[Re-posted from last night]
Chris, Patrick and Zoe have asked many of my fellow bloggers out there to "toast or roast" the Dish's tenth anniversary tomorrow. And it is traditional to respond to such a chorus with some brief remarks. Because I am an easily embarrassed type and actually not very comfortable at parties, I thought I'd just write a post with some brief reflections on the last ten years of doing this - before I read what is to come tomorrow.
I'm a Catholic, so let me start with the things I am sorry for and even, in some cases, ashamed of. When you blog in real time, day by day, hour by hour, emotions can get the better of you. The blogosphere is awash in examples of invective, abuse, cruelty, accusations of bad faith, or just bluster - in part because blogging is so much more like speaking than writing and also because it addresses people in the abstract, not face to face. I am not innocent in this, and wish I could take back a few barbs, especially in the early days, when we were all discovering what this medium could do. As a pioneer - and in 2000, there was Mickey and me, basically, in the political blogosphere - I have been, for better or worse, an early adopter of the best and the worst. My only defense is that I have tried to learn from this as I have gone along, to improve on these moments of weakness and rhetorical excess by a more stringent tone, and by constantly and increasingly publishing real dissents, corrections and a much wider diversity of views than just my own, for balance, for fairness. I don't think a blog would be the same without the occasional unjust jibe or angry outburst - because it would lose its vital, fallible human quality - and doubtless I will pop off again from time to time. But the Dish in 2010 is more mature in many ways than it was in 2000.
One reason for this is my greatest failure by far in these ten years - and that was giving in to my legitimate but far-too-powerful emotions after 9/11 and cheer-leading for a war in Iraq that remains one of the most disgraceful, disastrous and murderous episodes in the history of American foreign policy. I was wrong - but more than wrong, I was dismissive of those who turned out to be right. Some of those I mocked I did so for the right reasons. But some I didn't listen to when I should have. All I can say is that the great virtue of this blog is that it gave me nowhere to hide. And if you read the archives, you can see my mind and soul twisting slowly in the wind of reality, as illusion after illusion fell from my eyes, until the knowledge that the president I had trusted and the noble project I thought I had supported ... ended up in secret torture chambers and mass sectarian murders and chaos and the empowerment of the very forces we were trying to defeat. That knowledge changed me as a human being and as a writer. I am not preening in that (how can a writer safe in his blog-cave ever preen in the face of a beheaded victim of anarchy or a child buried in rubble?); but I did in the end face up to it. In the glare of public scrutiny. In many ways, you forced me. You demanded that I hold myself responsible for my errors and, yes, sins. And we did this together, you and I, in a way that no form of media had achieved before. So in the shame and error, there was some kind of achievement. At its best, that is what blogging can do.
I began the decade a conservative and I end it as one. Chastened - as conservatives who dare to dream of a better world always should be - but conservative nonetheless. The rightwing blogosphere - who once championed and celebrated my righteous (and sometimes self-righteous) challenges to the MSM - dismissed me as a turncoat leftist years ago. I remain insistent that they have changed far more than I have; and that they may have mistaken my support for the war after 9/11 for a brand of conservatism I had never truly shared, and had, indeed, spent much of the 1990s excoriating.
I did not discover the cynicism of Bill Kristol or the cant of Robby George or the white-knuckled fear of Joseph Ratzinger in the last decade. I was an Oakeshottian supporter of marriage equality for gays and marijuana legalization in the 1980s. I wrote the case for green conservatism for Margaret Thatcher's policy unit in 1985. I was never a supply-sider and always a fiscal conservative, who believed in balanced budgets, welfare reform, simple taxation as flat as possible, and the counter-productive hubris of affirmative action and political correctness. I was against hate crimes law then and now. As a gay man, I bear the scars of taking on the left in a time of great pain and fear. I remain deeply skeptical of government's ability to solve most human problems, but have never denied its necessity or importance in tackling the profound questions of the common good no other institution can replace. I'm a Whiggish Tory, not a pure libertarian.
But the dialogue this blog forced upon me also helped me much better understand my own positions, and abandon some when the power of the counter-argument in these pages overwhelmed me. I have moved to a more pro-choice position than I once had, and the emails from women who had had late-term abortions did not just move my heart, they changed my mind. Watching the national security state achieve more and more power and less and less accountability, observing the sheer horror of counter-insurgencies in places we could never understand or master, seeing how the absolute evil of torture could not just enter the heart of American government, but be defended by so many, enabled by the media's cowardice and entrenched by a refusal to prosecute it or even call it by its proper name ... well, these events have indeed radicalized me. I have become an instinctually anti-war conservative, rather than an instinctually pro-war one. I do not understand how anyone who has lived and breathed this last decade could not reach a similar conclusion. Which is why I have also been unstinting in my criticism of a key ally, Israel, and its dogmatic American cheer-leaders, for failing to understand this, and to gamble not only with Israel's own future with diplomatic brinkmanship, collective punishment of Palestinians, and more pre-emptive war - but our own future as well.
