Thursday, November 16, 2006

Democratic Pragmatism

Pragmatism. It is a word revered in American politics and perhaps one of the few systematic contributions that American thinkers have added to modern philosophy. And pragmatism is what many political commentators are calling the newly-annointed Democratic Congress to enact in their leadership role; according to this line of thinking, Democrats stunning win on election night was due to the moderate revolt over the unilateral, ultrapartisan policies of Republicans, and Democrats can provide a corrective to this by governing from the middle, not the left. In fact, most publications, including 'Time' magazine, are calling this election a victory for the American middle and not progressive politics as a whole -- perhaps a wrong-headed spin on the election outcome. One could instead argue that the elections mark the electorate's return to Clintonian liberalism rather than the slim margins of victory for Pres. Bush in the last two presidential elections.

Progressives, from Sherrod Brown in Ohio to Joe Sestak in Pa., have been winners as much as moderate Democrats in this last election, and the nation's shift in the left should also be represented in congressional initiatives when Dems take over both chambers in January. The victory of the left in this election shouldn't be understated at all since the country overwhelming repudiated the failed doctrines of the Bush presidency and instead voted to change the direction of the country. My concern is that a solely pragmatist mantra in congress will result in overly-cautious maneuvering by house and senate leaders, the promotion of non-controversial legislation, and fewer checks and balances against the reckless policies of the Bush administration during his remaining two years in office.

If pragmatism is marked by bipartisan cooperation and a management, rather than ideological, emphasis, however, then this could benefit the country in the long run and help keep the Democrats in power for several election cycles; Democrats know this, and that is why they are promoting passing legislation (minimum wage, etc.) ahead of, say, investigative hearings on the Bush administration's intelligence failures and justifications for the war in Iraq. But the American electorate has also given the Democrats a mandate for their agenda, and this must include providing a necessary checks and balance of the Bush administration's overreach of the executive branch's power. There is a time for measure pragmatism in the political arena, but there is also a time for bold initiatives and accountability; I hope that the Democrats aren't afraid to seize the latter at the appropriate times.


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