But this is mistaken. It's wrong to think that people can just be pragmatists and then everything will work out. Pragmatists -- people who are only interested in practical solutions, in doing what works -- can't fix anything unless they have an idea about what works. And that's what an ideology is: An idea about what works. A pragmatist has to have an ideology in order to solve a problem. Otherwise, they're just going to sit around dumbfounded. Pragmatism without ideology is empty.
And many of our disagreements in politics come down to disagreements in what works and what doesn't work. We have different beliefs about whether tax cuts, minimum wage increases, etc., have beneficial effects. We believe that certain things work, and that other people are wrong to think that they don't work. And these disagreements are very difficult to resolve, because the empirical world is complex. We're very quick -- too quick -- to insist that our opponents support "failed polices" -- i.e., that their ideology is false, that their beliefs about what works are wrong.
It's pointless to dismiss someone's beliefs as "ideology". Everyone has an ideology. The burden is to prove that your ideology is correct, to demonstrate that what you believe works really does work. And that's not easy to do.
What is easy is to just say, "Well, they're ideologues, I'm a pragmatist." Easy, but not informative about what works.
EXAMPLES AND ANALYSIS
"So often in the past there's been a sharp division between left and right, between capitalist and communist or socialist. And especially in the Americas, that's been a big debate, right? Oh, you know, you're a capitalist Yankee dog, and oh, you know, you're some crazy communist that's going to take away everybody's property. And I mean, those are interesting intellectual arguments, but I think for your generation, you should be practical and just choose from what works. You don't have to worry about whether it neatly fits into socialist theory or capitalist theory -- you should just decide what works."-- President Barack Obama, March 23, 2016.
Comment: It is a platitude to say that people should do what works, that they should be pragmatists rather than ideologues. A believe about what "works" is none other than an ideology. Communists believe that centralized government control of the economy works; capitalists believe that free markets work. Given how complicated human behavior is, and how difficult it is to study, perhaps it's true that communist ideology is not 100% right or 100% wrong in its belief about what works, and perhaps the same is true of capitalism. But that doesn't mean abandoning ideology. Anyone who claims to be a pragmatist has to take a stand on what works; the moment they do, they have an ideology (i.e., an idea about how things should be done).
"On the Democratic side, we agree on a number of things. But I don't think we can answer that question by re-fighting battles from 20 years ago," Clinton said in a nod to the fact she backed the North American Free Trade Agreement, a trade deal that Sanders has cited to attack the former first lady.-- Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, March 4, 2016, as related in a story by Dan Merica of CNN.
Clinton added, "Anyone running for president owes it to you to come up with real ideas, not an ideology, not an old set of talking points, but a credible strategy designed for the world we live in now. And that is exactly what I am here today to do."
Comment: This is "rehashing old debates", "talking points", and "ideologue" rhetoric. If people disagree with the North American Free Trade Agreement, why can't they criticize Clinton for supporting it? Why should such criticism be dismissed as talking points or ideology?
If you want to witness an adamantine mind at work, you could do a whole lot worse that observe the 44th president of the United States. Barack Obama is the most rigidly ideological president of my lifetime, a man who has a nearly blind adherence to a particular ideology (progressivism). It’s a disturbing, if at times a psychologically fascinating, thing to witness. We’re seeing it play out in multiple ways, but let me offer just one illustration — his approach to jihadism. It has been clear from the start of his presidency that Mr. Obama has decided that Islam is wholly separate from Islamic terrorism, which explains his refusal to use the words (or variations of the words) radical or militant Islam. It also explains why his administration has used absurd euphemisms like “man-caused disaster” and “workplace violence” to describe Islam-inspired attacks. Why the 2009 Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was an “isolated extremist.” Why the shooting at a Kosher supermarket in Paris earlier this year was “random.” (The gunman had declared his allegiance to ISIS.) And why the president, in an effort to protect Islam, invokes the Crusades at a National Prayer Breakfast, despite the fact that the Crusades happened roughly a thousand years ago. On and on it goes. … Here’s the problem: There is an independent reality apart from what Mr. Obama thinks. He can ignore the truth, but he cannot wish it out of existence. And by ignoring the reality of things, he makes everything worse.-- Pundit Peter Wehner, December 4, 2015.
Comment: First, Wehner is accusing Obama of being an ideologue. Second, it's one thing to denounce somebody for persisting in a false belief despite evidence to the contrary; it's another to say accuse such a person of being detached from reality. Aren't there lots of people in politics (and not on one side) who stick with questionable beliefs? Are they all "wishing away independent reality"?
