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Hullabaloo


Monday, October 08, 2012

 
Pragmatism and White Whales

by digby


Who is Ezra talking about here?

" ______ isn’t an ideological moderate. He’s a pragmatic executive. When he needs to govern from the center, he does. When he needs to lurch to the right, off he goes. So if you want to know how he’ll govern, don’t listen to what he says. Look at who he has reason to fear.

He's talking about Romney but it struck me that he could have just as easily been talking about Obama. But Obama is very different in one important way. He did not run a flip flop campaign in 2008 as Mitt Romney is doing today. He said this explicitly before the inauguration:

"I don't want to get bottled up in a lot of ideology and 'Is this conservative or liberal?' My interest is finding something that works."

He's always been honest about what he was. Romney, not so much. But when you have a rabid right wing and a tepid left wing, I'm afraid the dynamic remains the same, whether the "pragmatic executive" is a Republican or a Democrat, no?

When I read Ezra's piece this morning I couldn't help but be reminded of this wonderful piece by Chris Hayes back in December of 2008 (which I wrote about here) discussing Obama's "pragmatism":

The chief failure of Bushism, according to [Obama adviser Cass]Sunstein, is not its content but its form. Not the substance of ideology but the fact that he was too wedded to it, too rigid and dogmatic. It's a view widely held in Washington. Many, like Sunstein, have drawn a lesson from the past eight years that is not about the failure of conservatism--neo or otherwise--or the dangers of the particularly toxic ideological disposition of the Bush administration, of larding public dollars on your cronies and friends, of exacerbating inequality while gutting regulatory oversight, of eviscerating centuries-old common law protections or of starting pre-emptive wars.

No, through a kind of collective category error, they have alighted on a far more general moral to the story: ideology, in any form, is dangerous. "Obama's victory does not signal a shift in ideology in this country," wrote Roger Simon in Politico. "It signals that the American public has grown weary of ideologies." No less an ideologue than Pat Buchanan has come to this same understanding: "If there is a one root cause to the Bush failures," he wrote, "it has been his fatal embrace of ideology."

If "pragmatic" is the highest praise one can offer in DC these days, "ideological" is perhaps the sharpest slur. And it is by this twisted logic that the crimes of the Bush cabinet are laid at the feet of the blogosphere, that the sins of Paul Wolfowitz end up draped upon the slender shoulders of Dennis Kucinich.

He talked about the great liberal assumption that Obama was simply hiding his ideology for political purposes and asked an important question:

[T]here will be moments in the next four years when a principled fight will be required, and if there is an uneasiness rippling through the minds of some progressives, it arises from their doubts about just how willing Obama will be to fight those fights. When a friend of mine decided to run for office this year, someone suggested that he write down a list of positions he wouldn't take, votes he wouldn't cast, then put it in a safe and give someone the key. The idea was that by committing himself in writing to some basic skeletal list of principles, he'd be at least partially anchored against the slippery slope of compromise that so often leads elected officials to lose their way.

Does Obama have such a list? And if so, what's on it?

After four years, do you know the answer to that question?

Hayes, made the point in his piece that ideology is really inevitable and it forms the basis for the decisions of even the most "pragmatic executive". So, if I had to guess at this moment, I'd have to say that he does have a list and at the top of his list is what Matt Yglesias calls his "white whale" -- the Grand Bargain. He's certainly been pursuing it relentlessly since January of 2009. I don't believe that it's a matter of pragmatism --- it's ideology.

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