The news that blogging pioneer Andrew Sullivan is hanging up his spurs—err, keyboard—at The Dish prompted a characteristic combination of sadness, shock, and lots of snark across the Internet. That Sullivan continues blogging as he figures "out the timing of ending the Dish" has not stopped the memorials from rolling in, with the venerable Columbia Journalism Review even calling him "one of the most significant writers of our time."
Love him or hate him (and plenty of people have expressed both emotions about him, some on the same day), Sullivan has been influential as a writer and public intellectual, with his articles and essays over the past 25 years arousing the same kind of furious debate that he so loves to engage in himself. Here are some of his most culture-rocking pieces.
1. "Here Comes the Groom: A (Conservative) Case for Gay Marriage": Way back in 1989—long before Sullivan founded the Dish, long before any legal gay marriages in the U.S., and long before same-sex marriage would become an issue that would rack up victories and support with almost unprecedented speed—Sullivan published this essay in The New Republic. Sullivan, who is openly gay and who had come off a stint with Margaret Thatcher's thinktank, focused on the value of formal family structure, responsibility, and integration as an argument for same-sex marriage. It was not the first argument in favor of gay marriage, but it's odd juxtaposition of conservatism and homosexuality as the AIDS crisis raged helped re-orient the gay-rights movement and set it on course for the success the marriage movement has had today.
2. "The Bell Curve Wars" issue of The New Republic: Two years after "A (Conservative) Case...", Sullivan became The New Republic's editor. In that capacity, in 1994, he oversaw an issue of the famed liberal magazine that excerpted The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, a book that argued African-Americans have lower intelligence than whites. The magazine also published a series of dissents on the book. The issue is not online. To this day, Sullivan has argued that he fostered debate on the book, which was his role as a journalist. Others have said he legitimized the book's findings (which were elsewhere criticized heavily on technical grounds). As recently as December, the issue was described as a "erudite neo-Dixiecratism" by Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates.
3. "This is a Religious War": Just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks in America, on the very day the U.S. began airstrikes in Afghanistan, Sullivan helped delineate the contours of the new clash in the New York Times Magazine by declaring that, yes, the "religious dimension of this conflict is central to its meaning." He urged the country to engage in the new conflict on the side of freedom and would go on to support the invasion of Iraq, before turning later to become a vocal critic. ("In the shock and trauma of 9/11, I forgot the principles of scepticism and doubt towards utopian schemes that I had learned," he later told the Economist's magazine.) When New York Times columnist Ross Douthat asserted in July 2013 that Sullivan "might deserve to be remembered as the most influential political writer of his generation," he cited the piece, saying Sullivan occupied "the crucial centrist territory that legitimized the invasion as something more than just a cause for right-wing hawks."
4. "Live-Tweeting The Revolution: Week 1": When Iranians began protesting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009, Sullivan was quickly enthralled with the calls for freedom that sprang up amid disputed elections in the Islamic Republic. What followed on the Dish—then hosted on TheAtlantic.com and called "The Daily Dish"—was furious blogging and information sharing. The first week's recap consisted only of activists' tweets, which Sullivan realized were a huge driver of the movement's enthusiasm and organization, as they would be two years later during the Arab Spring. The insight was not his alone, nor could he take much credit for the grassroots power fueling the movements. But the post and and the large audience that followed what transpired—including links, extensive reader collaboration, social media focus, and real time execution—demonstrated why CJR credited Sullivan with transforming his off-beat style into the standard argot of blogging and internet writing.