I have been enjoying the Remnant podcasts from Jonah Goldberg. He wrote one of my favorite books on politics, Liberal Fascism.
He has had several political wonks on the podcast and he ends with the question, “What have you learned in Washington that surprised you?” His most recent guest, Steve Hayward in Episode 12, replied that voters really do not care about policy.
This is a question that I keep returning to, and those of us who like to dig into the details of policy would prefer that this is not the case, but I sense he is correct.
Ultimately ideology may matter because in the long term bad ideology will deliver bad results, but to most voters the connection is rarely made. Perhaps the biggest difference between the left and right is the time frame.
Pragmatism is a short-term approach and it dominates our political thinking. The left may dismiss ideologues, but one of the outcomes of this is Donald Trump. Say what you want about Trump, he is no ideologue.
Pragmatism became a formal school of thought during the Progressive Era. Politicians brag on being pragmatic. Making pragmatism (small ‘p’) into an ideology (Pragmatism with a capital ‘P’) means that pragmatism as the rejection of ideology must reject itself. Likewise calling yourself ‘Progressive’ today often means reaching for ideology that is a century old. Being semantically progressive today means rejecting the Progressivism of its first ERA. Eugenics anyone? Part of making ideology functional is to acknowledge its imperfections. It is one thing to acknowledge an ideology even if unusual times may require modification. The ideologue as a pejorative is the one who does not acknowledge this.
It is one thing to work with the imperfections in an ideology, but quite another to reject its logic, strengths and purpose, Pragmatism may be a way of holding an ideology accountable, but without the ideology it is unmoored and unsustainable. Pure pragmatism is a compass with no true north.
Voters respond to tribal and cultural cues more than ideology. They respond to demons and saviors more than ideas. I find this unsettling, but a reality that must be accepted in the competition of ideas. Ideas must be expressed in a way that connects culturally. FDR and Reagan accomplished this but it is very uncommon.
Is this why the framers of the constitution feared democracy? They likely wanted the principles of the constitution to be beyond the reach of demagogues and populists. Democracy was suitable for the management of local government but ill-suited for broad national solutions to economic and social problems played out locally. The treatment of blacks required a national standard and the growth of entitlements drove more economic decisions to the national level.
But the major flaw to progressive thinking is the rejection of the founding principles as contingent on the time of their development. The rejection of these principles to the seduction of pragmatism has made ideology into a pejorative. The parties have become a means for winning elections based on just about anything but ideas.
by Henry Oliner