Friday, October 01, 2004

In Praise of Andrew Sullivan

In July, when I returned from my stint in Washington, I had the good fortune to take over as Director of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center at Dartmouth. Last evening, we had our first public program of the fall, featuring Andrew Sullivan. He was an exceptional speaker and he stayed on to watch the debate with the students. Here is how I introduced him:

It is my great pleasure this evening to introduce Dr. Andrew Sullivan, who will be speaking to us about “American Politics” and “The 2004 Election.” I regard Dr. Sullivan as the one of the preeminent public intellectuals of his generation, and quite possibly of our age. His resume boasts a number of exceptional credentials, including his smashingly successful tenure as editor-in-chief of The New Republic, during which time he engineered the transformation of that magazine into a publication of relevance for his generation. He is an essayist for Time and the Sunday Times of London, as well as the author of several critically acclaimed books, including Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality.

Many people edit, and many people publish. For me, the appeal of Andrew Sullivan as a speaker at Dartmouth is all about the blog. Andrew Sullivan Dot Com. Of all the things to have appeared in the last decade that end in “Dot Com,” this blog and others like it may be the most important for the future of intelligent debate in our society.

Every technology can be used to spread wisdom or ignorance, to promote love or hate, to encourage democracy or tyranny. We see all of this on the Internet. Every revolution has its medium and its message. A tag-line at used to read, “The revolution will be blogged.” (It has since been replaced by a quote, “Freedom means freedom for all.”) I think he was right about the medium—and I think that Dr. Sullivan’s message and his example will also prevail.

According to, a blog, which is short for weblog, “gives you your own voice on the web. It’s a place to collect and share things that you find interesting— whether it’s your political commentary, a personal diary, or links to web sites you want to remember.” In an age when partisan politics may distract us and the world may disillusion us, the blog can inspire us. In the hands of an expert, this new technology can begin the necessary unraveling of the choke-hold that the mainstream media has on the dissemination of news and commentary. Let me explain.

I read three blogs on a regular basis—Powerline, Brad DeLong, and Andrew Sullivan. I can tell you about the others when I have more time. The genius of Dr. Sullivan’s blog is its honesty—its unashamed, unapologetic search for truth and reason to explain the world around us. In contrast to almost every other blog that deals so extensively with public policy issues, does not begin the day looking for a way to support one candidate at the expense of another, or to attack one candidate in favor of another. The blog serves only to express his views with clarity, intelligence, and compassion.

Through his blog, Dr. Sullivan is an embodiment of the ideals Dartmouth President Jim Wright spoke of at our recent convocation:

"College years - and, ultimately, full lives - are about testing our convictions, exploring our doubts, and engaging in debate and dialogue; these years are about challenges to certainty. Often the most fundamental dialogue is, or at least should be, with oneself. But such introspection can only follow exposure to ideas different from the ones you have brought with you."

The blog works because of Dr. Sullivan’s agile mind and breadth of knowledge, the investment he makes in accuracy, the skill he displays in utilizing the web to link to primary sources to support his opinions, and the commitment he makes to his readers to accept feedback and to change his views when new (or old) facts demand it. This is the leadership in the search for truth and the documentation of that journey that are so astonishingly lacking in other media outlets, as well as political discourse more generally.

I have talked quite a bit about his medium. I now turn it over to him to tell us about his message. Ladies and Gentlemen, Dr. Andrew Sullivan.

Here is a link to The Dartmouth's coverage of the event.

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