One supporter, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), described the legislation as “the most significant surveillance reform in decades.”-- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), June 2, 2015, from a story that day by Mike DeBonis in The Washington Post. Leahy's remarks concerned the USA Freedom Act.
“We’ve done it by setting aside ideology, setting aside fear-mongering,” said Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “We’ll protect the security of the United States, but we’ll also protect the privacy of Americans.”
Comment: Leahy is using "ideologues" and "fear-mongering" rhetoric.
Think about how the Democratic presidential race is lining up. According to the Washington Post, “Hillary Rodham Clinton is running as the most liberal Democratic presidential front-runner in decades, with positions on issues … that would, in past elections, have put her at her party’s precarious left edge.” Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is running to her left. And Bernie Sanders is running to his left. And yet despite this, Democrats and liberals continue to act as if it’s Republicans and conservatives who are extreme, radical, revolutionary, on the fringe. Progressives have created an alternate reality in which they are moderate, temperate, centrist, the very model of reasonableness. They are blind to their own zeal and dogmatism, their own immoderation and intolerance. The Democratic Party was once a great party. It may be a great party again. But for now, it is a radical party — and growing more radical by the day.-- Pundit Peter Wehner, June 2, 2015.
Comment: Wehner is using "extremist" rhetoric, essentially saying that Democrats are ideologues who are divorced from reality.
Paul Krugman is very concerned about ideologues. “The most reckless and dangerous ideologues,” he wrote in the New York Times last week, “are often those who imagine themselves ideology-free.” You know, people like this guy. The Krug is especially annoyed that certain ideologically and intellectually bankrupt deviants (i.e., Republicans) refuse to admit that everything they ever said about Obamacare turned out to be wrong … No doubt Krugman is very concerned for the intellectual integrity of the Democratic politicians who fail to admit their predictions were wrong. Because, in Krugman’s view, “never being able to say that you were wrong is a serious character flaw,” and “moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office.” Krugman, of course, has never been wrong—except when he has. Fellow liberal Jeffrey Sachs recently took him to task for repeatedly predicting that efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit in 2013 would inflict “severe economic damage” and prevent the economy from ever experiencing a full recovery. The budget deficit was reduced, and yet the economy did recover, as Krugman noted in his celebratory 2014 column, “The Obama Recovery,” in which Sachs chided him for “claiming vindication for ideas that recent trends seem to contradict.”-- Pundit Andrew Stiles, May 5, 2015, in an article entitled, "Paul Krugman Is a Self-Righteous Moron". Krugman's remarks come from a May 1, 2015, article.
Comment: The headline is name-calling of the "stupid" variety. Stiles is also accusing Krugman of hypocrisy. Krugman is using "ideologue" rhetoric.
The 2016 campaign should be almost entirely about issues. The parties are far apart on everything from the environment to fiscal policy to health care, and history tells us that what politicians say during a campaign is a good guide to how they will govern. Nonetheless, many in the news media will try to make the campaign about personalities and character instead. And character isn’t totally irrelevant. The next president will surely encounter issues that aren’t currently on anyone’s agenda, so it matters how he or she is likely to react. But the character trait that will matter most isn’t one the press likes to focus on. In fact, it’s actively discouraged. … No, what you should really look for, in a world that keeps throwing nasty surprises at us, is intellectual integrity: the willingness to face facts even if they’re at odds with one’s preconceptions, the willingness to admit mistakes and change course. And that’s a virtue in very short supply. … Just to be clear, I’m not calling for an end to ideology in politics, because that’s impossible. Everyone has an ideology, a view about how the world does and should work. Indeed, the most reckless and dangerous ideologues are often those who imagine themselves ideology-free — for example, self-proclaimed centrists — and are, therefore, unaware of their own biases. What you should seek, in yourself and others, is not an absence of ideology but an open mind, willing to consider the possibility that parts of the ideology may be wrong. … So what’s the state of intellectual integrity at this point in the election cycle? Pretty bad, at least on the Republican side of the field. … as far as I can tell no important Republican figure has admitted that none of the terrible consequences that were supposed to follow health reform — mass cancellation of existing policies, soaring premiums, job destruction — has actually happened. The point is that we’re not just talking about being wrong on specific policy questions. We’re talking about never admitting error, and never revising one’s views. Never being able to say that you were wrong is a serious character flaw even if the consequences of that refusal to admit error fall only on a few people. But moral cowardice should be outright disqualifying in anyone seeking high office.-- Pundit Paul Krugman, May 1, 2015.
