Andrew Sullivan is a British-American writer and journalist, an openly gay Catholic, and a conservative. His November 14 “60 Minutes” interview presented the levelheaded—and now rare—side of conservatism.

Sullivan embraces proven values but welcomes responsible change. “The American Constitution was set up for people who can reason and aren’t afraid of it, then reach compromises.” When loyalties extend only to a subset of a political party, “all that matters is the victory of your tribe.”

In Congress, the Progressive tribe has its agenda. I agree with their basic goals. I disagree with their unwillingness to detail paying for their programs and what dislocations some Americans may experience. Discussing pros and cons can bridge the gap between ideology and reality, build greater buy-in among Americans. Progressives often seem focused on “my way or the highway.”

The Republican far-right tribe refuses to buy into Democratic initiatives as a matter of “principle.” Democrats, they preach, are un-American, Communists, enemies of freedom and liberty. 

What does this tribe want? With exceptions, the “party of no” lusts for power to turn back the clock and revisit the halcyon days of the 1950s when America defined itself as white and Christian.

I grew up in the 50’s. The period did see a booming economy under Republican president Dwight Eisenhower (also courted by Democrats before the 1952 campaign). I also remember poverty in inner cities and Appalachia, “colored” water fountains and restrooms, segregated buses and schools, ethnic restrictions on who could rent or buy a home, freedom riders beaten. Americans also condemned “homos” and “queers” to hide in the closet. 

Jews had made great progress, but anti-Semitism remained. The summer camp my sister Kay attended moved to Massachusetts because its Connecticut neighbors didn’t want Jews nearby—even for eight weeks. My Aunt Anne and Uncle Moe were denied a hotel room in Miami Beach! Many hotels there and elsewhere were “restricted”—no Negroes, no Jews. 

From 1962-66 I attended Alfred University in western New York state. A considerable percentage of the student body was Jewish. Yet two of the school’s six fraternities did not accept Jews. The administration remained silent. 

It’s time for political tribes to give serious thought to the difference between earning power and lusting for it. Progressives need to better explain their programs and policies—and their economic impact. They also need to demonstrate sufficient humility to accept—and answer—legitimate questions. This inevitably will lead to compromise. Compromise is okay.

The far right should communicate policies that look forward rather than back. The 2020 GOP convention offered no platform for the presidential election. Delegates established only a cult of personality which lead, not surprisingly, to January 6. The GOP’s only goal: Keep Republicans in power to keep Republicans in power.

Journalists like CNN’s Dana Bash continually report that privately, Republicans say they know to be false the lies they spread or leave uncontested. Publicly, they spurn truth and refuse to offer reasonable solutions to challenging problems—and reach the compromises Andrew Sullivan prizes.

In 1887, Britain’s Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Has the tribe on the far right particularly become addicted to ego and deceit, and the corruption produced by a lust for power for its own sake? Absolutely.

Happy Chanukah! There’s still time to give a great gift. Order my novel 2084 in softcover or e-book from Amazonbarnesandnoble.com or your favorite bookstore.

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  1. Sandy Lipkowitz on December 3, 2021 at 6:13 am

    Excellent comments. I also respect Andrew Sullivan’s conservative positions. I wish more conservatives were in his bent.

    • David Perlstein on December 3, 2021 at 8:09 am

      Thanks, Sandy. Practical people in the middle lanes—right and left—can achieve more than those at the extremes, who tend to run off the road.

  2. David Newman on December 6, 2021 at 5:09 pm

    In “From Beirut to Jerusalem” Thomas Friedman distinguished between rights and interests. Interests air negotiable, rights are not. So much of our political polarization flows from treating nuanced policy questions as matters of absolute rights. If you believe that human life begins at conception and that abortion is murder, it’s hard to find a compromise position, even when you’re looking at a pregnancy that results from rape or incest. If you believe that the right to choose is absolute, then it is similarly difficult to find a middle road. But both sides have a moral claim, and the nuanced position is to treat the “rights” involved as qualified, rather than absolute. That’s what Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases did.

    I disagree with your comments about progressives. Yes, people on the political wings can be pretty annoying, but if you look at the debates around Build Back Better, it’s the progressives who have modified their initial positions in the interest of compromise. It’s the moderates — if you think of Sinema and Manchn as moderates — who are holding the program hostage. And the Republicans, of course, won’t even take part in the conversation at all. At least the Democrats are talking. The political landscape is polarized, but numerous political scholars have found that the polarization is not symmetrical.

    • David Perlstein on December 6, 2021 at 8:57 pm

      You make a good point about rights, David, and another about progressives. Re the latter, those on the left edge can be more than annoying, filled as they are with self-righteousness. Other progressives do, as you mentioned, modify their positions. I question whether Manchin and Sinema are moderates as widely advertised. I see them more as moderate conservatives as opposed to moderate liberals. Their presence in the Democratic party puzzles me.

      Also agreed, polarization is not necessarily symmetrical. But it exists. I write way more about the far right than the far left as in this post.

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