There’s a scene in All the President’s Men when Deep Throat chides Bob Woodward: “You’ve done worse than let Haldeman slip away: you’ve got people feeling sorry for him…. If you shoot too high and miss, everybody feels more secure.”
That quote comes to mind when reading the fallout from Leon Wieseltier’s 4,300-word takedown of Andrew Sullivan. Wieseltier makes some excellent points about Sullivan’s increasingly bizarre rants against Israel and Jewish neocons. But, those points are overshadowed by turgid, bloviated prose (the first several-hundred words are about W.H. Auden and Reinhold Niebuhr); a failure to look at several other offensive posts by Sullivan that would have strengthened his argument; some questionable logic on Wieseltier’s part; and his oblique conclusion that says but doesn’t say that Sullivan is an anti-semite. Further muddying the waters are rumors of an ongoing feud between Wieseltier and Sullivan, dating back to Sullivan’s tenure as the editor of The New Republic.
The result? Sullivan is being portrayed as the victim of an attack piece—and not just among the usual suspects, like Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative magazine or Left-leaning Jewish bloggers like M. J. Rosenberg. A CBS news blog notes: “No doubt a bad choice of words by Sullivan, though it’s difficult to use that to extrapolate baser motives. Charging someone with being an anti-Semite is the equivalent of fire in the hole. There will be an explosion and Wieseltier knows that this particular topic rouses particular passions. Especially when the charge gets mixed up with larger geo-political questions about the Middle East and U.S. backing for Israel.”
Glenn Reynolds, a die-hard critic of Sullivan says: “On consideration, I don’t think this gets it quite right. Andrew certainly has a lot of hate, but unlike Buchanan he seems less . . . fixed in exactly who he hates at any given moment. I think it’s more of a frog-and-scorpion kind of thing and not a traditional idee fixee hatred like anti-semitism.”
Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor of the New Jersey Jewish News writes:
He comes close to accusing Sullivan of anti-Semitism from doing what we all do, which is talking about political tendencies among Jews as representing aspects of Jewish political expression. Wieseltier complains:
And this is not all that is disgusting about Sullivan’s approach. His assumption, in his outburst about “the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing,” that every thought that a Jew thinks is a Jewish thought is an anti-Semitic assumption, and a rather classical one. Bigotry has always made representatives of individuals, and discerned the voice of the group in the voice of every one of its members. Is everything that every gay man says a gay statement?
Well, no. But if a gay man closely identified with the positions he takes on gay causes takes a position on a gay issue (same-sex marriage, for example) and seems representative of a certain line of thought shared with other gay men who are similarly involved politically, we might refer to his position as “representative” of one segment of gay opinion on a subject.
So when a writer like Charles Krauthammer, who is closely identified with his strong defense of Israel and has a following among other Jews who are similarly engaged Jewishly and share his views on Israel, writes on Israel or the war on terror, it isn’t unreasonable to think he represents a segment of the Jewish community.
Making matters worse, as the Tablet notes: “Throughout, Wieseltier bemoans Sullivan’s alleged hyperbole, even hysteria, and implies that perhaps Sullivan’s chosen medium shares part of the blame; at one point, he even calls blogging ‘a sickly obsession.’”
Is Wielseltier so dense as not to realize that the surest way to turn the blogosphere against you is to launch an attack against blogging? Recall the backlash in 2004, when a CBS news executive declared: “You couldn’t have a starker contrast between the multiple layers of checks and balances at 60 Minutes and a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas.”
Wieseltier’s article has backfired on three levels:  By generating sympathy for Sullivan, he has effectively absolved him of his misguided rants against Israel  He has undoubtedly emboldened Sullivan to be even more vitriolic (with a dash of paranoia, since Sullivan will now openly count himself among that self-described community that “boldly speaks out against Israel”) and  He has helped endow Sullivan with immunity from future criticisms, which will be hastily dismissed as “Wieseltier-type smears.”
For whatever it’s worth, I plan to continue my series of posts, “The Odd Rants of Andrew Sullivan”—which, I assume, will become increasingly odder.