The Wages of Limitless Pragmatism
Jason Rosenbaum, who runs the Seminal Blog at FireDogLake gives us an object lesson in what passes for "pragmatism" in Washington today. It is a pragmatism without a sense of limits. And we have seen it from the President, his closest advisers, and the "official" progressives resident in Washington and New York "think tanks" and institutes, in the media and in the "access blogosphere." He says:
"While I’m very sympathetic to the arguments of letsgetitdone and others that the deficit simply isn’t a problem our government should be concerned with right now, political realities dictate different behavior from our politicians. People still list the national debt as a concern unprompted due to decades of brainwashing by the business-friendly right wing in this country. This leads less brave or creative politicians to disastrous ideas like the cat food commission."
I guess I think political realities are what we choose to make them, and that if we choose to refuse to speak the truth about our problems, as progressives often do because they believe it's much too hard to communicate it to the public, then very often it turns out that the public never gets to the truth, and the lies that politicians and the professional activists who hope to influence them tell, as well as the truths they know but fail to tell, enmesh us all in a web of actions and consequences that do not, and cannot, possibly solve our real problems.
So, year after year, the wages of a limitless pragmatism that will not tell the truth, or that will tell outright lies, in the service of small, arguably non-existent gains, are the accumulation of our nation's problems. Until the weight of those problems will, finally, bring the United States to its figurative knees.
Please, please, save us from pragmatists like these and give us instead a new generation of leaders. A generation who believes again in truth and justice, and knows that real pragmatism, the noble philosophy of Peirce, James, Dewey, and Singer, has its limits in values that we must not compromise. A generation who will answer Bill Greider's call: "Who Will Tell the People?"
Jason goes on to talk about four junior Democratic Congresscritters who are "going rogue" on deficit spending. The four have formed a working group to define cuts in spending of $70 Billion, over 10 years, (which, I note, is an average of about $7 Billion per year), in defense, energy, housing and agriculture.
This makes him very happy, and he says:
"We’re not talking cutting Social Security while extending tax cuts to the rich and promoting endless war, we’re actually talking about spending less on defense, subsidies to oil companies and handouts to giant agribusiness? Right on!
"It’s not too terribly hard to find other ways to waste less federal dollars than by cutting Social Security. But sometimes it seems these ideas never make it to Congress, much less cause Congressmen to organize themselves. And if we’re going to talk about the deficit, these ideas must be on the table. Indeed, the American people support them."
There may be very good reasons for wanting to make the cuts Jason refers to, because, even if the Federal Government has no solvency problem, and no deficit problem, Federal money spent with bad or valueless effects is not Federal money spent on the public purpose.
But the very idea that we should agree that there is a deficit problem, when we know there is none, and then proceed to make cuts in programs for the sake of making cuts, so that we can participate in an orgy of deficit cutting along with the deficit hawks, and validate the view that there is a deficit problem, is both profoundly dishonest, and also an idea that is bound to produce cuts in programs that progressives value.
To run with this idea is to get involved in a horse trading feedback process, a race to the bottom, like the one we lived through during health care reform, where some Congresscritters say, we'll sacrifice some things we like, if you sacrifice some things you like. And, of course, the things we like will include some aspects of Social Security and Medicare, as well as some funding people need badly for education, or maybe we will have to make a concession involving some plan for deficit reduction in the long term, that constrains us when we need deficits later on, or that forces us into surpluses that in turn will produce new recessions.
And, when we're negotiating over these cuts and a proposal is made to cut something we don't really want to cut, then the deficit hawks will throw back in our faces the fact that we agreed that there was a real deficit problem. And they will say: "we all must share the pain here, for the good of the country," and so the progressives negotiating in this process will have to compromise, or admit that they were not telling the truth when they said there was a long-term deficit problem. And, in compromising, they will lose more and more of what is valuable purely for the purpose of meeting some abstract long-range deficit reduction target which the Catfood Commission recommends.
Like the game the progressives played in the health care reform debate, this too is a losing game. It will produce legislation that makes our situation worse. it is purely defensive. It fails to tell the people the truth about reality, and it will create a continuing problem of having to live the lie that there is a long-term deficit problem.
As the years go by, this lie that we don't believe, will force us to make more and more cuts, constrain our economy more and more, fail to create greater social and economic justice for our children and grandchildren, and continue the march of the United States towards plutocracy. This kind of limitless pragmatism is not real pragmatism. It is the false kind that gets us some immediate gratification at the price of our future.
We must reject it. If we believe there is no deficit problem, then we must talk that way, and act that way. We must tell the truth to the people, and let them decide what they will believe, and how they will vote.