Getting “Sullied”: Be Careful What You Dish Out

I have no particular axe to grind with Andrew Sullivan…except for noting the inconsistencies in the many axes he grinds ad nauseam. His latest obsession is Bill and Hillary Clinton (of course focused on Hillary’s presidential aspirations).

Frankly, given his persistent efforts to negatively link Hillary to every “ism” he’s ever pondered, it’s hard too imagine that he hasn’t ground his axe down to a rudimentary toothpick with which to extract the last shard of evidence…from her teeth…for his relentless indictment.

Suffice it to say that in this latest instance, Sullivan has fast become the epitome of “The lady doth protest too much”…and my apologies to good ladies everywhere. Sullivan now argues, by virtue of quoting the following from Faye Wattleton (transcribed by a reader and sent to him) who observed her appearance on Hardball with Chris Mathews (think mainstream media misogynist).

Chris Matthews: Faye, you first, you know Hillary Clinton, you know Bill Clinton. What’s Bill’s role in this thing, is it a good role or a bad role?

Faye Wattleton: Well, I think that Bill Clinton’s role is that of the spouses of all the candidates, he’s participating as a surrogate for his wife who is running. And I think that its entirely consistent with the ascension of other women to the top offices in their country; they come about it as the result of the president being their spouse or being members of prominent families. So I don’t think that we should be so upset and agitated about Mr. Clinton’s participation - we should continue to focus on the issues that the people want to hear about…these other matters are really side issues.

From these remarks, Sullivan intuits that the Clinton’s are comfortable to conflate nepotism and feminism in order to achieve their objectives…thereby corrupting feminism and “everything they touch”. So let me summarize the trajectory of Andrew’s conclusion…one of Andrew’s readers sends him a transcription of Faye Wattleton’s comments on Hardball and he agrees with it such that it proves the Clinton’s have corrupted feminism? Well there you have it…case closed.

Regardless of one’s opinion on the Clinton’s and Hillary’s aspirations, Sullivan’s argument is the equivalent of entering a vacuous room that has been hermetically sealed and is devoid of any light…with a camera that lacks a flash mechanism…in order to take the quintessential picture of darkness. Unless random chance results in his capturing the definitive number of angels able to dance on the head of a pin, I’m similarly at a loss to recognize the Earth shattering nature of Sullivan’s latest Clintonian hypothesis.

To my knowledge, Hillary Clinton is not only the first woman candidate with a chance to win the presidency; she is also the first spouse of a prior president to seek the office. Concluding that her candidacy must be a willful act, by the Clinton’s, to conflate nepotism and feminism…and thus corrupt feminism…in order to win…is simply painting the unprecedented as presciently predictable. The fact that a president’s legacy is rarely static suggests that asserting an understanding of this novel event is undoubtedly unbridled arrogance.

Yes, the Clinton candidacy turns political convention on its head…but concluding this candidacy is more lacking in ideological purity…or more willing to defile the grand order of “isms”…than those that have preceded it could just as easily be interpreted as a misogynistic projection intended to assure the status quo. At the very least, Newton’s notion that for every action (force), there is an equal and opposite reaction (opposing force) seems an appropriate consideration.

Clearly the Clinton’s are ambitious…and likely to a fault. However, they aren’t the first political family to exhibit as much. They’re not even the first political cabal willing to exploit the advantages they perceive to be available. I suspect we have an example of one in the White House at this very moment. Yes, the Clinton candidacy is unique in its structure…but it isn’t unique in its execution. Looking to view the efforts of the Clinton’s as a unique aberration or a full-scale deviation from established politicking is to ignore history.

Attempting to attach pejorative narratives in order to defeat them is nothing new either…and those who seek to paint the Clinton strategy as particularly distasteful are nonetheless politically motivated.

