One of the minor reasons I decided to stop blogging is that, it seems to me, there is an arc to the story of the Dish and the world this past decade and a half; and there is something about this moment that seems as close to closure as history will ever get.
I began blogging in the elysian, if increasingly polarized, days of the late 1990s. When Robert Cameron and I brain-stormed what the Dish could be – on a train ride from London to Oxford in the summer of 2000 – the question was merely what America would do next in an era of prosperity, peace, and smug. Gore looked pretty much invincible; Bush seemed a milquetoast moderate; and my most intense blogging was defending Gary Condit’s right to be considered innocent before being proven guilty.
I lost about half my readership, and the pledge drives I used to finance the thing dried up. I could have doubled down on the war, I guess. Many others did. I could have quit (and maybe should have). But I hung in and blogged through the
And so began the journey toward endorsing John Kerry, and then to search for a candidate for 2008 who might be able to bind up the wounds I had helped open up. That led to the second big transformation here – my 2007 Atlantic cover-story “Why Obama Matters“, and the constant follow-up on the blog. I’d been following Obama for some time before that, and doing some due diligence on his potential. In May 2007, I wrote this post:
I went to see Obama last night. He had a fundraiser at H20, a yuppie disco/restaurant in Southwest DC. I was curious about how he is in person. I’m still absorbing the many impressions I got. But one thing stays in my head.
This guy is a liberal. Make no mistake about that. He may, in fact, be the most effective liberal advocate I’ve heard in my lifetime. As a conservative, I think he could be absolutely lethal to what’s left of the tradition of individualism, self-reliance, and small government that I find myself quixotically attached to. And as a simple observer, I really don’t see what’s stopping him from becoming the next president…
I fear he could do to conservatism what Reagan did to liberalism. And just as liberals deserved a shellacking in 1980, so do “conservatives” today.
As soon as Iowa happened, the Dish more than doubled its traffic and kept at it. We became part of the Obama
And then the Obama presidency – its ups and downs, its emotional highs and deep lows – interrupted by the Green Revolution in Iran, when we innovated the kind of immediate, bloggy, provisional, breaking-news coverage that is now commonplace across the media, and when the Dish trio of Patrick, Chris and me fused into one collective mind.
You know the rest, but it’s worth recalling the causes and ideas the Dish championed from the outset and how, over these fifteen years, so many have surprisingly been resolved.
First, of course, marriage equality. I began the Dish as a veteran of the movement. People refer to my one first cover-essay on it, but don’t see that the TNR cover-story in 1993, “The Politics of Homosexuality“, was much more important in sketching the case, and that Virtually Normal was the most comprehensive argument for marriage equality yet written. I followed it with an anthology and hundreds of speaking gigs and radio and television appearances. In 2000, gay marriage remained a pipe-dream or an oxymoron for many. No one was legally married in America. In 2015, 70 percent of Americans live in states where marriage equality is the law of the land. If this blog had as one of its main
Then the battle for openly gay servicemembers, another cause of mine from the early 1990s. By 2010, done. The HIV travel ban that threatened my very staying in this country? Finished. On this blog you can read the moment when Bush’s endorsement of a Federal Marriage Amendment threatened to up-end the entire movement, and when Massachusetts made it legal in 2004, and when the Windsor case came to its climax. I’m now legally married and aiming for full citizenship by next year. The arc is almost full.
Then the Church. The Dish coincided with the worst scandal in memory: the rape of countless children, the cover-up of the crimes, and the scapegoating of gay people. My faith has long been such a deep part of me I couldn’t ignore its own narrative in these years. After all, I first quit blogging in 2005, and only relapsed when Joseph Ratzinger became Pope, because I knew very well what his vision of Catholicism was – and it sure wasn’t mine. These were dark, dark days. But by 2015, a miracle had happened. Pope Francis emerged – my Deep Dish essay on him is now available for anyone to read – and a new window opened. Who could have hoped for such a thing five years ago? And yet the Church seems to have turned a corner, and Francis appears as a potentially world-historical figure.
On America’s embrace of torture, this blog’s enduring, obsessive passion, we failed to get any real accountability from the powerful in American government who authorized it. But we did get that final Torture Report, and it is a real beginning in the search for truth. If I were to name one thing I’m proudest of at the Dish, it would be our absolute insistence that this not be ignored, and that it be ended. It was ended in 2009. And we have made the first step away from denial.
I could cite many more examples. My point is simply that in many of the formerly hopeless causes this blog championed, it’s remarkable how
Of course, we were just part of enormous social change. We were one voice among many in all these shifts and currents and tides. But I can put down my blogging laptop with the comfort of knowing that the world really changed on our watch, and that many of the causes we championed prevailed, and that the narrative from 9/11 to Obama’s last two years is about as complete a circle as anyone in journalism or public life can hope for.
I fought the fight; we won so many battles. I walk away from this amazing little experiment not just knowing that it worked as an online entity, and as a business, but much more importantly, that we did something here that helped change the world and the minds that populate it. It was a joint effort, and I owe you and so many others so much in crafting my arguments and addressing new facts and confronting various contradictions. But I feel good about this country in a way I haven’t since 9/11, proud to have supported a president who helped make all of it happen, and humbled by how history does not always shock and surprise or humiliate us. History can also occasionally vindicate us.