I have finally identified exactly what is so irritating about reading Andrew Sullivan these days: He rigs every one of his arguments so that disagreement with him on even the smallest point necessarily entails absolute moral decrepitude on your part. Sullivan does this by carefully positioning himself above the fray-in-question by first criticizing “both sides.” That’s step 1: establish an untainted position for oneself free from association with any embarrassing figures of the left or right. After assuming this above-the-fray vantage point, thereby cloaking himself in moral purity, Sullivan moves to step 2, which is to use his new strategic position to fire exaggerated judgments at cartoon versions of his opponents, which these days is almost exclusively “the right.” Every single argument is rendered in the most extreme moralistic language possible, so that taking issue with particulars is not possible; you’re either all in or all out. You are either Sullivan, in which case you are very moral, or not, in which case you are very, very bad.
His response to the not-guilty verdict of the George Zimmerman displays all these characteristics. You really must read it yourself to get the full flavor. I refuse to quote it here, though I have linked to it. Look, all commentators and opinion journalists are prone to self-righteousness, hyperbole, and so on. It’s the nature of writing about politics. I’m not immune to it. No one is. And there is a time and a place for anger and ad hominem…if it is directed at a particular person who has said or written a specific and clearly bad thing. But this kind of angry shotgun writing, which sprays its venom everywhere and which very nearly equates the idea of self-defense against a black person with legalized lynching, is one of the most egregious cases I’ve seen, especially from someone who claims the “pragmatic” conservative legacy of Oakeshott.