For the better part* of Andrew Sullivan’s career, he was something of an iconoclast. While he identified himself as a conservative (he still does), he was really more of a conservative by default. He got his start in American journalism, writing for The New Republic, the flagship magazine of serious liberal thought, but he was anything but an American liberal. Nor did he fit within the mainstream of conservative thought, yet in his heyday (from about 1989 to 2004), he was philosophically closer to contemporary conservatism than he was to Anglo-American liberalism.
What distinguished him more than anything was that he was the first (or at least the most prominent) gay public intellectual to write about gay issues in a way that challenged the gay orthodoxy. And for that he earned the scorn of those with whom he liked to socialize.
An intellectual by day, Andrew enjoyed (and I presume still enjoys) frequenting gay haunts at night. He summers in Provincetown, long a retreat for East Coast gays, nearly all of whom (the outspoken ones at least) hold left-of-center political views. And while Andrew, like all of us (or most of us at least), didn’t push his political ideas during every hour of the day, many of his ideological adversaries were determined to define him by his departures from said gay orthodoxy.
Instead of finding his off-time as a respite from the rigors of his working life, his angry adversaries used it to remind him of his unorthodox opinions. They insulted him in bars, threw drinks in his face and, if one account is to believed, even spit on him. Other gay writers and activists were no kinder, regularly ridiculing him as a traitor to the cause. One such individual made Andrew’s private life a source for public censure.
Such nastiness takes its toll even on the hardiest of human beings. And Andrew is, if anything, human, very human.
That’s one reason I think he has, in recent years, gone so far to the left, more out of a sense of fatigue at being the outcast among his peers than anything else.