On Andrew Sullivan: obsessive narcissism collides with a denied Conservatism Utopianism. Old Socialist eventually loses patience!

The second paragraph of Mr. Sullivan’s latest Political Encyclical is remarkable in that it demonstrates with absolute certainty his obsessive narcissism:

I know, I know. That word — as it has been reverse engineered by the modern GOP — no longer means in America what it once meant across the West, and I should probably stop pretending otherwise. I’m told repeatedly, and understandably, that my support for the long Anglo-American tradition of conservative political thought is quixotic, perverse, and largely counterproductive. Pragmatism, moderation, incrementalism, reform: These might be conservative virtues in principle, but in practice, the American right junked them years ago. I’m told I should admit that, in the current American context, I’m a de facto, Obama-loving leftist. To cheer the collapse of the brutal repeal of Obamacare has not an inkling of conservatism about it.

How many times dose Mr. Sullivan utter the word ‘I’ in the above paragraph? Seven times, in this short paragraph. His self-obsession renders him morally/politically/existentially myopic.  His ‘I’  stands between him and the world made up of superfluous  ‘others’, those persons and events are subject to his evaluation. Does he refer to others except by way of himself? A writer who is engaged with a world made up of other significant thinkers and political/moral actors must look to others as intellectual  and moral reference points, as he does later in this first portion of his political commentary, yet the reader is struck by his focus on himself as sole arbiter.

Mr. Sullivan then moves to four exemplary Conservative thinker/actors:

So let me explain a little why I found this past week so encouraging. It represented, in my view, the triumph of reality over ideology. And conservatism — from Burke and Hume to Hayek and Oakeshott — has always been, at its core, a critique of ideology in favor of reality. The world is as it is, the conservative argues.

The examples of Conservative thinkers who favor ‘reality over ideology’ are Burke, who was saved by a 30,000 Pound bailout by the Crown, and then voted against the Poor Law. Hume , who with Smith endeavored to write a ‘Science of Man’ , in the Enlightenment Tradition-how was he a political Conservative?  Hayek, who believed in voting rights for men over 45 years, and that The Market was the only viable form of knowledge. And Oakeshott who believed that the lower orders, and their political parties and leaders  were only worthy of his withering contempt.

Then there is this:

Any attempt to drastically overhaul it, to impose a utopian vision onto a messy, evolving human landscape will not just fail, it will likely make things worse. To pretend that the present exists for no good reason — and can be repealed or transformed in an instant — is a formula for ruin. The leftist vision of perfect “social justice” is therefore as illusory and as pernicious as the reactionary’s dream of restoring a mythical past. And the great virtue of America’s deeply conservative Constitution is that it throws so many obstacles in the way of radical, ideological change — to the left or right — that it limits the harm that humans can do to themselves in moments of passion or certainty or in search of ideological perfection.

Mr. Sullivan’s long associations with Thatcherism, Neo-Conservatism and an etiolated form of Neo-Liberalism prove without doubt that he is politically addicted to the most pernicious forms of Utopianism, while he attacks ‘The Left’ as prima facae guilty of its own version . This act of political misdirection is the standard trope for Conservative Ideologues. All of this garnished by reference to the ‘deeply conservative Constitution’ .

This is simply the introductory material for Mr. Sullivan to review the Health Care question from a ‘Conservative’ view point, in sum, a potted history of that Conservative position.

And morally, American culture had already dispensed with the cruelty of allowing our fellow citizens to suffer and die because of a lack of resources. Ronald Reagan was in some ways the first to concede this. In 1986, he signed the law that made it illegal for hospitals to turn away the very sick if they could not pay for treatment. Once that core concession was made by the icon of the conservative movement — that the sick should always be treated in extremis — the logic of universal coverage was unstoppable.

The reader with an historical memory longer that the political revelation of Reaganism just has to marvel, again, at Mr. Sullivan’s political/historical ignorance. And morally, American culture had already dispensed with the cruelty of allowing our fellow citizens to suffer and die because of a lack of resources. Ronald Reagan was in some ways the first to concede this. The links that follow demonstrate that the ‘Conservative’ who led the way on Health Care was Richard Nixon. First a comparison of the ACA with the Nixon Plan titled:

‘Nixoncare vs. Obamacare: U-M team compares the rhetoric & reality of two health plans’

President Richard Nixon’s National Health Strategy (1971)

  • All employers required to provide basic health insurance, including a range of specific coverage requirements
  • Employees required to share the cost of insurance, up to a cap
  • Insurance companies can only vary benefit packages to an extent
  • Special insurance programs at reasonable rates for self-employed and others
  • Replace most of Medicaid for poor families with a completely federal plan open to any family below a certain income level; cost-sharing rises with income.

