The Corner

A Bizarre Spat

Is Andrew Sullivan a Jew-baiter? Has Leon Wieseltier belittled gays? The answers, I think, are no and no. To know why the questions have come up, you need a little context. (I’m not 100 percent sure why I care about any of this, but I’ll write the post anyway.)

A few weeks ago, Bill Kristol wrote a column about Obama’s “bitter” remarks. He said that Obama’s remarks about how small-town voters cling to their religion is reminiscent of Marx on the opiate of the masses. He added that it was an odd remark in light of what Obama has said about his own religious beliefs. “You’d think he’d do other believers the courtesy of assuming they’ve also thought about their religious beliefs.” Kristol concludes from Obama’s remark that he is “disdainful of small-town America — one might say, of bourgeois America. He’s usually good at disguising this. But in San Francisco the mask slipped.”

Sullivan attacked Kristol: “A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his own faith.”

Wieseltier, writing in the New Republic, made his own criticisms of Kristol but found Sullivan’s remark objectionable:

The ink on the Times was not yet dry when Andrew Sullivan rushed to the defense of his idol, I mean Obama. When one types all the time, sooner or later everything will be typed, and so Sullivan, in his fury against Kristol, typed this: “A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his faith.” Ponder that early adjective. It is Jew baiting. I was not aware that only Christians can judge Christians, or that there are things about which a Jew cannot call a Christian a liar. If Kristol is wrong about Obama, it is not because Kristol is a Jew. So this fills me with a certain paschal wrath. Nice little blog you have there, Obama boy. Pity if frogs or locusts should happen to it. Let my people be!

Sullivan fired back:

Little? Boy? African-Americans and gay men have had one thing in common over the decades and centuries. When we are being put in our place by our superiors, we are called “boys.” What do you call an openly gay man who actually manages to have a career in mainstream journalism? A boy. Obama is not a boy, and neither am I. And breaking through those barriers is one thing this election has come to be about.

I have already given my own view of the most incendiary charges between Sullivan and Wieseltier, and you can judge for yourselves based on what you find at the links. I will note only two other things. First, that this election is really not going to be about whether Sullivan has to put up with unfair put-downs. Second, that Kristol did not, in fact, accuse Obama of lying about his faith, and he is a “manipulator of Christianity” only in the sense that he opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and works with Christians who also do. (As far as I know, Kristol hasn’t altered any of the Gospels.) Live by the smear. . .

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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