John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Democrats Choose Ideology Over Pragmatism

Posted on October 1, 2009
Democrats Choose Ideology Over Pragmatism

In 1803, in probably the greatest example of pragmatism over ideology, Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territories from the French for about 15 million dollars. It was against Jefferson’s vision of small, republican government, it was probably unconstitutional, but a great deal is a great deal.

The tension between ideology and pragmatism has been a prominent feature in Washington politics ever since.

Scripture says that without vision, the people perish. But common-sense dictates that vision alone won’t put food on the table. In politics, it is vitally important to be able make the ideological practical, because if the ideology doesn’t work, it should be discarded.

Communism, for example, is an ideology that doesn’t work. Michael Moore is now trying to make the spurious case that capitalism doesn’t work, despite the obvious fact that the marketplace is the most efficient way to promote innovation and create wealth.

But a slavish dedication to any ideology is a dangerous thing

The great Illinois Senator, Everett Dirksen, once said, “I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.”

What we are seeing with Congressional Democrats is a slavish dedication to ideology, which is complicating their efforts to make progress on the domestic and international fronts.

The fight on health care is but one example of this trend. Most liberal Democrats want a single-payer plan, with the government controlling prices and costs of most American’s health care. They see the public option as a stepping stone to getting to a single-payer plan. They understand that if they don’t get a public option, they likely will never to a single-player plan, which is why they are so adamant on insisting for that provision. Liberal Democrats are not interested in pushing for incremental changes that may fix private-sector health care, because they do not believe in private-sector health care. In their mind, making a bad system better is not good enough. They want a completely new system. The problem they face, however, is that most Americans don’t share their ideology. Most Americans don’t want government-run health care, and are worried that the current Democratic plans will make their current health care situation worse.

Another example is with education reform and the specter of school choice. When Republicans were in charge of Congress, they were able to create opportunity scholarships for thousands of D.C. schoolchildren with the active support of then Mayor Anthony Williams. The scholarships proved to be very popular with the parents of many poor, African-American kids, and actually very successful. They are not very popular, however, with ideological Democrats and with the Obama Administration, who see them as a threat to the teacher’s unions. Rather than allow this successful program to go forward, Democrats are now in the uncomfortable position of dashing the dreams of thousand of kids and forcing them to go back into schools that don’t work by taking away the funding for those scholarships. Ideology trumps a program that works.

Ideology is also dictating how liberal Democrats are handling national security issues. They want an investigation of the CIA’s interrogation techniques, and have held out the possibility of prosecutions, despite CIA Director Leon Panetta’s vociferous objections and the concerns of the intelligence community that going down such a path could make America less secure. As the party of anti-war activists, they don’t want to back the Pentagon’s request for more troops in Afghanistan. It was ideology that led candidate Obama to promise and then President Obama to sign an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay, a promise he clearly couldn’t keep.

The President promised to govern as a post-partisan. But he didn’t say anything about governing as a pragmatist. In fact, his party has made the decision to eschew pragmatism and it is ideology that is currently pushing the Democrats to a place where they may not recover.