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Cheney v. Blitzer; Hewitt v. Sullivan; CNN v. The U.S.

Saturday, October 28, 2006  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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[UPDATE: Welcome, Sullivan readers.  My response to Andrew’s latest is at the bottom of the post.]

There are some lefty blogs attempting to argue that Lynne Cheney came off looking bad in the CNN exchange with Wolf Blitzer, which is why, I guess, almost every conservative blogger in the U.S. is drawing attention to the exchange.  Visit TruthLaidBear.com and search “Lynne Cheney” for an assortment of opinions, but there’s a reason I played the exchange in full and parts of it many times on today’s program, and it isn’t because the exchange will boost CNN’s ratings as “the most trusted name in news.”  The “most busted name in news” is more like it.

Lynne Cheney goes on CNN to discuss a book, the host barely discusses the book, and Lynne Cheney stays calm and eviscerates the host and the network.

Andrew Sullivan comes on my program to discuss a book, won’t discuss it, and flys off the handle when I ask him specific questions about what he has written. (Ace has other problems with Sullivan.)

Lynne Cheney is a conservative.  Andrew Sullivan is a radical.  Thus the different approaches to interviews about their books

A digression: Andrew quotes an anonymous law prof who points out –correctly– that race isn’t the only classification that requires compelling reasons for the state to make distinctions when employing it.  As all of my law students over a decade know, there are other such classifications, most especially religion.

But the anonymous law professor must also know that Andrew’s book claims –in studied and proofed black and white, not in the rush of an interview– that government must have a compelling reason to make distinctions between its citizens, which is flat out wrong, and which was my point, as is obvious from the interview.  I won’t accuse the law prof of bad faith unless I know who he or she is and what he or she wrote. Yes, I gave an incomplete account of the strict scrutiny classification. Here is the relevant exchange:

HH: Andrew, it’s not. It’s your book. You write, for example, on page 240, that the government needs a compelling reason to treat citizens differently. That’s flat-out wrong. That would flunk any law student in America. Are we supposed to ignore the fact that you do not have a basic grasp of Constitutional law?

AS: I deny that. I think that’s an insult, and you should withdraw it.

HH: Well, it says, page 240…

AS: I just want to know why you support torture.

HH: The government needs a compelling reason to treat citizens differently. That is 180 degrees wrong.

AS: You don’t think the basic equality of people in this country, the civil equality of people in this country, isn’t a critical element…

HH: Andrew, the government…the only time the government needs…

AS: …is a critical element of the American experiment?

HH: We’re going to a break. The only time the government needs a compelling reason to treat people differently is when they do so on the basis of race. I mean, that’s what’s so astonishing about this book, is that you purported to write a book about the Constitution, and you don’t know how it works.

AS: I didn’t write a book about the Constitution. I wrote a book about conservatism.

HH: We’ll come back and continue the conversation with Andrew Sullivan, who apparently wants to forget the last third of his book.

What I ought to have said is:

We’re going to a break. One of the very, very few times that the government needs a compelling reason to treat people differently is when they do so on the basis of race. I mean, that’s what’s so astonishing about this book, is that you purported to write a book about the Constitution, and you don’t know how it works.

That was an error on my part, one of many I have made in 17 years of broadcasting and a decade of teaching, but nevertheless an error.  I should have taken the time to more fully school Andrew in the intricacies of Equal Protection analysis. I am glad to correct the error. But I note that the context in which I misspoke was a radio interview when I was pointing out that Sullivan had radically misstated the law completely, not incompletely stated it. 

The key point: Sullivan’s book’s error is a major one as he argues the opposite of what is true. He does so on p. 240 of his book:

There is, in other words, a presumption in the way a government interacts with its own citizens. That presumption is that they will treat each citizen absolutely alike, unless it has a very compelling reason not to. And it is up to the government to prove it has a good reason to discriminate rather than up to a citizen to prove she is equal under the law.

If Sullivan would let us know the name of the professor, we could ask the professor if he or she agrees with Sullivan.  He or she could not.  No licensed lawyer much less Con Law professor could. 

No one with a legal education in America can agree with Andrew on a major premise of his book.

Unlike Andrew, when I make a mistake, I am happy to come forward and say “Yes, that was wrong.  I was careless in the statement, but not deceitful in making it.”

Sullivan’s refusal to admit error here is taking him close to deception, and not just about Con Law.

The theologians are now examining Sullivan’s arguments on Vatican II and much more.  Too late for him to issue a correction and an apology?  His reputation, what was left of it, is in ruins.  It will take a mighty effort to rebuild it.  Possible, but not likely. But possible.

But believe it or not, I am hoping he tries.  As Joe Carter has pointed out, Sullivan is a brother in Christ, and C.S. Lewis has made a declaration of extraordinary relevance here:

You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations

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