When did Andrew Sullivan become such a stickler for rhetorical nuance?
It seems to me that Karl Rove's sickening generalization about "liberals" in the war on terror is revealing in ways not obviously apparent. Sure, there were some on the hard left who really did jump to blame America for the evil perpetrated by the monsters of 9/11. I took names at the time. But all "liberals"? The New Republic? Joe Lieberman? Hitch? Paul Berman? The Washington Post editorial page? Tom Friedman? Almost every Democrat in the Congress who endorsed the war in Afghanistan?
He later criticized Rove more specifically for overgeneralizing:
What Rove was doing, they say, is citing hard-left types like Michael Moore and Moveon.org and Kucinich and the like. He doesn't mean all mainstream liberals. But this is too clever by half. The rubric Rove used was the "conservative-liberal" rubric, in which the entire polity is bifurcated into one type or the other. All non-liberals are, in Rove's rubric, conservatives; and all non-conservatives are liberals. This is in keeping with the very familiar electoral tactic of describing even moderate or centrist Democrats as "liberals" with as broad a brush as possible. Rove, in other words, cannot have it both ways. He cannot both use the word liberal to describe everyone who is not a Republican and then, in other contexts, say he means it only for the hard left. Rove is a smart guy. He picked his words carefully. A simple addition of the word "some" would have rendered his comments completely inoffensive. But he left that qualifier out. For a reason.
Note that even as Sullivan criticizes Rove, he suggests that Rove's comments would be "completely inoffensive" had the presidential adviser said "some liberals" want to put US troops in danger instead of just "liberals."
I guess you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Sullivan, of course, said much the same thing as Rove in the days after 9/11. Here's what I wrote on Sept. 20, 2001:
Amongst the many commentators attacking leftist opponents of the "war on terrorism", Andrew Sullivan stands out for his attacks on a putative "fifth column".
The conservative pundit first wrote that "[t]he decadent Left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead - and may well mount what amounts to a fifth column" (part one, part two). Then, he wrote this: "[W]e might as well be aware of the enemy within the West itself - a paralyzing, pseudo-clever, morally nihilist fifth column that will surely ramp up its hatred in the days and months ahead."
As Ben noted, this is an irrational suggestion that American leftists will aid terrorists, and a tactical attempt to equate dissent with aid.
Not too many subtle distinctions there. And when Sullivan tried to defend himself, he again failed to distinguish between the vast majority of opponents of a military response to 9/11, who did not wish harm on the US, and the tiny minority that did so. Instead, he again suggested that all critics of a military response were aiding the enemy: "I have no reason to believe that even those sharp critics of this war would actually aid and abet the enemy in any more tangible ways than they have done already" (emphasis mine).
At a larger level, Sullivan's attacks on Rove and the critics of Durbin reminds me of the growing number of conservative pundits distancing themselves from Ed Klein's loathsome Hillary Clinton biography, including Bill O'Reilly, John Podhoretz and Peggy Noonan. Apparently even the most irresponsible pundits have their limits!