Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Idealism, Pragmatism, and Reality

Voters voting dreams

A few days before the Iowa caucuses, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus wrote:
How would [Senator Bernie] Sanders manage the massively more daunting feat of enacting a single-payer health-care program? Or providing free public college and university tuition for all? Or raising the taxes necessary to pay for everything? 
Of course, Sanders’s answer to this challenge is to argue that Obama encountered stumbling blocks precisely because his approach was not revolutionary enough.
Change is hard – whether it's changing jobs, adopting a healthy lifestyle, or fighting a toxic addiction. Getting change correct is harder, but change we must with a dynamic society and economy. As Ms. Marcus suggests, revolutionary change is not the answer; incremental change is.

But change of any kind requires two admissions: that life isn't static and that the next stasis will change, too. Admitting these tempers idealism with pragmatism: you don't have to give up your ideals (for instance, health coverage and college education for all) but you must moderate your goal with reality as is, "Maybe everyone should pay as they can." Many progressives and conservatives won't like the application of moderation but as Roman comic dramatist Plautus said over 2,000 years ago, "Moderation in all things is the best policy."

The truth is we have it pretty good. Sure we make mistakes and there are gaps; democracy and its economic tussles and trade offs aren't perfect. America is (gasp!) no utopia and our flavor of democracy isn't a model for PoliSci 101. Unfortunately many politicians want to dumb it down so they can offer their simplistic solutions, solutions meant to appeal to our inner child and – sometimes – our inner neanderthal.

No freebies, no cookies, no villains, no superheroes. Rather, hard work and compromise for a country built from scratch with the ideal of "we the people". Those are the political promises I want to hear.