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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Convictions for Sale? Vote Romney!

Pragmatism: a philosophical movement or system having various forms, but generally stressing practical consequences as constituting the essential criterion in determining meaning,truth, or value.

Hmm. Given that definition, I would have to agree with those who say that Mitt Romney is a pragmatist. But while Michael Gerson of the Washington Post praises him for it, I cannot do the same. While I agree that some decisions must be made with a certain degree of pragmatism or practicality, there is a danger in allowing all decisions to be made only considering pragmatism and practicality. 

The risk inherent in being a pure pragmatist is that no new venture can truly be undertaken. Every new idea will be hamstrung by the claim that the old ways work, and even modification of the old ways would likely lead to failure. Pure pragmatism leaves America undiscovered and humanity unevolved.

Pragmatism in politics is the same, except it's worse. The pragmatic approach to elections is to determine which candidate is likely to offend the fewest number of people - making him/her "electable." The problem here is that truth is very often offensive. The candidate that strives for truth then becomes the least electable because people find him offensive. The candidate that seeks to obscure truth in order to offend fewer people becomes the most electable. In the case of Romney, Gerson makes the following point:
"Romney has this advantage: In supporting him, no Republican is called upon to surrender his or her deepest ideological convictions. Romney is temperamentally conservative but not particularly ideological. He reserves his enthusiasm for quantitative analysis and organizational discipline. He seems to view the cultural and philosophic debates that drive others as distractions from the real task of governing — making systems work. 
His competitors have attempted to portray Romney’s ideological inconsistency over time as a character failure. It hasn’t worked, mainly because Romney is a man of exemplary character — deeply loyal to his faith, his family and his country. But he clearly places political ideology in a different category of fidelity. Like Dwight Eisenhower, Romney is a man of vague ideology and deep values. In political matters, he is empirical and pragmatic. He studies problems, assesses risks, calculates likely outcomes. Those expecting Romney to be a philosophic leader will be disappointed."
And Gerson may be right. Romney may indeed be a man of exemplary character...at home. But the voting public needs to be concerned with the character he shows when holding an elected office. For example, Romney explained away the criticisms of RomneyCare by suggesting that he had weighed the outcome and done what was practical and sensible - he went along with the majority lest they go along without him. Thus he did what was practical and pragmatic for Romney, not necessarily what was sensible for the people - after all, RomneyCare proceeded to bankrupt the state of Massachusetts, leading them to request a federal bailout in 2008.


Gerson also suggests that Romney is not terribly "ideological." So let's look at what the dictionary has to say about that:


Ideology:the body of doctrine, myth, belief, etc., that guides an individual, social movementinstitution, class, or large group.


If pragmatism becomes the "body of doctrine" that is guiding Mitt Romney - as his time in office would lead us to believe - then pragmatism, is in fact his ideology. An ideology based solely on what is most practical at the time will give us a leader who waits until the chips start to fall before he places his bet - a Commander in Chief who waits to see which side is likely to win before he declares allegiance. It give us a President whose understanding of principle extends only as far as the political expediency of a given principle.

The risk inherent in electing a pure pragmatist is that we do need to surrender deep ideological convictions to do so. We place our power in the hands of someone who claims no such convictions. We give our voices to someone who has told us - in actions if not in words - that our convictions will be bought and sold in the name of political convenience. 

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