Friday, March 10, 2006

Take Your Lumps, Andy

Sorry, Andy, it just won't do.

In this post, Andrew Sullivan tries to defend himself against Paul Krugman's I-told-you-so blast in today's Times against the johnny-come-lately conservatives who have suddenly noticed the moral and intellectual holes in the Bush presidency and especially in his ill-conceived Iraq war.

As Krugman says, it's nice that about-facers like Sullivan and Bruce Bartlett have come around to the liberal perspective on Bush. It would be even nicer if they hadn't spent three years denouncing liberals as unpatriotic for espousing the very views they now embrace.

Here's how Sullivan now tries to justify his past blindness:

Yes, I lionized George W. Bush for a while after 9/11, and, in retrospect, my attempt to place trust in him at a time of national peril was a misjudgment. But then, in times of peril, some of us feel that supporting the president, whoever he is, and hoping he gets things right, are not contemptible impulses. I should have been more skeptical. In less dire circumstances, I might have been. But some of us, in the days after 9/11, did not immediately go into partisan mode, put aside some of our other objections (like the fiscal mess and the anti-gay policies), and rallied behind a president at war.

Sorry, but it just doesn't wash. There's a world of difference between the moderate stance Sullivan describes above--"Sure, we all have our differences, but let's give Bush a fair chance"--and the actual tone he struck at the time. Not just this, in a long essay shortly after 9/11:

The middle part of the country--the great red zone that voted for Bush--is clearly ready for war. The decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead--and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column.

But also this, in a column responding to (of all people) Anthony Lewis:

A movement to oppose all and every Western response to terrorism is already afoot, and it is based on the notion, widely held in these quarters, that the United States is morally inferior to the hoodlums who killed thousands, or is so morally crippled that it has no right to a robust response.

And this, during the run-up to Iraq, describing "the anti-war left":

These people hate Bush more than they care about the fate of the oppressed people they pretend to care about . . . because they have deeper suspicions about the U.S. than about Saddam's Iraq. Yep, they're that depraved and out of it.

And this, after quoting an editorial in the Times opposing preemptive war:

There you have it: the moral equivalence, the short-sightedness, the moral preening, all disguising a fantastic error of judgment. If Saddam had had that nuclear capacity, there would have been no Gulf War, or one with disastrous consequences. The Times, of course, never learns. But this time, the security of the United States is at stake. We cannot let ourselves be led by the deluded and the defeatist any more.

I could go on quoting excerpts, but you get the idea. Sullivan now pretends to be shocked and saddened that anyone could have been offended by his well-meaning, open-hearted readiness to support our president in time of crisis. But at the time he was calling those who disagreed with him decadent, depraved, deluded, defeatist, and traitorous (which is the plain meaning of the "fifth column" jibe, though he later pretended otherwise). And not just once or twice, in the heat of rapid composition, but repeatedly, over a period of many months.

One of the things I've learned in thirty-plus years of marriage is that, when you do something really mean and stupid, you forfeit the right to dictate how the person you hurt reacts to your apology. You may think that saying "I was wrong and I'm sorry" takes a lot of guts and honesty and deserves to be rewarded with magnanimity and even admiration. But that's not your call. You've lost the moral high ground, and if the person you wronged wants to take you to task--even in a loud and angry tone of voice--you have no right to complain. Just shut up and take what's coming to you.

That's the position Andy Sullivan now occupies in relation to all his liberal "friends." He was wrong about Bush and the war--totally wrong--and he was a prick about it, too. Now he has to take his lumps, even if it is Paul Krugman who administers them.

That's life, Andy.

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