Sullivan is a speaker at universities, colleges, and civic organizations in the United States, and a guest on national news and political commentary television shows in the United States and Europe. Born and raised in England, he has lived in the United States since 1984 and currently resides in Washington, D.C. and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Sullivan is known for his distinctive personal-political identity. He is gay, and considers himself to be a classical libertarian conservative who is often at odds with other conservatives in the U.S., a Roman Catholic, and a non-U.S. citizen who focuses on American political life. Sullivan has said that he would like to become a U.S. citizen but is barred because of his HIV-positive status. However, this is untrue. As amfAR, The Foundation for Aids Research, notes “being HIV-positive does not in itself prevent people from becoming (US) citizens.”
Sullivan is sometimes considered a pioneer in political weblog journalism, since he was one of the first prominent political journalists in the United States to start his own personal blog. Sullivan wrote his blog for a year at Time Magazine, shifting on 1 February 2007 to the Atlantic Monthly, where it received approximately 40 million page views in the first year. He is the former editor of The New Republic and the author of five books.
After supporting George W. Bush in the 2000 Presidential election, he endorsed Senator John Kerry for President in 2004. In 2006, he supported the Democratic Party's takeover of Congress. His political philosophy includes a broad range of traditional conservative positions: He favors a flat tax, limited government, privatization of social security, and a strong military, and he opposes welfare state programs such as socialized medicine. However, on a number of controversial public issues, including same-sex marriage and capital punishment, he takes a position typically shared by those on the left of the U.S. political spectrum. His position on abortion is more mixed; saying that he personally finds it immoral and favors overturning Roe v. Wade, but he can accept legalized abortions in the first trimester. Sullivan endorsed Senator Barack Obama for the Democratic Nomination in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election, and Rep. Ron Paul for the Republican nomination. On his blog, Sullivan has been highly favorable toward Obama, and has denounced McCain for running misleading campaign advertisements.
Some longtime subscribers, who had never forgiven Sullivan for firing veteran political writer Morton Kondracke when he took over, regularly took umbrage at the articles written by social critic Camille Paglia that Sullivan published.
In 1994, Sullivan decided to publish excerpts on race and intelligence from Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's controversial The Bell Curve, which argued that some of the measured difference in IQ scores between racially defined groups was the result of genetic inheritance. Almost the entire staff of the magazine threatened to resign if material that they considered racist was allowed to be published; when the issue did come out, it included lengthy rebuttals from more than a dozen writers and contributors.
Under Sullivan, the magazine also recruited two writers whose ethical failures would severely diminish its reputation. Ruth Shalit, hired in 1993, wrote articles which were later found to contain numerous instances of plagiarism, extensive factual inaccuracies and misleading/falsified quotations. Stephen Glass, hired in 1995 as an assistant to Sullivan, was later revealed to have engaged in widespread fabrication in his articles for the magazine (though he didn't write his first full story until after Sullivan's departure). Both writers were later fired from the magazine, but not before causing considerable embarrassment.
Sullivan's departure as editor of The New Republic is also not without controversy. He quit after losing a bitter power struggle with Leon Wieseltier, the magazine's literary editor and a longtime friend of editor-in-chief and co-owner Martin Peretz.
Sullivan wrote for The New York Times Magazine briefly. He left the magazine in 2002.
His views led him to have concerns about the election of Pope Benedict XVI. In Time Magazine for April 24, 2005 in an article entitled, "The Vicar of Orthodoxy, Sullivan stated his criticisms of the new pope. He expressed his view that the current pope is opposed to the modern world and women's rights, and deems gays and lesbians to be innately disposed to evil. He has, however, agreed with Benedict's assertion that reason is an integral element of faith.
Sullivan takes a moderate approach to religion; as such he vocally rejects fundamentalism of any kind, including both fundamentalist Christianity and Islam, but describes himself as a "dogged defender of pluralism and secularism". He defended religious moderates in a series of exchanges with atheist Sam Harris, who maintains that religious moderates provide cover for fundamentalists and make it impossible for anyone to effectively oppose them.
The core principles of Sullivan's blog have been the style of conservatism he views as traditional. This includes fiscal conservatism, limited government, and classic libertarianism on social issues. Sullivan opposes government involvement with respect to sexual and consensual matters between adults, such as the use of marijuana and prostitution. Sullivan believes recognition of same-sex marriage is a civil-rights issue but is willing to promote it on a state-by-state legislative federalism basis, rather than trying to judicially impose the change. Most of Sullivan's disputes with other conservatives have been over social issues, such as these, and the handling of postwar Iraq.