Comment: Krugman is discussing the topic of character in politics. He makes a good point about ideology (i.e., everybody has one, you can't get rid of it), but he leaves the impression that only Republicans refuse to take responsibility for their failed predictions. That is, he's resorting to the "only my opponent" caricature and demonizing Republicans by suggesting that they don't care about truth. Krugman also exaggerates when he says Republicans "never" admit error. Perhaps this is a tu quoque argument on my part, but is it a lack of intellectual integrity for Krugman to only be alarmed at the absence of accountability of Republicans, and not Democrats as well? After all, President Barack Obama and other Democrats made predictions about the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") that didn't come true (e.g., premiums will drop by up to $2,500 dollars, if you like your plan or doctor, you can keep them, etc.), but they haven't owned up to their errors, have they?
The argument Stewart and Stephanopoulos were throwing out–we’re dramatically under-investing in America’s cities–is liberal claptrap. … We’re spending an enormous amount of money on a system that isn’t producing, and it’s liberal interest groups (e.g., education unions) and the Democratic Party that are ferocious opponents of the kind of reforms that would improve American education. … For all their self-proclaimed compassion, liberals and liberalism are, in important respects, doing significant damage to the young people in America, and most especially to the most vulnerable in our midst. Messrs. Stewart and Stephanopoulos don’t seem to realize this, but they should. Because human lives should take priority over political ideology.-- Pundit Peter Wehner, April 29, 2015. His comments concerned an interview of ABC News' George Stephanopoulos by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show.
Comment: Wehner is accusing Stewart and Stephanopoulos of being ideologues, and demonizing them by saying the care more about ideology than people. It's a platitude to say that human lives count more than ideology.
"This man is a nihilist and a narcissist and an extremist. … What Obama is saying and doing is the lowest of the low now. He really is not a leader of a great people. He's not a leader of a great nation. He is stuck in his own ideology."-- Pundit Mark Levin, February 5, 2015, responding to President Barack Obama's speech earlier that day at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Comment: First, Levin is indulging in "extremist" and "ideologue" rhetoric. More, however much Levin may disagree with Obama's speech — he warned against denigrating Islam on the basis of recent terror attacks by pointing out the history of violence in Christianity — is Obama really behaving on par with the "lowest of the low"? Obama's speech was as bad as Hitler and the Holocaust? Of course not, so Levin is exaggerating at best, if not just outright demonizing Obama.
"In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan."-- President Barack Obama, January 20, 2015, during the 2015 State of the Union address.
Comment: This remark is along the lines of "ideological" or "common sense" or "bipartisan" rhetoric. Partisanship is a result of disagreements about what ideas are practical or not. Does anyone support ideas that they think are impractical?
"Well, our view is and our position is what it has always been. The American people cannot and the president will not on their behalf pay a ransom, an ideological ransom so -- just so that Congress will do its job and pay the bills that Congress has racked up. That’s just irresponsible. It would be, again, to inflict serious damage on the economy and the middle class at a time when the economy is poised to grow further and to create even more jobs. So, you know, we're not going to pay a ransom. When it comes to insuring that the United States doesn't default for the first time in its history. We saw this movie before, and a lot of republicans, including senior republican leaders on Capitol Hill, said aft the shutdown and after that disastrous ideological effort that they would not go down that road again. So we certainly hope that that's the case."-- White House briefing with Press Secretary Jay Carney, posted January 27, 2014.
Comment: This is "ideologues" and "hostage-taking" rhetoric.
Examples from 2013.
Examples from 2012.
"We're going to call ourselves the radical center, the people who care about results, not rhetoric".-- Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), December 13, 2010, at the launch of the No Labels Party.
Comment: Don't ideologues care about results?
"And the notion that I would somehow resist doing something that cost half as much but would produce twice as many jobs -- why would I resist that? I wouldn't. I mean, that's my point, is that -- I am not an ideologue. I'm not. It doesn't make sense if somebody could tell me, "You could do this cheaper and get increased results," that I wouldn't say, "Great.""-- President Barack Obama, January 29, 2010, at the GOP House Issues Conference on health care reform.
Comment: But, then, isn't the same respect due to Obama's opponents? Wouldn't they also adopt something if it were cheaper and would get better results? Of course they would. The point is that Obama and Democrats disagree with Republicans about what policies will be cheaper and get better results.
(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)