Pragmatism, not Ideology

One of the things that annoys ideologues the most is to talk about pragmatism. My conservative friends predictably get riled when I argue that their ideology is impractical and that they haven’t taken into account the consequences of turning their ideologies into actual policy. Coming from them, the word ‘pragmatism’ sounded like ‘women’s health’ on McCain’s lips. But with the election of Obama and his obviously pragmatic approach to governing becoming apparent, now it is the turn of left wing ideologues to turn ‘pragmatism’ into a dirty word.

That last link is to a Glenn Greenwald column in Salon. I usually agree with him or at the least find him to be interesting and provocative, but in this case I think he’s falling into the same trap as his counterparts on the right wing. I do agree with his notion that ideology can be an useful framework for seeing the world and approaching previously unconsidered situations, but I think he puts too much weight on it. For one thing, he changes the basic premise of the Iraq War in order to suit his argument. The problem is that the Iraq War (as Greenwald himself has repeatedly argued) was an ideologically motivated conflict, not a pragmatic one. There were and are no pragmatic reasons for invading that nation, although there are now pragmatic reasons for not unilaterally and abruptly withdrawing (in the same sense that while there are no pragmatic reasons for suddenly jamming a butcher’s knife into your stomach, there are pragmatic reasons for suddenly pulling it out).

The primary problem of the Bush Administration is that it has only operated from an ideological stance over the eight years, only stooping to pragmatic approaches when it has been forced to. Obviously the further left wing of the Democratic Party is disappointed that Obama isn’t going to appoint Starshine Q Moonbeam to be Secretary of Defense, and I think that’s a beautiful thing. The Clinton Administration was very successful at governing (as opposed to ruling, which is what we have endured for the past eight years) and it only makes sense to bring in some of those people to do jobs they know how to do.

It is difficult to overestimate how bad things really are right now. Even if one doesn’t pay attention to the news or otherwise insulates themselves from reality, it should be obvious that the US has some very serious issues to deal with. An inexperienced Cabinet would have a dangerously steep learning curve to deal with and the country cannot bear another stumbling executive-in eight years Bush never hit a stride and so Obama is going to have to hit a perfect one with his first step.

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