Know your place.
(Diagram from here.)
The process of denial is fascinating. It's as if an alien movie monster takes over someone's body, forcing the human to do things he doesn't want to do, then erasing any memory of the acts committed while under the influence. The poor innocent human is just a victim of this thing, this ungovernable force, and there's nothing he can do about it. But denial isn't just fascinating--it's very, very powerful. Some people create an entire alternate world in which to live, where they are powerful, good, and always right, even when they aren't.
Let's look at a conservative pundit who lives in a constant state of denial. Glenn Greenwald tried to explain to Andrew Sullivan that blind obedience to authority is not a good thing.
First, [this episode] shows the dedication some media figures and Obama followers have to glorifying and justifying whatever the President does, even when the acts being defended are the exact opposite of one another. Sullivan spent three years aggressively scorning everyone who criticized Obama’s marriage position on the ground that it’s irrelevant and inconsequential what the President thinks about marriage equality, even arguing that it’s “sad” to watch gays seek presidential approval; then, the minute Obama announces that he supports same-sex marriage, Sullivan takes the lead role in depicting this act as the Peak of Human Courage and Integrity, one of monumental significance, while he all but crusades for Obama’s instantaneous Sainthood. Given how effusive Sullivan now is about the incalculable importance of Obama’s support for same-sex marriage — for gay youth, for equality generally, for all that is Good and Noble in Our Politics — doesn’t he at least owe an apology to all those gay activists who endured Sullivan’s condescending scorn when they were trying to pressure Obama to “evolve”?Of course not. Leaders lead, the direction is irrelevant because the followers just want to follow. Therefore Sullivan was merely doing his duty when he rebuked those who disagreed with him. Sullivan always does his duty when he must look after his own interests. It is wrong to deny gays civil rights when Sullivan wants civil rights. It's also wrong to deny Sullivan a war when he wants to go to war. It's wrong to take money from Sullivan and give it to the poor. It's terrible to embarrass Sullivan by dragging down the good names of Republicans like Sullivan. We could go on. Andrew Sullivan did apologize for his action, but he will continue to make the same "mistake" over and over until he realizes, as driftglass says, that there is a club and Andrew Sullivan is not in it. Sullivan places himself above his fellow conservatives by flouting their basic tribal laws of identity, loyalty and conformity. Conservatives must publicly conform to their authority or they will be rejected. And this is where denial enters our picture. Sullivan simply denies that his tribe exists solely to preserve the power structure of its leaders. And he denies, even more vehemently, that he is one of those pathetic powerless people on the left.
First, as Greenwald shows, Sullivan repeatedly pushes the followers into line behind Obama.
Will Obama Evolve In A Few Hours? Obama is sitting down with ABC News today for an interview which will, in part, address his excruciating non-position on marriage equality. Some are saying he will make news. I doubt it, and I don't much care. The Congress and the states are the players here - not the president. And this desperate desire among some gays for some kind of affirmation from one man is a little sad.We know Sullivan felt the same way because he said so. From the Mediaite article that Greenwald links to:
When asked how important Obama’s move was, Sullivan responded “hugely important” and said he didn’t know how important it would be until it happened. Through muted tears, Sullivan explained the impact of Obama’s announcement for gay Americans like himself: “Beforehand, I was kind of steeled. I was like, ‘I didn’t care; he’s going to disappoint us again.’ And then I sat down and watched our president tell me that I am his equal. And that I’m not going outside – I’m fully part of this family. And to hear the president who is in some ways a father figure speak to that – the tears came down like with many people in our families.” “I never understood the power of a president’s words until that day,” Sullivan continued. “This man saying, ‘I’m with you. I get it. You’re like me. I am like you. There is nothing between us.’” Sullivan went on to say that the gravity of that moment was “overwhelming.”Despite his denials, being excluded from full membership to the club was very painful to Sullivan. "You’re like me. I am like you," he rejoices. I am accepted, loved, wanted. It is what every unaccepted child longs for. Sullivan denies that his joy is in finally being accepted by his authority, however. He says it's just joy in achieving a long-sought goal of public equality.