Sullivan reluctantly decided to support John Kerry's presidential campaign, due to his dissatisfaction with the handling of the postwar situation in Iraq by the Bush administration, their views on gay rights, and their fiscal policy. Sullivan is a supporter of Arnold Schwarzenegger and other like-minded Republicans. Sullivan has also blogged sympathetically about Republican candidate Ron Paul, endorsing him for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
Sullivan gives out "awards" each year on various public statements that parody those of people the awards are named after. Throughout the year, "nominees" for these awards are mentioned in various blog posts. The readers of his blog vote the "winner" at the end of the year. These awards include:
In February 2005, Sullivan decided to go on "hiatus for a few months" after nearly five years of continuous blogging. By this time his blog was receiving over 50,000 visitors a day and was among the most linked-to blogs in the world. Sullivan planned to work on a book, do some traveling, and focus on other projects. His plan was to return to blogging "full steam" in roughly nine months. In response to readers who asked whether his continuing blogging meant that he had given up on his "hiatus," he wrote:
He attributes his ability to "blog, write my usual columns and work on my book" simultaneously to an increase in energy after being fitted with a CPAP machine to help him sleep. This has allowed him to return to blogging full time. His blog has remained very popular since then.
In February 2007, Sullivan took his blog from Time to the Atlantic Monthly magazine, where he had accepted an editorial post. Since then, his presence has increased traffic by 30% for Atlantic's website.
Sullivan has been very critical of civil unions, which he has dubbed "marriage lite." He has argued that civil unions will only serve to weaken the unique status of marriage, both for gays and lesbians and heterosexuals.
In the 2004 election, Sullivan criticized the Republican Party for what he saw as political exploitation of a despised minority:
While he has long advocated same-sex marriage, Sullivan has drawn criticism for his 2006 dismissal of monogamy:
On 27 August 2007, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Sullivan married Aaron Tone, an artist and actor who had been his companion for three years.
However, Sullivan harshly criticized the Bush administration for its postwar efforts, especially regarding the numbers of troops, protection of munitions, and treatment of prisoners. Sullivan strongly opposes the use of torture against detainees in U.S. custody and has had heated disputes with Heather MacDonald and fellow British-American John Derbyshire, among others, on that issue. Though Sullivan believes that enemy combatants in the war on terror should not be given status as prisoners of war because "terrorists are not soldiers, he also believes that the U.S. government must abide by the rules of war—in particular, Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions—when dealing with such detainees.
In recent times, Andrew Sullivan has changed his position on the Iraq war and described it as a mistake. On the October 27, 2006 edition of Real Time with Bill Maher, he described conservatives and Republicans who refused to admit they had been wrong to support the Iraq War as "cowards." On February 26, 2008 he wrote on his blog: "After 9/11, I was clearly blinded by fear of al Qaeda and deluded by the overwhelming military superiority of the US and the ease of democratic transitions in Eastern Europe into thinking we could simply fight our way to victory against Islamist terror. I wasn't alone. But I was surely wrong.
James Lileks in response stated: "Of course, 'Christianist' is a term of Mr. Sullivan's invention, and is infinitely applicable; I am probably a Christianist myself if I vote for someone who gives off that Christianist whiff, just as people who vote for Democrats are really closeted Communists, and Libertarians secretly want poor people to be heaped into graves and hosed with napalm."
In three days, he wrote in three different places that "[c]onservatism is a philosophy without a party in America any more. It has been hijacked by zealots and statists", that "[w]e're getting to the point when conservatism has become a political philosophy that believes that government—at the most distant level—has the right to intervene in almost anything to achieve the right solution. Today's conservatism is becoming yesterday's liberalism", and that "the only real difference between the Democrats and Republicans at this point is that the Democrats believe in big, solvent government and the Republicans believe in an even bigger, insolvent government.
He has been particularly critical of some conservatives' defense of the administration's actions involved in the Abu Ghraib and other prison scandals. Sullivan criticized Glenn Reynolds, NRO, Ramesh Ponnuru, and other conservative groups for not speaking out on the issue more quickly and more forcefully. Sullivan was especially critical of Power Line, Michelle Malkin, Jeff Goldstein, and John Derbyshire—whom he has accused of active support of such tactics. Sullivan accuses Power Line and Hugh Hewitt of completely partisan and unconditional support for the Republican Party (which has hurt conservative principles).
In 2006 Sullivan expressed interest (at the suggestion of a reader) in creating a new award "honoring" Nancy Grace. The Nancy Grace Award would be bestowed on those evincing "lack of grace and empathy," a "misplaced self-regard," "unflappable self-assurance that [the nominee's] outrage represents the true moral high ground on any issue," and a "nauseating level of absolutist self-righteousness on the part of the Nominee." Kaus suggested that this description perfectly fit Sullivan himself; Sullivan hasn't mentioned the Grace Award since.
Though Sullivan was very strong in his praise of George W. Bush immediately after 9/11, he has recently called such views "stupid and premature" in retrospect. He has similarly since characterized the president as a "shallow, monstrous, weak, and petty man. In response to suggestions by Sullivan that Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld may have intentionally refused to support the Iraq War effort (during occupation), conservative blog Ace of Spades did a parody of Sullivan's Daily Dish site.
