Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Further Sullivan Wieseltier Issue







And this analysis I wrote a couple of years ago:

Everybody is misreading Kristol, and seminally so is Sullivan.

Kristol's point is that the mask of Obama's elitism slipped. I challenge anyone textually to show that Kristol attacked the sincerity of Obama's religion. It may or may not be persuasive to enfold Obama's remarks into Marx's view of religion, but Kristol's other point against Obama is that he doesn't credit small town “common folk” with the same sincerity and depth of faith that mark his own. To wit: ..."What’s more, he’s written eloquently in his memoir, 'Dreams From My Father,' of his own religious awakening upon hearing the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s 'Audacity of Hope' sermon, and of the complexity of his religious commitment. You’d think he’d do other believers the courtesy of assuming they’ve also thought about their religious beliefs..”.

Against this, in his boyish excitement, Sullivan entirely misreads Kristol. To wit: ..."Bill Kristol, trained in the same politics as Hillary Clinton, now argues that Obama's remarks in a fundraiser q and a are the 'real Obama' - and that his voluminous writing and speaking about the sincerity of his own religious faith, and of others, are presumably 'masks.' " ...

Note the "are presumably". Sullivan is clearly off on a frolic of his own. While Kristol hits Obama for not crediting “common folks” with his own depth and sincerity of faith--which shot presupposes that depth and sincerity--Sullivan, over-excitedly, gets Kristol completely and invertedly wrong, attributing to him the canard that Kristol attacked Obama's own religious sincerity. Indubitably, the slipped mask is of elitism and not of religious fakery. Then Sullivan's final comment: ..."A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his own faith. That's where they've gone to already. And it's only the middle of April. What are they so scared of?"...

Wieseltier reads this plausibly as Jew-baiting.

Sullivan's defences are the following: "they've" and "they" refers to Republicans, (which, in context, makes sense); and that "A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity.." goes to Kristol's cynicism not his Jewishness.

This first point about "they've" and "them" goes to no point Wieseltier made concerning Jew baiting, and in fact it is irrelevant to that point. The second point is strained and implausible. If Sullivan was excitedly on about Kristol's cynicism, having twisted Kristol's essential point to be the exact opposite of what it was, he should have simply have said "cynical" and not "non-Christian."

On Sullivan’s elaboration of what he meant to say, “non-Christian” is otiose. Sullivan was talking about Kristol specifically, was irrationally venting against Kristol and was riding rhetorically and giddily high with Obama as brothers in faith. There is ample textual warrant for Wieseltier's charge against Sullivan in this particular instance; and that particular charge in this particular instance need not be conflated with a general charge of anti-Semitism.

It is easy enough for Sullivan, after the fact, after he has been justifiably called out, backtrackingly to rationalize his slur as poor, sloppy word choice, feign innocence and expanding-the-issue protest that he is no anti-Semite. And it is right for Wieseltier to make “piercingly clear” that Sullivan is not one. But, there is nothing he needs to apologize for. His specific charge is supportably on the mark, as is, by the way, the phrase “Obama boy”, which is an apt a description of Sullivan’s over the top devotion to Obama as any.

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