I will leave it to you, dear readers, to decide if what I said above was "creepy", as Glenn Greenwald has it. It seems to me I was completely candid about the emotions that flooded my frontal cortex in the wake of Obama's ABC News interview. I did not say they undermined my core point that technically the president doesn't matter on this matter. It is possible both to assess the limited practical impact of an interview and express emotion at the same time. Still, Glenn and I have different temperaments. He's perfectly entitled to label me a pathetic, sappy human being for being moved by the great cause of my life finally finding a home in the Oval Office. But it's deeply unfair to accuse me, especially on the issue of gay rights, of being a sycophant to this president. On this very blog, I often lacerated Obama and the administration when I thought they were dragging their feet - on the HIV ban, on the DOJ's original defense of DOMA, and especially on gays in the military, when I went on CNN to accuse the president of "betrayal". I wasn't a terribly reliable hagiographer then, was I? And you can read my cover-essay and see if it is pure hagiography, as opposed to a genuine judgment of a political and moral evolution. As to my reference to Obama as a father figure on the Chris Matthews Show, after constantly saying that we shouldn't be looking for a father figure, well: consider me busted. The power of a president's words did surprise me. The president is the head of state. When he speaks, history is being made. When a president uses that authority to express solidarity with gay citizens and their families, and to assert his belief in their core equality, for the first time ever, I'm not going to apologize for being moved, just as I was moved by the sight of an African-American being sworn into the presidency in the first place. And forgive me, but if someone had told me two decades ago that by 2012, a black president would be endorsing gay marriage, I would have asked where he got that stuff he was smoking. Glenn is a fantastic blogger and a friend. I'm sure my occasional sentiment irritates him as much as his detached purism sometimes baffles me. But I am not a toady to power; in this village, I am more of a feral creature. I have excoriated presidents and hailed them at times. I just believe this president matters; and, for me, he now matters more. If that is a position a blogger should not take for fear of being seen as a suck-up, so be it. It's from my heart. Update: Glenn emails to say that his point was that I should apologize to those who insisted that it would matter a lot if the president said the words. I don't recall a specific individual I criticized on those grounds, but, yes, those who believed his words mattered were right and I was wrong.Sullivan is neither a conservative nor a liberal; he belongs to a party of one, the Andrew Sullivan Party. Conservatives are the party with the economic power and the party that is eager to use its military power, so mostly Sullivan is a conservative. Liberal bloggers have no money or power but liberal leaders are willing to share power with their followers, so when it is convenient Sullivan is liberal in deed if not name. He sees this devotion to his personal wealth and advancement as fair-mindedness and, no doubt, political savvy. But he wants to be accepted for who he is, as we all do. And since he does worship power he is elated when the powerful claim him as one of their own--in his eyes, at least. The next time Sullivan wants something from the right he'll be a conservative again. He'll criticize the authoritarian followers when they conflict with his image of himself as a learned, wise and passionate man and he'll sneer at the left when they get in the way of his climb up the ladder. At the same time Sullivan is making his calculated moves to gain and maintain his personal power, he will long for and rejoice in any sign from his authority that he is an important and valuable person. His neediness is a sign of weakness and he will never acknowledge it.
Obama's journey on this has been like that of many other Americans, when faced with the actual reality of gay lives and gay relationships. Yes, there was politics in a lot of it. But not all of it. I was in the room long before the 2008 primaries when Obama spoke to the mother of a gay son about marriage equality. He said he was for equality, but not marriage. Five years later, he sees - as we all see - that you cannot have one without the other. But even then, you knew he saw that woman's son as his equal as a citizen. It was a moment - way off the record at the time - that clinched my support for him. (my bold) Today Obama did more than make a logical step. He let go of fear. He is clearly prepared to let the political chips fall as they may. That's why we elected him. That's the change we believed in. The contrast with a candidate who wants to abolish all rights for gay couples by amending the federal constitution, and who has donated to organizations that seek to "cure" gays, who bowed to pressure from bigots who demanded the head of a spokesman on foreign policy solely because he was gay: how much starker can it get? My view politically is that this will help Obama. He will be looking to the future generations as his opponent panders to the past. The clearer the choice this year the likelier his victory. And after the darkness of last night, this feels like a widening dawn.Five months before the election, Obama expresses support for gay marriage. Sullivan acknowledges the calculation of the move but denies that it is calculated. He chooses to believe that Obama "evolved" and came around to Sullivan's point of view. Obama "let go of fear." The President of the United States personally accepted Mr. Andrew Sullivan, gay Republican. He could have no greater happiness in this world. The same selfish and authoritarian impulse that compelled Sullivan to cheer for military adventure under Bush compelled Sullivan to praise civil rights advancements under Obama.