Web & Blogs

Andrew Sullivan and the Online Activist Class


After noting the influence that liberal blogge

Andrew Sullivan

rs and activists have had on the Democratic party, Andrew Sullivan urges those same folks to ratchet up the pressure on Obama, who is now frustrating the left by not pushing hard for a public option:

What part of "we" in "we are the ones we've been waiting for?" does the Beltway still not understand? And why has it taken this long for the Obamaphiles to tackle their leader? He's the follower, for Pete's sake, remember? The people who voted for him are the leaders. 

So make him.

You might think that this would signal that Sullivan approves of online activists who push their party toward greater adherence with its core principles. Just a couple of posts prior, however, Sullivan linked to this AtlanticWire report on the antipathy displayed by conservative activists and bloggers toward the idea of Newt Gingrich running for president, The title of the post was "Newt is Now a RINO," and it read, "I told you it would get worse before it gets better."

Sullivan's idiosyncratic political leanings and ongoing passions—at various times during last year's election, he was strongly attracted to both Ron Paul and Obama—make him one of the most interesting and impossible-to-classify political bloggers on the Internet, and I'm a tremendous admirer of his work and the way he's shaped online political discourse. As a journalistic force of personality, few are more consistently fascinating than Sullivan.

But those passions also produce inconsistencies like what we see above. In the space of just a few hours, he went from rolling his eyes at the efforts of the Republican base to push its party's leadership away from the easy, negotiated center to urging the Democratic base to do exactly that. What's wrong with one and not the other? As far as I can tell, the only difference is that Sullivan is more sympathetic to the personalities and particular goals on the liberal side.

Seems to me that if you accept the rise of the liberal online activist base as a good thing, you must also accept, or at least expect, similar structural changes on the right. I don't always approve of the tone or the particular policy goals of either the conservative or liberal base, but the growth of this sort of base-centric political engagement and activism, on both sides, strikes me as potentially useful—and as the sort of development that Sullivan ought to like: It takes power away from Washington's mushy middle while discouraging lazy compromises and poll-driven political timidity. And, as the liberal base has proven over the last year, it can sometimes push legislators to be more policy focused and less parochial.

Yes, increasing the influence of the activist class will result in a national politics that displays a greater degree of polarization, wilder swings in mood in temperament, and more boisterous, vehement rhetoric on both sides. It makes politics louder and more passionate. But to put it another way, it simply makes for a national politics that more closely resembles Andrew Sullivan's. Is he now so idiosyncratic that he's against that too?