remarks,’ Alice said with some severity; `it’s very rude.’
As has been documented here (…and here), every time you invite a liberal to a dinner party you run the risk that they will express an opinion over the asparagus bisque that is so foul and offensive that it can only result in the guests squaring off into two camps like the Jets and the Sharks armed with lobster forks. As recently as 2004 Peter Berkowitz sat down to break bread with some of the academics that he had yet to sue and…well, are you ready to ruuummmble:
To put in context Prof. Starr’s grounding of contemporary progressivism in the larger liberal tradition, I recounted to the Princeton audience an exchange at a dinner I hosted in Washington in June 2004 for several distinguished progressive scholars, journalists, and policy analysts.
To get the conversation rolling at that D.C. dinner–and perhaps mischievously–I wondered aloud whether Bush hatred had not made rational discussion of politics in Washington all but impossible. One guest responded in a loud, seething, in-your-face voice, “What’s irrational about hating George W. Bush?” His vehemence caused his fellow progressives to gather around and lean in, like kids on a playground who see a fight brewing.
Reluctant to see the dinner fall apart before drinks had been served, I sought to ease the tension. I said, gently, that I rarely found hatred a rational force in politics, but, who knows, perhaps this was a special case. And then I tried to change the subject.
But my dinner companion wouldn’t allow it. “No,” he said, angrily. “You started it. You make the case that it’s not rational to hate Bush.” I looked around the table for help. Instead, I found faces keen for my response. So, for several minutes, I held forth, suggesting that however wrongheaded or harmful to the national interest the president’s policies may have seemed to my progressive colleagues, hatred tended to cloud judgment, and therefore was a passion that a citizen should not be proud of being in the grips of and should avoid bringing to public debate. Propositions, one might have thought, that would not be controversial among intellectuals devoted to thinking and writing about politics.
But controversial they were. Finally, another guest, a man I had long admired, an incisive thinker and a political moderate, cleared his throat, and asked if he could interject. I welcomed his intervention, confident that he would ease the tension by lending his authority in support of the sole claim that I was defending, namely, that Bush hatred subverted sound thinking. He cleared his throat for a second time. Then, with all eyes on him, and measuring every word, he proclaimed, “I . . . hate . . . the . . . way . . . Bush . . . talks.”
To be fair, what differentiates Berkowitz from the previous Seven Course Apostates is that he didn’t have his moment of clarity while picking at his salmon en crout. He’s just a dispassionate observer of the national scene who spends as much of his time speaking to progressives as Tom Friedman does with cab drivers. Providentially they, in turn, serve up the kind of softballs that Berkowitz thinks he can knock out of the park if you squint your eyes and pretend that the mound is deep center.
It’s nice work if you can fake it.