Andrew Sullivan is especially critical of Mel Gibson, considering the actor to be a misogynist, homophobe, and anti-Semite. Sullivan was outspoken against The Passion of the Christ, believing it to be an anti-Semitic work that would inflame such prejudices, especially in the Arab world. Sullivan is also critical of Gibson's conservative pre-Vatican II Catholic beliefs. Sullivan has argued that Gibson's statements during his July 2006 DUI arrest only confirm what he has been saying all along. Sullivan has been outspoken in attacking commentators on the right whom he contends are apologists for supporting Gibson after his arrest; also those whom he believes have not been forceful enough in condemning Gibson. Sullivan was especially critical of Hugh Hewitt. James Lileks, in defense of Hewitt, accused Sullivan of "intellectual shabbiness" and an unfair attack.
Sullivan has written blog entries criticizing the excesses of the War on Drugs. He argued that studies showed alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis, yet the former is legal and the latter is illegal. He gave examples purporting to show that the government has used torture in the War on Drugs. Regarding the cannabis prohibition, he wrote,
Criticism over his consistency continued, and may even have become more pronounced, in 2008. Peers of his at The Atlantic took issue with his recent postings. Jeffrey Goldberg stated, "I wish Andrew would go back to bashing the Jew-baiters, rather than reveling in their smears." Ross Douthat wrote:
For months and months, all through Hillary Clinton's losing campaign for the Presidency, my colleague Andrew Sullivan insisted over and over again that his furious anti-Hillary partisanship was in fact a defense of authentic feminism, since Hillary's ascension to the White House would represent the worst sort of pre-feminist, second-hand success - a woman marrying her way into power, that is, rather than attaining it on her own. Well, now John McCain has picked as his running mate a woman who embodies all the post-feminist virtues Andrew insisted were absent in Hillary Clinton's ascent - she's risen from working-class obscurity to govern a state dominated by an old boys' network (where the other prominent female politician is a classic legacy pick), while successfully juggling motherhood and her career and never, ever, piggybacking on any of her husband's achievements. (Though admittedly, Todd Palin would probably kick Denis Thatcher's ass in a snowmobile race.) Obviously, there are serious questions about the wisdom of the Palin pick, and as an Obama partisan Andrew has ever reason to go on one of his characteristic blogging tears against her candidacy. But given his primary-season insistence on his own credentials as a feminist, you'd think that Andrew would confine his attacks on Palin to critiquing her record and mocking her lack of experience, rather than, say, posting emails accusing her of being a bad mother for accepting the nomination, snickering over her children's names, and razzing her as a bimbo and a "trophy candidate."
Or, you know, not.
Sullivan's critics argued that it was hypocritical of Sullivan to engage in this kind of sexual activity while arguing for greater monogamy among gay men. They claimed that the vision of gay sexuality presented in Sullivan's writing was at odds with his alleged activities. They also charged that because Sullivan is HIV-positive, it was unsafe for him to engage in sex without a condom. Sullivan's critics also contended that it was unfair for Sullivan to criticize Bill Clinton's sexual indiscretions as "reckless" while engaging in unprotected sex.
Sullivan responded that his advertisement stated that he was HIV-positive and he intended to have bareback sex only with consenting adults who were also HIV-positive. According to Sullivan, limiting unprotected sex to other HIV-positive men reduces the risk inherent in the behavior. Moreover, he criticized what he called a "thin reed of evidence" of the existence of "reinfection" which, according to some medical professionals, heightens the destruction caused by the virus. Sullivan's supporters also argued that it was a violation of his privacy to publish information about his sex life. Sullivan argued that those who revealed the details about his sex life were motivated by a desire for payback because they disagreed with his pro-marriage politics . In Sullivan's book Love Undetectable (pub. 1999), he wrote:
"Although I never publicly defended promiscuity, I never publicly attacked it. I attempted to avoid the subject, in part because I felt, and often still feel, unable to live up to the ideals I really hold.
Sullivan's journalistic ethics were called into question when he announced that he would be accepting a sponsorship to write his blog The Daily Dish from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the lobby for the industry that he credited with saving his life, but which has also been criticized for its practices in AIDS-affected areas of the Third World.
In the case of Kerry, he stated that his endorsement was primarily against Bush.
The Hillary Clinton presidential campaign considered Sullivan to be anti-Clinton. The Clinton campaign, according to Sullivan, went so far as to request that Sullivan's perspective be 'balanced' with pro-Clinton pundits on talk shows.
A quote by Andrew Sullivan about Barack Obama (RTWBill Maher 9/19/08): "Obama is the future...the question for this country is if he is going to be the future in a couple of months or after a longer period of time."
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