The Dish at 10
I first started reading Andrew sometime in 2001, almost certainly after having found him via the Drudge Report, of which I was an avid reader at the time. By the middle of 2002 or so, I was hooked, and I struggle to think of any period since where I’ve gone more than perhaps a week or two without giving the Dish a good read. Like so many others, Sullivan was indeed the most immediate and direct inspiration for my entrance into the blogosphere, ever so briefly in 2005 and again when I entered it for good in 2007.
Sullivan is all that so many have said about him over the years, both good and bad. But to me, the good has just about always outweighed the bad (with the notable exception of his interest in Sarah Palin’s uterus). More importantly, though, the same traits that can make Sullivan so frustrating to read at times are also the same traits that make him unfailingly interesting and intellectually stimulating.
Ultimately, though, the reason I keep going back to Sullivan day after day and year after year, has more to do with the areas where I disagree with him than the areas where I agree with him. I struggle to think of many – if any – writers who have had the ability to change my mind, and indeed my entire outlook, more frequently and with more force than Sullivan. This ability, I think, stems from Sullivan’s insistence on weaving reasoned factual arguments with a raw emotion and passion that his detractors so often characterize as “shrill.” It is that emotion and passion, driven by real-world concerns rather than loyalty to any “party or clique,” that makes him impossible to ignore and that brings his words to life.
For me, that emotion and passion when applied to Andrew’s arguments about same-sex marriage, full civil rights for gays, and anti-gay prejudice more generally made me confront my beliefs head-on in a way I never would have imagined. They made me realize that what I had tried to rationalize away as simply “common sense” views about human nature and sexuality and as the furthest thing possible from bigotry was, in fact, exactly that: bigotry.
A year later, for the first time in my life, I had the experience of a friend coming out. I like to think that I responded appropriately and supportively to this news, though it’s certainly possible (even likely) that my ego has made me remember being less awkward and more casual about it than I actually was. Regardless, I know how I would have reacted to this news before I ever read Andrew Sullivan, and the thought of that does not fill me with pride. Instead, I suspect the thought of how I would have reacted before encountering Andrew Sullivan – which is the way many in the past, and (sadly) the present would have reacted – goes a long way to explaining why it took until my 25th year on this planet for me to learn that someone I knew was gay.
I also am certain that I am far from the only person who has been influenced by Andrew Sullivan in that manner. For that fact alone, the Dish should forever be worth celebrating.
UPDATE: While we’re here, it’s worth congratulating the whole crew at the Dish for having the good sense to arbitrarily have chosen today to celebrate their 10th anniversary and turn their joint into a haven for self-congratulatory ego-stroking. Besides the Dish’s 10th and the Economics sorta-Nobel Prize, there’s nothing out there today but a bunch of non-troversies and trivialities.
UPDATE 2: In the comments to Erik’s post, Katherine makes what I think is a fairly accurate criticism of Sullivan, but also a criticism that I think explains why I still enjoy him so much. Katherine writes:
Sullivan seems incapable of moderation – on torture, on civil liberties, on Iraq, on Obama, on Palin, there is no middle ground.
This is, as I said, exactly correct. But I think I’ve gotten to the point where I view moderation in argumentation as fundamentally ineffective and unhelpful. I think moderate argumentation tends to result too often in the side you’re trying to convince simply reading the things you concede and dismissing out of hand the things you don’t. To be sure, I think it’s superior to most of what passes for “principled debate,” which I often find to be more about caricature, straw-manning, and subject-changing than about actually trying to persuade. Nonetheless, when I think about the arguments that have actually persuaded me over the years, they are the arguments that are unequivocal, even passionate, but also try to put the best case forward that they actually can. A well-executed argument of this nature may not ultimately be persuasive, but it will at least have the benefit of allowing the debate to get boiled down to a normative core and force the listener to confront whether they are comfortable with their normative position.
Unfortunately, such arguments are hard to make; they require dedication and patience, even as they encourage frustration and despair, each leading to ad hominen and other logical fallacies. Few, if any, can do it consistently – and that includes Sullivan. The best one can do is try. To his credit, I think he does exactly that.