One of the most raucous reader debates ever provoked at my blog was when, in 2007, I favorably reviewed The Conservative Soul and argued that “the virtues of Sullivan as a political commentator easily outweigh his sins.” For me, the balanced though intense debate which ensued between Andrew-lovers and Andrew-haters underscored my point: the strong feelings he evokes are a tribute to his candor, passion, independence, and ability to provoke, all highly desirable attributes in a political commentator.
I’ve frequently conceded to his critics that if I had been one of the people whom Andrew was maligning back in 2003 as a Saddam-allied, Terrorist-loving fifth columnist, it’s possible that I would never be able to forgive those transgressions, notwithstanding his obviously sincere, thoughtful apologies and resulting evolution. But it’s very difficult to find anyone with decades of public advocacy who is entirely free of serious error, and Andrew certainly has his share. But it’s also difficult to find many people who have learned and grown as much from his errors as Andrew.
Flawed though he may be (as we all are), there are aspects of his public life for which he receives far too little credit:
his very early and eloquent advocacy of marriage equality, as well as his brave choice, undoubtedly benefiting many people, to live a public life first as an openly gay man and then as someone with HIV -- both made at a time when those choices were far rarer (and thus more difficult) than they are now, especially in the conservative world on which his career then depended. His work on torture was profoundly principled and genuinely important. He pioneered much of political blogging and inspired countless bloggers. And as many others pointed out, his capacity for self-reflection, his willingness to acknowledge error, and his habitual airing of dissent should be used as a template for political discourse.
I’ve gotten to know the non-blog Andrew fairly well over the past several years, and there - in real life - these virtues are heightened and his flaws minimized. Even now when he annoys me most with what I think are some of his most misguided views -- perhaps especially then -- I consider his blog to be a unique and irreplaceable source of debate and analysis. Nobody can question his authenticity. We’ll all benefit if he continues blogging for another decade.
Read Glenn at his eponymous blog.