Ideologues versus Pragmatists

In the second debate of GOP nominee hopefuls held in Washington, D.C. last night (Tuesday, November 22), we saw the difference in the approach to important topics between the ideologues and the pragmatists. Starting in six weeks Republican primary voters will decide which is the right approach to put before the electorate next November.

The first question where this difference was made clear concerned foreign aid.

Ron Paul’s response was to kill it. The Libertarian ideology says we’re taxing poor people in the U.S. to give money to rich people in poor countries. That sound bite appeals to a certain part of the population without regard to facts or reality.

Rick Santorum, former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, represented the pragmatist on this issue. As a Senator he helped draft legislation for a program that attacked the spread of AIDS and malaria in Africa.

On the question of immigration Newt Gingrich and to some extent Rick Perry represented the pragmatists while Michelle Bachman and Mitt Romney spoke for the ideologues. Her sound bite was “magnet”. Programs such as in-state tuition for illegal immigrants are magnets attracing more illegal immigrants and therefore are wrong in her opinion. Mitt Romney picked up on that phrase. But Gingirch, the pragmatist, is concerned about the 10-12 million illegal immigrants who are already in the U.S. Do we break apart families sending back to their countries men who are employed, pay taxes, are married and have children?

There’s a different between an ideologue and someone who approaches policy from a principled position. Ironically Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, spoke to that difference when he quoted Ronald Reagan as saying if you can get 75-80% of what you want in negotations you take that and work on the rest of your agenda later rather than get nothing.

There’s also the matter of having a moral conscience. If you have the cure for a disease for a unemployed individual next door or thousands living in a poor country in Africa, do you let your ideology stand in the way of providing aid? If your ideology says the appropriate punishment for someone who came to the U.S. illegally is the export him, do you do so even if that means his wife and children become homeless?

The pragmatist finds a way to make foreign aid work for its intended targets rather than enrich the powerful. The pragmatist finds a way to cut the number of illegals entering the country so that morally humane policies for those who are here can exist.

Ideologues are also pessimists. They don’t believe that government can successfully address any issue except defense. Certainly some programs fail while others have unintended negative consequences and need to be reformed or killed. However, to write off everything other than defense and turn our backs on the rest of the world, is a difficult position to defend both on moral and pragmatic grounds. Reducing AIDS in Africa gives people in that part of the world the opportunity to become trade partners for the U.S. and African prosperity becomes a barrier to terrorists and other anti-US ideologies.

Time will tell which approach the GOP voters prefer and whether the American people see the Republican candidate as a better steward of our nation’s future than the man currently sitting in the White House.


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