Pragmatism in Government

6 June 2017

The character of politics makes consistency pretty close to impossible, partly because politicians are human and human nature is inconsistent, and partly because the voters don’t really want consistency. As voters, we have the luxury of holding politicians to standards we would almost certainly be unable to meet if we were in their positions. And when they fail, we revile them for their hypocrisy, which is as pointless as reviling a dog for having a moist nose. Now, all of this may make Auntie sound awfully cynical.

Should we have no moral standards at all for politicians? Should we throw principles by the wayside and let ome kind of shifty situational ethics fgleaf naked greed and power grabbing? Not at Just for illustration, take the issue of “saving people from oppressive dictators,” which is unquestionably a worthy concept, right up there with protecting children from pedophiles or saving animals from being abused and mistreated. But no matter how worthy an end is, its moral righteousness alone can never Justify evil means employed in achieving it.

Pragmatism in Government Essay Example

It’s not wrong, cold, or cynical to carefully calculate the cost of achieving a noble end, it’s responsible, and responsibility is what we should be emanding from ourselves and the leaders we elect to represent us. Costs come in many forms. We may not always agree on the totals, or even what should be counted as cost in such an equation, but the greater the potential for harm from an action, the more stringently we should perform the analysis.

If, for example, saving people from an oppressive dictator requires unpopular political decisions, economic pressure that involves some level of pain and suffering on both sides, diplomatic actions that require quids-pro-quo we’d rather not give, possibly even strained relations with another party whose good will has value for us, etc. that’s one calculation. If it requires military action, that’s another cost accounting entirely. Military action, even for noble motives, has enormous potential for doing harm if something goes wrong, if errors are made, or the logistical or tactical situations change.

And the intensity and impact of that harm is likely to be enormous as well. The consequences can be grave, long-lasting, and far-reaching, so the costs have to be calculated with extreme care and with maximum possible integrity. Those ‘potential costs,’ and the likelihood of their being required, have to be factored into the equation. Let’s take the other examples, protecting children from pedophiles and saving animals from abuse ” each of these goals is indisputably good. What is required to achieve them, however, must be calculated, and each voter, and each elected official, will calculate differently.

How effectively will any given measure reduce the risk of children being victimized? What are the costs of each measure, both short-term and long-term? . who bears those costs and n It, tor example, the measure under consideration involves restricting or denying civil rights and liberties granted under the Constitution, how do we choose whose rights will be curtailed? How much will that reduce the risk to children, and how much will it cost all of us to ensure that only those we are certain pose such a risk are denied their civil rights?

I saw an amusing bumper sticker recently that said “Liberals treat dogs like people, and conservatives treat people like dogs. ” Although I can’t agree with such blanket characterizations (l have known liberals who mistreat dogs, and whose treatment of people wouldn’t give dogs much to hope for, and conservatives who rescue dogs and exhibit deep compassion and care for people,) it provokes considerable thought. What are our priorities, and how do we choose to act on them? What should we expect our elected leaders to do with our priorities?

First, it helps to remember that our elected officials are balancing my priorities against my neighbors’ priorities, not to mention the priorities of those who gave big money to their campaigns. And not only our priorities, but our beliefs about what means can and should be used to address them, will differ widely. What if the policy or legislative action that an elected leader truly believes is right also happens to address a priority of a donor who gave them a lot of money?

On the other hand, what f the means of implementing that policy or action would go against the donor’s ideas of what is acceptable? What if those means address a priority of mine, but would require a sacrifice from my neighbor and seem a little doubtful to me? The reason so many people think of issues in black and white is that it’s easier. By establishing a rigid framework of right and wrong and tying everything to that framework and ignoring the complexities, they free themselves from having to do all those calculations.

