A few decades late, Andrew Sullivan discovers the conservative movement's flaws

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Under the header "Leaving the Right," Andrew Sullivan explains his departure from the conservative movement:

... I've always been fickle in partisan terms. To have supported Reagan and Bush and Clinton and Dole and Bush and Kerry and Obama suggests I never had a party to quit.


For these reasons, I found it intolerable after 2003 to support the movement that goes by the name "conservative" in America.


I cannot support a movement that exploded spending and borrowing and blames its successor for the debt.

And yet he supported Reagan, and Bush after Reagan -- presidents who exploded spending and borrowing. He supported Clinton, who dramatically reduced the deficit in his first term, and then abandoned him for Dole. Then, after Clinton balanced the budget in his second term, Sullivan supported Bush the Second. Huh?

Back to Sullivan:

I cannot support a movement that so abandoned government's minimal and vital role to police markets and address natural disasters that it gave us Katrina and the financial meltdown of 2008.

It's just now occurring to Sullivan that the conservative movement isn't big on policing markets? Really? Where was he during, for example, the savings & loan meltdown of the 1980s?

I cannot support a movement that holds that purely religious doctrine should govern civil political decisions and that uses the sacredness of religious faith for the pursuit of worldly power.

Welcome to the party, Andrew. Didn't you notice what Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed and the rest were up to in the 1980s and 1990s, or how much influence they had on the Republican Party?

I cannot support a movement that is deeply homophobic, cynically deploys fear of homosexuals to win votes, and gives off such a racist vibe that its share of the minority vote remains pitiful.

Yet Sullivan supported the Ronald Reagan who kicked off his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi and the George Bush who campaigned on Willie Horton. And -- I can't believe this is news to Andrew Sullivan -- the hostility of the Republican Party and the conservative movement towards gays is not exactly a recent development.

Nor is any of this:

I cannot support a movement that criminalizes private behavior in the war on drugs.


I cannot support a movement that regards gay people as threats to their own families.

I cannot support a movement that does not accept evolution as a fact.

I cannot support a movement that sees climate change as a hoax and offers domestic oil exploration as the core plank of an energy policy.

Or this:

I cannot support a movement that refuses ever to raise taxes, while proposing no meaningful reductions in government spending.

And yet Sullivan supported Reagan, and Bush after him. He supported Dole, and Bush, both of whom campaigned on massive tax cuts that would have led to the deficits Sullivan says he can't abide (Bush's, in fact, did so.) In fact, the most famous tax increase backed by a Republican president in decades came in George H.W. Bush's first term -- and Sullivan promptly abandoned him for Clinton.

I cannot support a movement that refuses to distance itself from a demagogue like Rush Limbaugh or a nutjob like Glenn Beck.

Rush Limbaugh was so intertwined with the GOP in the early 1990s that when Republicans took control of Congress in the 1994 elections, they nicknamed him the "majority maker" and made him an honorary member of the class of '94. Sullivan supported the GOP presidential candidate in the very next election, and took another decade before deciding the GOP's embrace of Limbaugh was a deal-breaker. For those who were not aware of Rush Limbaugh 15 years ago, let me assure you that he was not speaking favorably of gay rights or deficit-reducing taxes or environmental protection or evolution at the time. He was attacking all of that, when he wasn't busy suggesting Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster murdered.

To paraphrase Reagan, I didn't leave the conservative movement. It left me.

Yes, but it left Sullivan long ago, if it was ever with him. The question is why it took Sullivan so long to realize that. But Sullivan simply tells us the modern conservative movement runs up massive deficits and is, if not racist and homophobic, quite eager to exploit racism and homophobia. Well, duh. Some of us have known that for quite some time. If Sullivan wants to contribute something interesting, he can tell us what took him so long.

Deficits, bigotry and financial meltdowns are not particularly popular. And yet the conservative movement and the Republican Party enjoyed great success while running up massive deficits, embracing bigotry and refusing to regulate markets, with disastrous results. They enjoyed that success not only because of people who say they support deficits and bigotry, but because of those who say they cannot support such things but do so anyway.

I'm sure it feels good for Sullivan to denounce the evils of the conservative movement, but it would be more useful -- and more honest -- if he would explain his role in making them possible.

The Atlantic
Andrew Sullivan
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