The GOP presidential candidates this year, notes Harold Meyerson in today’s Washington Post, adhere to the fundamental Republican laws handed down by Goldwater and Reagan: All government interventions on behalf of the people are inherently wrong. They erode freedom. The market can do a better job of whatever it is that needs doing.

What the Republican field fails to realize is that the America that Goldwater and Reagan defended against the presumed predations of government no longer exists. When Barry and Ronnie walked the earth, most Americans had enduring relations with their employers (ensured, in many cases, by a union contract), and their employers often provided them with health benefits and a pension. Most banks and corporations had not yet traded in their American citizenship for a new global identity that places millions of Americans’ jobs and pay levels in competition with those of billions of workers in distant climes.

Clearly, the private sector that Barry and Ron extolled while denouncing government ain’t what it used to be, and Americans know it.

By the evidence of all polls, Americans are now looking more to government to provide, at least in health care, some of the security that employers used to offer. A recent Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll even showed that 59 percent of Republicans believe that foreign trade is bad for the U.S. economy, vs. just 32 percent who think it’s good.

Somehow, news of this transformation has not reached the Republican candidates, who still rail against government assistance to help Americans pay for college and health care and offer glowing affirmations of free trade. Nor has it reached the Republican Party or the conservative movement more generally. The serious postmortems for President Bush’s ultra-Reaganite and uber-Goldwateristic plan to privatize Social Security — the questioning of the sanity of such a proposal at a time when employer-provided pension plans were dropping like flies — have yet to be conducted in conservative circles. Indeed, Fred Thompson is still mumbling about cutting Social Security. Ol’ Fred may have slept through 2005 — the year of privatization’s protracted stillbirth — but did the entire party?

The Republicans’ problem isn’t just the silence of their candidates. It’s the silence of their ideology, which has neglected to notice that the world has changed.

When does pragmatism win over ideology?

2 thoughts on “When does pragmatism win over ideology?

  • Lots of issues in this post. I respectfully disagree, though, with your premise that “the world has changed”. And now I start my ramblings…

    What I believe is different this time around (and maybe I noticed because I’m paying more attention) is that conservatives feel as if they are given lip service by so-called republicans. I love the concept of small government, but I’m not ready to believe that is the conviction of a politician until I see him/her practice what he/she preaches. Therein lies much of the problem—Republicans as much as Democrats are guilty of spending more of my money.

    I am not for government-provided health care, which I believe will bankrupt an already severely maligned system. I can see it now going down the same road as government funded education. Problem–our education system is broken. Solution—let’s throw more money into it, because what we already put into it is not enough! South Korea is the top ranked country on many lists regarding education, when the US is somewhere in the 20’s on the same rankings. Yet, South Korea spends less than half the amount on education than does the US.

    While I’m sure that there are some unions out there who do a good job (at least I’m praying that this is the case), the unions that I’ve worked with didn’t provide an advantage to its members. Simple logic would and a little analysis would demonstrate this, but the fear that unions put into the minds of its members blinded them to this possibility. I feel sorry for the person who thinks that a huge membership-fee-collecting group could negotiate one person’s best interests better than that person. If this is the case, then that person really needs to look at another company.

    As far as security in health care, I would lean more away from the government that I would from my employer. I have much more options regarding health care (with my employer and without my employer) now than I would if there was only government-provided health care.

    Just like anything, the answers lie in moderation. Rules and laws are in place to keep private citizens and companies in line. However, too much governance serves as a hindrance. The challenge is finding that balance. However, I think the most popular route, which I can deduce only from the deafening silence from conservatives, is more government and less personal responsibility, which is a truly sad state of affairs.

  • I like the question, actually, but I’m going to pull a Donald Rumsfeld here and say something like: I disagree with the premise of the question (hey, I know there are no Rummy lovers here…but you had to love his press conferences):

    When DOES pragmatism win over ideology?

    Let’s walk through that:

    Not that you’re making an argument but instead just opening a discussion, but could it be said that you are positing that shifting more responsibility for Americans’ financial well-being from employers to the Government is “pragmatic.”

    And are you further taking the position that anyone that argues that shifting more of that responsibility from employers to individuals’ is indeed NOT being pragmatic, but instead “ideological?”

    Or could one make the argument that BOTH the Libertarian view AND the Bigger Government view are indeed ideologies and that we should discuss:

    a) the ideologies themselves, i.e. how much financial responsibility SHOULD the federal government have in Americans’ daily lives, and how much SHOULD remain the responsibility of individuals and families…regardless of the outcome?


    b) have things REALLY changed so much from a micro-economical standpoint so that we have an obligation to make DRASTIC changes to the above-mentioned role.

    Am I bogged down in semantics, here?

    In other words, we all have ideologies, and it’s important for us to be simply open about them, instead of assuming that SOME ideologies are just “pragmatic.”

    Anyway, the answer to the question? Always.

    My take is, there is no evidence that Americans on the average are SO drastically bad off that MORE government control is the answer, and if they WERE SO bad off there is little evidence that MORE government control and wealth distribution is definitely the answer.

    Our Federal Leadership felt it was the answer in the 70s, and the result was severe economic stress: gas prices higher than todays in real dollars, 14% interest rates, which meant it was virtually impossible for middle class to buy a house.

    Severe government control almost ALWAYS guarantees REDUCING middle class, and WIDENING the gap between rich and poor, not the other way around.

    Two other points (and this is where you and I might have some agreement–a little anyway):

    1) People in the latter part of the industrial age (which is virtually behind us) are/were indeed too dependent on their employers for health coverage, retirement, etc. And of course, that doesn’t mean that families should be more dependent on the Federal Government instead.

    2) Our international trade agreements and our domestic and international MONETARY policies are STRICTLY our Federal Governments’ responsibility, and it is THOSE policies that will effectively help us navigate this shifting world. FISCAL policies (taxing and spending) in EITHER DIRECTION–less taxes or more taxes–will NOT solve these problems.

    I would guess that at LEAST HALF the Republicans (8 now?) still on the ticket would agree with the position that our trade policies and monetary policies are critical in helping the next generation navigate the global economy.

    Now would you say that the current system where the Federal Bank has SO much operating control over our financial future is a good measuring stick to determine whether, “looking to government to provide” is advisable, popular or not?

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