Posts Tagged ‘ pragmatism ’

Obama’s a pragmatist? Finally, some good news.

(Inspiration thanks to the Daily Dish)

David Kurtz describes the compromise President Obama reached with Senate Republicans to extend all the Bush-era tax-cuts for two years in exchange for a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits and a number of other economic stimulants as a “turning point … in how we understand and perceive him.” He goes on to say that no longer will Obama be seen as a “progressive savior,” but rather as a plain ‘ole pragmatist. To that I say: “Thank goodness!” It’s why I voted for the guy. And I hope Kurtz is right.

Many reactions on the left fall somewhere between outrage at Obama’s “capitulation” and a dispirited cynicism because they don’t like the deal, but “it could be worse.” Yes, it is an imperfect deal (I, for one, despise the estate tax reduction), but it accomplishes what Obama felt was the most urgent issue before Congress: extending unemployment benefits. And that is what a pragmatist does. A pragmatist understands the broader decision-making context and seeks to achieve what is possible, not what is ideal. Sure, he could’ve used the bully pulpit over the next two years to castigate the GOP for its unforgivable legislative intransigence, and that might’ve had a discernible impact on his chances for re-election in 2012. But that wouldn’t have passed a measure which will have the greatest impact on getting money back into our economy.

And those who argue that widespread public agreement with Obama and the Democrats over the tax-cuts for the wealthy justifies a showdown with the GOP have a fundamental misunderstanding of how policy is made in this country. If the fate of the Bush tax-cuts were decided by popular referendum, the public opinion argument would mean something. But since it is elected officials who actually vote for (or against) a policy, and since Senate Republicans had vowed to kill any legislation which did not extend all the Bush tax-cuts (and would succeed because of the Senate’s broken filibuster procedure), such public support was essentially meaningless. To put it another way, Obama and the Democrats can scream at the top of their lungs, “THE PEOPLE SUPPORT THIS!!!” and Jim DeMint can – and will – simply say, “But I don’t care.” And that is where any chance of actually governing ends.

All of which makes it clear that we are lucky Obama is a pragmatist rather than some kind of progressive ideologue. He surveyed the political landscape, saw that it was unfavorable, and made the best decision he could based on the resources available to achieve what he thought was most important. It wasn’t a shrewd political calculation about getting re-elected in 2012, nor was it a sign of weakness in the face of staunch Republican opposition. It was a realistic appraisal of what was needed to get what he truly believed was most necessary for the country as a whole. Pragmatism isn’t glorious, but it is effective, and that’s what we need most urgently in a leader.

Having said all of that, I still think there’s all-too-often an erroneous impulse to lay all the blame or the glory at Obama’s feet. He’s one man. Let’s think big picture here, unless the House Dems scribble all over it next week and leave us with no meaningful economic bill at the end of the lame-duck session.


Who is responsible for the death of Billy Bibbit? A politician’s guide.

Liberal:  Nurse Ratched’s oppressive “therapies” prevented the beautiful flower in Billy’s soul from growing to its full potential.

Conservative:  That R.P. McMurphy was a no-account rabble-rouser if I’ve ever seen one. No respect for that nice Nurse Ratched’s authority; she’s stern, but only because she has to be – people need the stability of tradition.

Libertarian:  Billy Bibbit did not exercise personal responsibility, and that’s the cost of freedom.

Fascist:  Unnecessary excitement and improper expressions of emotion lead to chaos. Such protocols are designed for your protection, and they must be obeyed. Or else.

Neoliberal:  Well, they should’ve looked for alternative methods to compare and then selected the one that would make the most prof– I mean, yield the best patient outcomes. This is really just a case of market restriction.

Communist:  The bourgeois investors who fund the institution and perpetuate a system that shackles the less fortunate for the profit of those who have! Viva la revolucion McMurphy!

Neoconservative:  They should’a lobotomized McMurphy the minute he set foot in that institution! Punk’s like that’ll never learn! You gotta deal with ’em once and deal with ’em for good! Just look what happens when they’re allowed to roam free and do whatever they like …

I knew that “Contemporary Political Ideologies” class would come in handy one day!

Pragmatist:  Well, you really have to look at the big picture and the confluence of several conflicting forces; for example, the stubborn rigidity of Nurse Ratched’s “therapy” against the unrepentant rebellion of McMurphy, which caused an upset in the– Oh, you’re not listening anymore? Oh well. It’s not like anything I could’ve said was going to change your mind anyways …