Last Tuesday, Andrew Sullivan delivered a convocation entitled “American Politics: A View From Home and Abroad” in the Memorial Chapel. Sullivan coincidentally appeared on Super Tuesday, fondly referring to it as “Super Duper Fabulous Tuesday,” and remarking that it was “an amazing day to come here and talk about American politics.”Sullivan is the senior editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and made his name as the youngest editor-in-chief of The New Republic, at 27, before becoming one of the pioneering members of the blog community. His blog “The Daily Dish” receives 40 million independent views a year, a far leap from the 100,000 weekly readers of The New Republic under his editorship.
Sullivan opened his convocation by giving us an insight into the life of a blogger, remarking that the hour during which he would be speaking would be the longest he had been away from his blog in a very long time.
However, Sullivan’s talk took a more serious turn as he delved into the most salient issue of 2008, the upcoming election the political atmosphere in which it is occurring.
Sullivan spoke of this year’s election as a “book end” to 40 years of the “red-blue divide.” He traced today’s highly polarized politics to the ’60s, a time of social unrest and reform. He recalled the central issues of the civil rights movement, the feminist movement and the Vietnam War as those issues that effectively divided the country into what he called “the hippies” against “the reactionary fascists.”
Sullivan gave relevant examples of how the ’60s mentality is still alive and well in today’s political atmosphere. The Clinton administration was a good example of what Sullivan called hippies in power or the “wrong side winning,” with sexual promiscuity as a central focus, and Hillary representing “the new woman.” These issues arose again in 2004, when Kerry was painted as the potsmoking Vietnam protester, versus Bush as the congenial frat boy.
Sullivan’s most salient point was that Americans are beginning to believe that our political system cannot withstand this sort of deep polarization any longer.
With this in mind, he spoke briefly about each of the five major candidates. He boiled the parties down to Senator John McCain (R) of Arizona and Senator Barack Obama (D) of Illinois, neither of whom, in Sullivan’s opinion, bear the effects of the red-blue divide. McCain and Obama represent the two generations outside of the baby-boomer generation, before and after, and neither makes enemies of the other party. In a press conference before the convocation, Sullivan made a strong argument for the hypothetical race between McCain and Obama, noting that either would be a choice for the future, whereas Clinton’s candidacy represents revenge on the Bush administration.
The convocation was relatively well attended and similarly well received with several outbursts of supportive applause at particularly salient talking points and a mild standing ovation.