It’s reprehensible enough in a voter, because after all, we have the ultimate responsibility for our government. But in an elected official, whose actions have immediate and far-ranging consequences, taking the black/white shortcut is deeply irresponsible. An elected leader can’t be ‘consistent’ and still be responsibly considering all the aspects of her actions. What she has to be, is thoughtful, cautious, and open-minded” willing to admit mistakes and work to correct them, but less likely to make them because she considers each action thoroughly.

And we as voters need to stop reflexively chastising those we elect for “inconsistency’ or “hypocrisy,” and start holding them accountable for how carefully and completely hey calculate the costs of their decisions, and their willingness to abide by those decisions. Thanks for bringing up such an interesting question, Jeniece, and for putting it to Auntie Pinko! It seems that the question is based on a false dichotomy. Ideology and pragmatism aren’t an “either-or”, it’s a case of apples and oranges.

The liberal call tor a “pragmatic” response to Iraq is not necessarily a choice between idealism and “the ends Justify the means”, while Clinton’s support of NAFTA was both pragmatic AND ideological, no matter how misguided (Clinton is a neoliberal after all). The response seems to confuse “ideology” and “values”. Ideology is political theory, the basis of policy and, when misguided – the lense through which problems and opportunities are viewed. Pragmatism (in the sense used in both the question and the response) is tantamount to realpolitik, which is the practice of politics without moral or ethical values.

I myself have an issue with the American political system because it IS largely bereft of ideology – outside the leitmotif of neoliberal economics and neoconservative foreign policy. The GOP and the DLC indeed propound the above ideologies and to a great extent base their world-view through ideologically-tinted glasses, but it is a alse ideology in more ways than one. What is worse is that neither group actually articulate their ideology in political discourse with the electorate – it is hidden through rhetorical flourish and spin.

Neoliberalism is a false ideology because it was created ex post facto in order to justify a pre-existing condition (laissez faire capitalism, “free marketism”, greed, abuse, etc. ). It was created in Mt. Pellegrin on the basis of the Austrian School of economic theory and it is wholly divorced from democratic principles (the common weal, etc). Neoconservatism is philosophically based on a serially mendacious ndividual (Leo Strauss) that Justifies manipulation and lies.

Nevertheless, America NEEDS ideologies because, for too long our political discourse has been driven by relatively unimportant, short-term and specific issues such as abortion, gun control, immigration, and the like. Neither party has expressed a long- term goal and of course strategies to achieve said goals – while both parties have gone their merry way maintaining a situation of corporate corruption and the tyranny of special interests. This makes American political discourse something of a bad Joke and party affilliation little different from being a fan of a sports team…. cepting, of course, those “earthshaking” issues such as Terry Schiavo’s cerebral cortex. Politicis in a democracy is indeed the balancing and negotiation between sides, groups and individuals. The response’s confusion between values and ideology clouds the issue – in a democracy with ideologically-driven parties (that articulate said ideologies) the compromises take on a different meaning and scope. The absence of ideology turns our body politic into a trade show – and keeps the electorate from fighting for a better future. Hear, Hear, from the OTHER District of Columbia, Washington State.

The Columbia River restricts access, Just like the security forces in D. C. ) Here our politics has shitted over the years as well, even though, tortunately, we are rather progressive. Pragmatism is an important factor in the decisions politicians make, and sometimes utopians lose sight of the dangers and difficulties in making things turn out right. Even so, I agree with the utopians regarding their goals and commitment. The main questions involve what to do about the fact that not everybody agrees, at least in the short term, on the issues. I urge utopians to maintain their goodwill, while nderstanding reality as much as possible.

Fighting for justice and a well-adjusted society requires patience and effort, which can often cause people to quit working for a better future. I urge steadfastness to principle here. Idealism is good, as long as you realize that not everybody is idealistic. Progress in human affairs is difficult and somewhat uncertain. But we do have evidence of its existence. Let’s stick to our beliefs, through thick and thin. Remember to use your head to help your heartfelt beliefs come to realization, because finding the answers to problems takes thinking and effort.

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