(seeder not working)
(Article is from 2008)
If "pragmatic" is the highest praise one can offer in DC these days, "ideological" is perhaps the sharpest slur.
But privileging pragmatism over ideology, while perhaps understandable in the wake of the Bush years, misses the point. For one thing, as Glenn Greenwald has astutely pointed out on his blog, while ideology can lead decision-makers to ignore facts, it is also what sets the limiting conditions for any pragmatic calculation of interests.
Indeed, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, "pragmatists" of all stripes--Alan Dershowitz, Richard Posner--lined up to offer tips and strategies on how best to implement a practical and effective torture regime; but ideologues said no torture, no exceptions. Same goes for the Iraq War, which many "pragmatic" lawmakers--Hillary Clinton, Arlen Specter--voted for and which ideologues across the political spectrum, from Ron Paul to Bernie Sanders, opposed. Of course, by any reckoning, the war didn't work. That is, it failed to be a practical, nonideological improvement to the nation's security. This, despite the fact that so many willed themselves to believe that the benefits would clearly outweigh the costs. Principle is often pragmatism's guardian. Particularly at times of crisis, when a polity succumbs to collective madness or delusion, it is only the obstinate ideologues who refuse to go along. Expediency may be a virtue in virtuous times, but it's a vice in vicious ones.
There's another problem with the fetishization of the pragmatic, which is the brute fact that, at some level, ideology is inescapable. Obama may have told Steve Kroft that he's solely interested in "what works," but what constitutes "working" is not self-evident and, indeed, is impossible to detach from some worldview and set of principles.
In a 1987 profile, which ran soon after Greenspan's appointment as Fed chair, the Times quoted a fellow economist who said Greenspan didn't fit into any set ideological category. "If he's anything," the colleague remarked, "he's a pragmatist, and as such, he is somewhat unpredictable.'' The rest of the article chronicled Greenspan's support for wholesale deregulation of the financial industry and philosophical devotion to Ayn Rand. It's tempting to conclude that Greenspan's ideology was allowed to wreak the havoc it did only because it was never actually called by its name.