The late, great Irving Kristol was laid to rest yesterday in a beautiful and moving service at the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington, D.C., and his funeral provides the occasion for a brief reflection on his most famous saying, quoted in nearly every one of the many obituaries I have seen, that a neoconservative is "a liberal who has been mugged by reality." Even Christopher Hitchens in an uncharacteristically sour send-off in Slate, could write that "once people got over their affected fuss about the possible innuendo in the word mugged, they reluctantly saw that Kristol had found a memorably demotic way of encapsulating the sad fashion in which utopianism can collide with brute facts about the human animal." Just so. But I wonder if Mr Hitchens thought before writing those words about the corollary of that encapsulation, which is that liberals are — or at least tend to be — political fantasists, allowing their wishful thinking on the subject of those "brute facts about the human animal" to cloud their vision at every turn in the political road.
This I believe to be more true now than ever. Examples are almost too numerous to mention. I find myself particularly amused to hear President Obama criticized from the left for adopting elements of Hillary Clinton’s health care plan that he criticized in last year’s campaign. But what does this show except that he knew no one could have won the Democratic primaries without a health care plan that pandered to liberal utopian fantasies — fantasies which, as each day makes clearer, have no chance of real-world success? The liberal fantasy that Afghanistan was, as the President described it only a few weeks ago, "a war of necessity" now appears to be running head-on into the liberal fantasy that it is not a war of necessity, with results that promise to add to the comedy of public life, if not to the happiness of the poor Afghans, in the weeks and months ahead.
Only yesterday, according to the London Daily Telegraph the Liberal Democrats at their party conference in Britain called on their government to "focus on concluding the Afghanistan mission and to report to Parliament in detail on progress towards a withdrawal." In place of a military victory, wrote the reporter with a straight face, "Lib Dems say Britain''s priority in Afghanistan should be the ‘pursuit of a ceasefire’." D’oh! as Homer Simpson would say. A ceasefire! Brilliant. Why didn’t we think of that? You can rely, it seems, on Liberal Democrats on either side of the Atlantic to come up with a perfect solution to all problems, so long as you live in a fantasy world — where, for example, ceasefires are things to be pursued, rather than enforced, and the liberal language of "war of necessity" and "war of choice" allows you to switch between the two at will, according to the politics of the moment. To one mugged by reality, "war of necessity" would be a tautology, "war of choice" an oxymoron.
Nowhere is the fantastical nature of the liberal project more in evidence than in its firm alliance with "the arts" as we understand the term today. That’s why poor Yosi Sergant must have felt pretty hard done-by at his "re-assignment" away from the National Endowment for the Arts for trying to enlist artists on the NEA payroll as Obamite soldiers in the political wars. What was he doing but saying out loud — at least it was out loud after his phone conversation was leaked to the press — what everyone knew to be the case, namely that "artists, producers, promoters, organizers, influencers, marketers, tastemakers, leaders" and, last but not least, "just plain cool people" are overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic in their political sympathies? What else would they be, given the extent to which the arts today are also built on fantasy? It was for the same reason that ACORN advised James O''Keefe and Hannah Giles to call their youthful prostitutes "performance artists." You can get away with anything if you’re in the fantasy business — at least for so long as the liberal establishment regards it as their own business. Irving Kristol would have understood that. It’s time the rest of us did too.