The Corner

Sullivan’s Smear

Andrew Sullivan carved out a very interesting spot for himself on the cultural-political spectrum during the Lewinsky scandal. He was simultaneously anti-Clinton and anti-anti-Clinton. He, as much as anyone else, deserves credit (or in my opinion, blame) for the widespread notion that conservatives were anti-Clinton because they were prudes. His “The Scolds” article in the New York Times magazine, which I’ve criticized many times over the years, was a transmission belt for this meme. In it he declared among other things, “For the new conservatives the counterattack on homosexual legitimacy is of a piece with the battle against presidential adultery.”

What bothered me so much about Sullivan’s argument was that, while he believed Clinton should resign, he reserved for himself a monopoly on correct motives for that position. While other conservatives had bad motives deeply bound up in sex-panic. I’m sure it’s true that, as Ramesh Ponnuru and David Brooks have been arguing, many conservatives saw Clinton as a stand-in for the broader culture war. But couldn’t some of us have had less grandiose reasons for thinking Bill Clinton was a bad dude. Indeed, couldn’t even social conservatives have agreed with Sullivan on his reasons for wanting Clinton to resign?

Anyway, I bring all of this up because my friend is now bashing the right for not supporting Arnold Schwarzenegger enough (even though pretty much every Republican in the state of California, minus McClintock, has endorsed him as has President Bush and a host of national GOP luminaries). Arguing that Arnold represents a “cultural revolution” because he’s cool and saucy, Sullivan writes: “That Arnold should represent this and the Republican Party is threatening to all sorts of people: to the joyless, paranoid scolds who run the Dixie-fied GOP.”

Um, maybe that’s true. I don’t know. But can’t someone be less than enthusiastic about Arnold without a Freudian motivation? After all, I’m not terribly jubilant about the man, but after scouring my subconscious I can’t find prudishness as an explanation. Maybe Andrew could convince me otherwise if he could actually explain what makes Schwarzenegger a conservative. He’s pro-choice, pro-gun control, opposed to prop 54 and his wife is a liberal Kennedy (liberal wives are problems for even the most conservative politicians).

Rather than get into a lot of theorizing about the libidinal fears of social conservatives, maybe Andrew should have looked for a simpler explanation: the guy’s not that conservative and he will probably make a lousy governor, a point even Andrew concedes. Sure, this whole thing is fun and it would be a great joy to see Davis lose. But politics is supposed to be about more than fun and rooting for the “coolest” candidate.

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.