What I have tried to do, however, is balance this radicalization with a clear and prudent reminder that we are still at war with enemies of a brutal and dark and very dangerous kind. This re-balancing has not been easy, and you and I have made this journey together, and I don't think any of us quite yet know where we will find ourselves in the years ahead. Our debate last week is a reminder of how difficult this is. But my dismay at those conservatives and neoconservatives who have doubled down on their own fantastic failures and refused to reflect one iota on the consequences of their own illusions has indeed turned to contempt. In that sense, I think the populist GOP and its neoconservative foreign policy remains one of the most dangerous forces in the world today, and why this blog will continue to expose, attack and rebut it until a saner, calmer conservatism can emerge from the ashes of this grotesquery.
I remain very proud of a few things: of my early recognition of the anti-conservative nature of the Bush administration in almost every respect - fiscal, constitutional, social - and the fact that I did not hesitate to call it out, even though I was a Bushie at the deeply divisive start and tried, perhaps for far too long, to give him the benefit of the doubt. I remain proud of the part this blog has played in pioneering the equality of gay people in marriage and military service; of being among the first to recognize the potential of Barack Obama and being an integral and early part of his viral rise to the presidency, and to elaborating the core conservative and reformist rationales for his pragmatic presidency. I am also proud to have been among the first to see the deeply dangerous phoniness and authoritarianism behind the Palin cult, and to insist that her constant lies be exposed and that the core symbol of appeal to the base - the disgusting political abuse of a child with Down Syndrome - be subject to the same media skepticism that should be applied to every other aspect of her fraudulent and farcical candidacy for vice-president and now president. I remain proud that I did not flinch in exposing and writing about the hideous crimes of the Vatican hierarchy and my own church in the rape and abuse of countless children, and the refusal again of anyone truly to take responsibility and be accountable. I am proud of that extraordinary June in 2009 when this little blog became fused night and day with a young revolution in a distant country whose people demanded the freedom this medium gave them, however briefly, however tragically. And I cannot tell you how proud I am of the young men and women, from Reihan to Jessie and Patrick and Chris and Conor and Zoe, who pioneered this with the same spirit with which I founded it.
This all sounds very serious. We have lived in serious times. But I'd be remiss if I did not also say how much fun we have had as well. From '80s music video contests to our now constant Mental Health Breaks; from mischief and blasphemy and black humor, from Road Runner videos to ghetto mashups, the Dish has always had an anarchic streak, what Bodenner calls "Dishness". The sardonic awards; the reader threads that became riveting - the "cannabis closet" which will soon be a book; the wonder of that simple idea - The View From Your Window - that then became a weekly puzzle; the dialogue with Sam Harris on faith and reason; the countless faces of the day that can convey things no words ever can; the Poseur Alerts; the randomness of bear culture, beard disasters, straight anal sex, South Park out-takes, Hathos Red Alerts, baby panda sneezes ... we've created an institution here that remains alive because we really don't know what the fuck we are going to do next. And yes, I used the word "fuck". Because I fucking well can, if I want to.
That was the original appeal, of course: the dream every writer has ever had since history began. To be able to write directly to other human beings, with no editor or publisher, no censor or commercial pressure, to open the mind to other open minds, to speak with as little fear as possible and to see what happens. I saw that potential in this new miraculous medium the first instant this blog was born; I see it now more clearly than ever. But I never dreamed all those years ago that in a decade, there would be a million of you each month, from all over the world, from every perspective, telling the truth as you saw it and see it, and informing me and thereby each other of facts and ideas and news and passions none of us would ever have found on our own.
It has taken its toll - the sheer exhaustion of doing this every day for ten years is impossible to convey. But I started this blog with undetectable viral load and I end it with undetectable viral load - and the tantalizing final prospect of a green card that might actually give me the kind of security - a stable home - that has long been my dream for a quarter of a century. I have more hair on my chin and less on my head, and more friends out there - actual real friends - than any human being deserves. It really has felt like a friendship and I know when I meet a stranger who just calls me "Andrew" - not Mr Sullivan, or, God forbid Dr Sullivan - but "Andrew", that he or she is a Dish reader. And in some strange way, we are on first name terms. Because we've been through a lot you and me; and I don't know how else to express that but friendship.
I also started this blog after years of what often seemed like quixotic marriage activism and end it legally married to a man who has had to share his husband with this blog and all of you, and has done so with such grace and poise and humor and love and support that I cannot properly thank him. Oh, and the dogs, of course. But they're asleep right now and don't give a shit anyway.
It's still knackering though, as we English like to say, beyond knackering, to do this every day - because I find I cannot phone it in and live with myself and cannot walk away and live with myself either. So better to say, perhaps, that, in the end, it is possible to sustain this day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, for ten years, because of the sheer exhilaration that this kind of freedom provides, and its potential for good as well as evil, and the knowledge that as long as we live and breathe in the West as we know it, this freedom is ours for the taking.
So I took it.