The Corner

Sullivan Loses It, Again

This time he’s calling me a schoolgirl. I won’t try to match him in the elegant put-downs department, but I will comment on two issues he raises.

First, torture. He does not acknowledge that the report to which he linked was inaccurate in suggesting that I favor it, or that he should have known better, having previously praised me for opposing it. Instead he shifts ground, damning me for not having written enough about it. He concludes that my expressions of opposition are insincere — he didn’t think so a few months ago, before he went on his tear against me — and that I have not said more because I want to suck up to someone, presumably Bush, Rove, and co. What other reason can there be to refrain from calling the U.S. a rogue state?

There are many important issues about which I write little or nothing. I don’t consider myself (or any other writer) to have any obligation to write about particular topics, and I never write items complaining that some other blogger has chosen to cover this topic and not that one. Other bloggers, including Sullivan, try to cover more territory, which is fine. There are tradeoffs here. I don’t opine about as many things as he does, but I think that when I do I am generally better informed.

(I don’t think Sullivan gets my point about the Geneva Conventions, but this post will be long enough without wading into that.)

Second, the definition of conservatism. I noted that few self-described conservatives consider him one. He notes, quite accurately, that this observation does not constitute an argument against his political philosophy. (This is where Sullivan gets in his dig about “schoolgirl cliquishness.”)  Let’s say Noam Chomsky stepped forward and said that he was a true conservative, and everyone else who called himself a conservative was a theocratic fascist who had misappropriated the label. It would be a mistake for someone analyzing the political landscape, and trying to figure out to what extent conservative political divisions had increased, to cite Chomsky as evidence that they had increased a lot. But pointing that out wouldn’t establish that Chomsky was wrong. To refute him you would have to consider his case on the merits. (You could, of course, conclude, based on his track record, a quick glance at what he was saying, and so on, that his case didn’t reach a threshold level of seriousness to demand any refutation.)

Sullivan knows full well that I have not hesitated in the past to argue that what he styles conservatism is just an ever-changing mishmash of his idiosyncratic passions. I confess that I am less interested in figuring out what policies are truly conservative than in figuring out which are just, wise, socially beneficial, and so on. I may read Sullivan’s forthcoming book to consider the merits of his latest effort to define conservatism. (I won’t opine on his book until I have read it. See my comment about trade-offs above.) But I simply wasn’t trying to comment on those merits the other night or this morning.

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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