The Magazine

He's No Muslim, He's a Progressive

And he's a golfer, too.

Aug 30, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 47 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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The presentation also counsels against the kind of grand claims of change that accompanied the legislation’s passage. “Keep claims small and credible; don’t overpromise or ‘spin’ what the law delivers,” it says, suggesting supporters say, “The law is not perfect, but it does good things and helps many people. Now we’ll work to improve it.”

So progressivism seeks to bring big changes to our backward country. Progressives like to dream about passing “the most progressive legislative agenda .  .  . not just in one generation, maybe two, maybe three.” But when progressivism has to give up its grand transformational claims, then we’re back in the world of reality and results, of the practical consequences of policy choices. A political debate over consequences rather than intentions, and over the real world rather than an imagined one, is one that is, as it has been for a long time, good for conservatives and bad for progressives.

It’s similar with the Community Center Formerly Known as the Ground Zero Mosque. Today’s progressives are multiculturalists. They’re inclined to make grand claims about the positive merits of a multicultural, non-judgmental mosaic replacing our old, uniculturalist melting-pot view of America. But when political realities force them to retreat, as Obama has done in the mosque controversy, from a proud multiculturalism to a narrow defense of the right to the free exercise of religion and the right to build on private property, they’re in trouble. The free exercise of religion and respect for private property are not a promising agenda for progressives.

Progressivism is in retreat. Obama’s problem isn’t that people falsely think he’s a Muslim. It’s that the public is correctly concluding he’s a garden-variety multiculturalist progressive. So November’s election won’t just be a repudiation of one non-Muslim president. It will be a repudiation of a multiculturalist progressive worldview—and of the bitter elites who cling desperately to that worldview and are consumed by antipathy to most Americans, who don’t.

—William Kristol

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