Nixon’s Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan (1974)

  • All employers must insure all full-time employees, with employee cost-sharing up to a cap, and federal subsidies to aid employers.
  • Replace Medicaid with a plan open to anyone not eligible for employee health insurance or Medicare, as well as those who can’t afford their coverage


And then a news item with the headline:

‘Recalling the Nixon-Kennedy health plan’

Ted Kennedy, whom Nixon assumed would be his rival in the next election, made universal health care his signature issue. Kennedy proposed a single-payer, tax-based system. Nixon strongly opposed that on the grounds that it was un-American and would put all health care “under the heavy hand of the federal government.”

Instead, Nixon proposed a plan that required employers to buy private health insurance for their employees and gave subsidies to those who could not afford insurance. Nixon argued that this market-based approach would build on the strengths of the private system.

“Government has a great role to play, he said, “but we must always make sure that our doctors will be working for their patients and not for the federal government.”


Mr. Sullivan continues to exercise his ability to extemporize on his self-given themes of Nihilist Republicans who were opposed to the stolid, yet virtuous ‘Long Game’ of Obama. The last two paragraphs of Sullivan’s kowtowing to Obama’s ‘Conservatism’ are a model of what political ass kissing, not to speak of ideological propinquity, and resort to a cartoon reference can produce.

Obama, in fact, was the conservative in all this — nudging and amending, shaping and finessing as American society evolved — while the GOP flamed out in a reactionary dead end. But Obama’s conservatism has nonetheless brought about an epochal, defining achievement for American liberalism: a robust American consensus in favor of universal health insurance. Yes, he could.

It is hard to overstate the salience of this victory in Obama’s long, long game — and perhaps we are still too close to events to see it as clearly as we should. But here it is: a testament to the skills and vision and tenacity of our greatest living president, whose political shadow completely eclipses the monstrous, ridiculous fool who succeeded him. Like the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, we’ve seen this story many times before in the last eight and a half years. And we also know the ending.


There are two more subjects to cover in this weekly Sullivan Political Free Association, but at this point in my reading, I must confess, I’ve run out of patience with Andy Divine!

Old Socialist




Just taking the Reagan question, he being the ‘pioneer’ in the Health Care field of ‘Conservative’ America presidents, as Mr. Sullivan argues it, is just historically wrong. It was Richard Nixon in 1971 and 74! I did not misrepresent him in any  way, I simply pointed out that he was wrong on this issue. This is more evidence of a continuing problem,  that Sullivan is a lazy and superficial ‘thinker’, if not a mendacious one. (I’ve been a reader of Mr. Sullivan’s political commentaries since his days at The New Republic and The Daily Beast.) Better yet he is a political chatterer. Call his weekly essays a chance to unburden himself, of his self-serving historical ignorance, that dovetails conveniently with his ‘Conservative Politics’.

This malapropism I find utterly puzzling as you present it: ‘Right from the start, for a post that did not even try to oppose yours.’ I am utterly irrelevant to Mr. Sullivan’s opinionating, he simply wrote what he wrote. I believe you have the cart before the horse, rhetorically.

I used ‘I’ in the last paragraph to reply to your critique, as a reply which makes sense, not as an indication of my self-obsession, but as a function of the grammar of the English language.  Mr. Sullivan’s sputtering paragraph is awash in his self-obsession.

‘Your sense of having made a fresh discovery is inane.’  The paragraph in question is not just demonstrative of narcissism, it is glaring evidence that leaps from the page, to the attentive reader. Narcissism is the distorting lens through which Mr. Sullivan views the world, to state the jejune fact!

Your reply then switches registers and engages in puerile dismissal: ‘It’s too bad you disagree with him. Boo hoo.’

Thank you for your comment.




@alesh, thank you for your comment.

Your 2nd paragraph:

‘Here’s my argument. Your debating style of misrepresenting your ‘opponent’ while ignoring his words is the lowest form of retort, and lower than that is saying he’s the article’s author. Right from the start, for a post that did not even try to oppose yours.’

Your 1st comment in toto:

‘Maybe you’re both Sullivan.

Not that saying that is my debating style.’

I called jack4713 comment worshipful, hardly an exaggeration given that he edited his original post, to excise the extent of his genuflection to Sullivan.

Then what could the reader make of this sentence – is this directed at jack4713 or to me?

That train of thought certainly became derailed when applied to a Sullivan critique.

Then there is your observation that I am somehow an admirer of Nixon over Reagan. I simply stated that it was not Reagan that led the way on the Health Care question, but Nixon. You attribute to me an admiration for Nixon that does not exist. A fact of political history is just that!

But the pièce de résistance in your final paragraph of political chatter, is that it is garnished with this wonderfully evocative apothegm, call you not just a thinker but a sage!

And be wary of dislikes that appear to dovetail… it leads to that lazy superficial thought you mention.



About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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