Thursday, December 4, 2008
Pragmatism: The Key to Post-Partisanship
President-Elect Obama’s taking office on January 20th 2009 will not only mark a new chapter in American history and in American politics, but it will also herald an end to the dominance neoconservative political philosophy, and more specifically an end to the Bush brand of blind idealism. Judging by how the president-elect has conducted himself thus far, there is every reason to expect the Obama administration to be a renaissance of pragmatism.
Throughout the Bush presidency, it was noted how the president was “in a bubble.” Many speculated that the Bush bubble was one of ignorance. As critics and satirists put it, Bush’s blunders can be attributed to a “lack of intellectual curiosity.” While they may be right in theory, they are incorrect in emphasis. For it was not a lack of intellect per se, but rather an absence of curiosity (Bush was surrounded by theoretical and academic notions. It is just that he bought into bankrupt, baseless, and obsolete schools of thought wholeheartedly and without question, Reaganomics and neoconservative foreign policy for example.). The true character flaw of the protagonist in what has been an eight-act presidential tragedy was groupthink and a dearth of differing political perspectives.
As a byproduct of this groupthink, we were left with a presidency run almost entirely on ideology and without any regard for reality. Bush was entangled by his own ideals. Who else looks about 9/11 and sees an opportunity to the neoconservative thought experiment of democracy exportation in Iraq?
Moderation and debate are windows into truth. It appears likely that with “team of rivals” Obama has assembled- keeping Robert Gates, Bush appointee, at Secretary of Defense and appointing General James Jones, close friend of Sen. John McCain, at National Security Adviser; he will be able to distill opposing political perspectives into pragmatic solutions. Moreover, the severity of this economic hurricane has shifted the political winds of Washington. Crisises clear the ideological clouds which under normal circumstances creates congressional gridlock. Politicians put aside partisan principles when they know their constituents cannot afford (in this case literally) inaction.
Divided as our politics has been these past several years, the pragmatism that the economic crisis dictates we demonstrate can bring us together (for however short a time). “What needs to be done?” is not a partisan question as is “what should be done?” There is nothing ideological about preventing our recession descending into another Great Depression, or trying to reduce the numbers of unwanted pregnancies, or effectively fighting terrorism.
What makes Obama special is not that he will be coming to Washington with all of the answers, but rather that he knows that the “what needs to be done” question is the truly pertinent one. This approach coupled with a willingness to listen to all players provides hope that the prominence divisive politics that has characterized our government for so long may be receding.