tied himself to the railroad tracks, is our hero finally done for, we wonder, or will he triumphantly cogitate his way out of yet another jam?

For instance, consider Sullivan's statement above that Bush's quarter-baked amnesty plan for Mexican illegal immigrants is "great politics - managing to put the Democrats on the defensive and woo an important voting bloc."

In reality, to call Mexican-Americans an important voting bloc is quantitatively wrong. I sent Sullivan a recent article by me pointing out that according to unpublished Census Bureau data I found using the Bureau's FERRET access tool, the Mexican-American share of the vote is much smaller than is widely assumed these days.

Here is how neo-centrist pundit Mickey Kaus, who runs his own popular weblog, summed up my findings: "Mexican-Americans accounted for just 3 percent of the vote. ... African-Americans (who may actually be annoyed by Bush's flamboyant courtship of Latinos) cast 11.5 percent of the votes, twice as many as Hispanics and almost four times as many as Mexican-Americans. ... In 2004 the Hispanic share is expected to rise, but only to 6 percent. ... (7/25)"

Of course, this doesn't mean that mass immigration isn't threatening to turn the GOP into a permanent minority party. It just says that we have a few years in which it will still be politically feasible to head this off by rationalizing our immigration system.

The great thing about Sullivan is that his confidence is so bulletproof that he doesn't mind admitting on his own website that he was wrong, at least as long as he can devise a comeback. So, a couple of days later, he graciously published his cogent summary of my article, along with his justification for his original characterization of the brilliance of Bush's plan:

"Mexican-Americans only made up 3 percent of the voting population in 2000 - and most were concentrated in Texas and California, two states that are largely out of electoral play for the foreseeable future. But Sailer misses, I think, the broader political point. Such an amnesty wouldn't just please Latino voters. It would be a bold statement of a compassionate conservatism that would resonate with centrists and suburbanites."

Now this airy dismissal of fatally contradictory data may not seem like all that much. But in comparison to the near universal refusal of immigration enthusiasts to enter into a dialogue with immigration realists, it's highly commendable.

The broader lesson that can be learned from Sullivan: nobody is immune to the appeal of identity politics. Exhibit A of the natural appeal of identity politics: Andrew Sullivan. When somebody (other than himself) says something tactless about one of the groups he belongs to, Sullivan often reacts with as much outrage and as little forethought as the Berkeley Transgendered Latino/Latina Strike Force.

For example, consider Sullivan's vitriolic on-line crusade to get VDARE contributor John Derbyshire fired from National Review for saying insensitive things about the act of sodomy and its practitioners. Sullivan's long series of out-of-context quotes from Derbyshire's writings culminated in his charging Derbyshire with racism toward the Chinese. In a comic denouement worthy of Lord Copper, it was finally brought home to Sullivan that - oops! - Mrs. Derbyshire is Chinese and the little Derbyshires are thus half-Chinese.

To not notice that Derbyshire - despite his constant criticism of the Beijing regime's promotion of Chinese racist nationalism - is related by marriage, blood, and cultural affinity to the Chinese race, you have to be as much of an inveterate identity politics warrior as Sullivan. Derbyshire writes about his private life almost as much as Sullivan writes about his. Yet none of Derbyshire's myriad references to the racial makeup of his family or even to his father-in-law being a member of the Chinese Communist Party registered on Sullivan.

Similarly, Sullivan's suggestion (quoted above) that it would be a politically smart move for Bush to "allow unrestricted immigration for people with HIV" is a classic example of how Sullivan sees everything through the lens of Sullivanness. Because he is an HIV-positive gay immigrant, it doesn't occur to him that the disinterested HIV-negative heterosexual native-born Americans who make up the overwhelming majority of voters might think that's a terrible idea, the equivalent to what "gays in the military" proved to be to the nascent Clinton Administration.

Just as Sullivan tends to assume that the U.S. military should focus more on social experimentation than on being ready to defeat America's enemies in battle, he naturally presumes that immigration policy should be viewed as some sort of civil right that six billion foreigners hold over America, rather than a means to promote the general welfare of American citizens.

In contrast, more disinterested observers would note that with tens of millions of foreigners desperate to come to America, we are in a position to choose the applicants who would most benefit us. And because HIV is infectious, incurable, expensive, and still frequently lethal, it seems obvious to most non-Sullivans that, when it comes to picking among the countless applicants for immigration, we can do better for our country by selecting healthy immigrants.

Let me add - because Sullivan is quick to throw around the "homophobic" smear - that most non-Sullivans would think the same about immigration applicants with any disease that is similarly incurable, infectious, and often fatal.

In summary: identity politics are a natural byproduct of diversity. The more diversity, the more identity politics. If we didn't want blacks to engage in ethnocentric politics, well, our ancestors shouldn't have dragged them here in chains.

We can, however, moderate the amount of diversity we import in the future. But what we can't do, despite neoconservative assurances to the contrary, is to keep the pedal to the metal on the immigration throttle, yet avoid the Balkanizing perils of identity politics by writing Sullivan-style op-eds explaining that identity politics are not nice.

However, one of the main reasons for having your own webzine is to get the last word. In the near future I'll use VDARE's pixels to explain why the Bush Push for illegals, as much as Andrew Sullivan likes it and however politically inevitable it may appear at the moment, will likely crash and burn in Congress - just as Hillary Clinton's health care juggernaut did in 1994.

(Remember - you read it here first!)

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website www.iSteve.blogspot.com features his daily blog.]

August 10, 2001