Sullivan’s vast body of words betrays his effort to portray the Clinton’s as unacceptable outliers. His frequent protestations with the narrow mindedness of the Catholic Church and his incessant lamentations on the state of conservatism demonstrate his own willingness to champion efforts to undo years of status quo while still remaining a card carrying conscript.

Are his efforts a corruption of those “isms” or merely the acts of an individual who hopes to alter them? Couldn’t the established arbiters of the Catholic Church and the GOP establishment view Sullivan’s actions to be the equivalent of the Clinton’s? One can easily make the argument that his actions are intended to undermine their long-established order and their theoretical tenets.

Sullivan’s efforts to reshape Catholicism to accept homosexuality can just as easily be viewed as an attempt to corrupt it. The same can be stated with regards to his displeasure with the current iteration of GOP conservatism. He may not believe that social issues should dominate the Republican landscape, but those who imagine themselves to be the party’s purist guardians would no doubt beg to differ. Wouldn’t both groups be justified in assailing Sullivan’s “perversion” of both?

The presumption that feminism can be narrowly defined…or that it has been what it always was and will be what its always been is merely an attempt to erect an argument to further “sully” the Clinton’s.

Sullivan contends he is a feminist. He also argues that he is a conservative and a Catholic. The truth of the matter is that he is these things…but clearly only to the extent that he defines them.

Sullivan is entitled to support the candidate of his choice. However, his ongoing efforts to disguise his justification as an adherence to ideological purity, is simply superficial subterfuge.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

3 Responses to “Getting “Sullied”: Be Careful What You Dish Out”

  1. me Says:

    The Sullivan post you point to doesn’t contain an argument and, therefore, doesn’t really contain a conclusion. It is purely an observation — and an accurate one, I think — (that Faye Wattleton’s statement conflates nepotism and feminism) and assertion (that the Clintons are wont to do the same and that they corrupt everything they touch) which, apparently, Sullivan does not feel the need, in this very short post, to support. If a reader wants support for this observation and these assertions, presumably one would find ample support in the many words Sullivan has devoted to the Clintons over the years (I rarely read the Dish and rarely agree with Sullivan when I do so I can’t say for sure or point to any particular thing that Sullivan has written to support these statements) and, I am certain, Sullivan could probably go on for days supporting them. At the end of those days, you may not agree with Sullivan but I’ve no doubt he could fill several days on these narrow themes. He’s just, as he so often does, making a statement without any attempt to argue or persuade.

    There’s no doubt that Sullivan is not a fan of the Clintons and, well, it’s his blog, for which the Atlantic is paying him well, presumably, so why shouldn’t he devote many posts to decapitating the two headed Clinton beast? I mean, how many posts have been devoted, over the years here at BIO!, to taking Bush apart or, during the primary season, to dismembering the GOP candidates?

    I suppose Sullivan’s clashes with Catholacism could be read as attempts to corrupt the Church. He would surely see it as purifying the Church (and surely the Church could use a good sluicing out). But my point is really just to say that if you’re reading this brief post as an attempt at argument leading to a conclusion, you’re mis-reading it. Sullivan considers his opinions to be so self-evidently true that he rarely feels the need to advance an argument or engage in logic. That’s probably for the best, after all, since he’s really not very good at that. He’s produced some of the silliest arguments I’ve ever read.

  2. christopher Radulich Says:

    I do not see how it can be nepotism. No one in her family is giving her the job. Certainly she is counting on her and her husbands name recognition. Also she is counting on Bill’s popularity, but i do not believe nepotism is the right word.

  3. me Says:


    Okay. Yours is more accurate but nepotism is simpler, quicker and, since everyone understands the situation, I think nepotism communicates the same thing you have, just in a sort of short-hand way. No, it isn’t what we normally think of as nepotism, but what else could you call it that’s shorter and more elegant than, “she is counting on her and her husbands name recognition…counting on Bill’s popularity”? “Riding on his coat-tails” has more of the flavor that we’re after, I suppose.

    Anyway, the idea is clear enough.

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