YES Finally Andrew Sullivan

January 27, 2001 9:33 p.m.

YES! Finally, Andrew Sullivan has risen to my provocations and lambasted me on his web site. Finally! And just when I was thinking of ditching this whole Talking Points racket!

As regular Talking Points readers will remember, I recently issued a very gentle and genteel diatribe against the increasingly shrill and rightward lurch of Sullivan’s recent writings about Al Gore, George W. Bush and the Florida recount. But this wasn’t about that.

Yesterday on his site Sullivan was dishing out DC’s recent conventional wisdom which says that the final rush of Clinton mini-scandals has pushed even the Clintons’ most dogged defenders past the point of forgiveness. He said …

I have yet to meet a single Democrat who isn’t sickened to his stomach by the excrescence of Clinton’s pardons, and by the puerile vandalism of the White House in the last hours of the old regime. Maybe they finally, finally get what some of us have been banging on about for years. [itals added]

Now today Sullivan has this post …

DUMB BUT NOT DISGUSTING: The American Prospect’s Joshua Micah Marshall, a rising star on the intellectual Left, emails to say he doesn’t find the use of presidential pardons as political pay-back/fund-raising tool to be beyond the pale. Just dumb – not disgusting. Dumb, presumably, because the Clintons didn’t get away with it! And this is the face of the idealistic Left these days. I emailed Josh to ask him what exactly would evoke disgust in him. He said, cryptically, “something disgusting.” Welfare reform? Prayer in schools? A tax cut? – 1/27/2001 02:23:59 PM

First let’s stipulate to a few points. Yeah, I really liked the “rising star” line. No question.

But ‘of the Left’? Please! As those who know me know, I’m anything but ‘of the Left.’ And it’s caused me no end of professional grief. But that’s another story.

Back to the post.

So basically what I said was that the pardon wasn’t disgusting just dumb – because they got caught.

Wow. I do sound pretty bad, don’t I? But is that really what I said? That it wasn’t disgusting, just dumb? That the only problem was that they got caught? Really?

But, hey, why argue? Let’s go the tapes!

Exhibit 1:

Date: 9:28 PM EST, 1/26/01
To: Andrew Sullivan
From: Joshua Micah Marshall

not quite universal. even i’m bummed by the two stories. but no disgust.

Exhibit 2:

Date: 12:36 AM EST, 1/27/01
To: Joshua Micah Marshall
From: Andrew Sullivan
Subject: Re:

what would it take for you to feel disgust?

Exhibit 3:

Date: 12:39 AM EST, 1/27/01
To: Andrew Sullivan
From: Joshua Micah Marshall
Subject: Re:

something disgusting

At 12:36 AM 1/27/01 -0500, you wrote:
what would it take for you to feel disgust?

End of exhibits

First of all, let me stipulate to one point: I thought my rejoinder was pretty damn clever. You know, concise, punchy, tautological yet enigmatic, understated but in-your-face. You’d think an Englishman would like it! But I guess not. Anyway, back to our story.

I thought conservatives were supposed to be strict textualists! Don’t you think our friend Andrew maybe embroidered what I said just a smidgen for poetic/dramatic effect? Just a wee-bit maybe? I kinda think so. But I’ll let you be the judge.

(Note: Friends and readers should rest assured I would never publish their email without their permission. But, in this case, I think Andrew’s selective publication of my email gives me license.)

So what do I think of these “two stories”? Well, as I’ve noted in posts below, the vandalism story is quickly shaping up to be pretty much bogus. And, I would hope, an embarrassment for everyone who fell for a heap for unsubstantiated and self-serving leaks from the Bushies. As for the Marc Rich pardon, well that looks pretty bad to me. But disgusted? Sick to my stomach? No, not really. I can be disappointed in someone I like and still be free of digestive difficulties.

Anyway, we’re not so dissimilar, are we Andrew? Isn’t the real difference that I feel disappointment in someone I like and you feel vindication in the misdeeds of someone you hate? Isn’t the difference purely situational?

But, Andrew, let’s push all this textual analysis mumbo-jumbo aside. Let’s debate Clintonism and Clinton!

You’ll be ranting on about thin words like shabbiness and tawdriness. And I’ll be saying, who gives a #&@% and going on with arguments like the one I made here. You’ll be splenetic and over-heated and I’ll be jocular and whimsical. Trust me, it’ll be great. First of all, I’ll get all sorts of residual traffic from your site since my site is small-time and feeble and your site … well, your site is huge because you get to go plug it on shows like Nightline and that weird show Jeff Greenfield does on CNN.

And, on top of that, this might develop into a genuine ‘feud’ or ‘dispute’ between writers. Yes, yes, yes, I know you’re big-time and I’m small-time. But that’s okay. This could help me become big-time. Trust me, it’ll work. I’m starting to feel like Edmund Wilson or Walter Lippman or Norman Mailer already!

P.S. Are those emails you posted really authentic? You bet they are. All I did was take out the addresses.

P.P.S. Are you really upset about Sullivan’s post? No, of course not. Actually I appreciated it. I was honored. So why the long response? Hey, that’s what you do on these personal political web sites! It’s all whimsy, all drama. Sullivan’s been very kind to me. I’m still hoping he comes to my birthday party next month.

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