Jonah Goldberg

Obama routinely insinuates that all of the facts are on his side. He invokes a confabulated consensus of experts to suggest that there is no legitimate reason for anyone to disagree with his agenda. After all, with the eggheads and "facts" in his corner, only the other side's ideological blinders -- or stupidity -- could account for any dissent.

On health care, for instance. Obama promised to be the last president to ever grapple with health care, because his reforms would be so sweeping, so authoritative, that no such reforms would ever be necessary again. So far, Obama's only concession of error in this fiasco is his failure to "explain it better."

What I really don't understand is what's so great about allegedly value-free pragmatism and so bad about supposedly unthinking ideology? The truth is that the vast majority of the time, pragmatism isn't value-free and ideology isn't unthinking.

Ideologies don't require blinding yourself to the facts; rather, they help you prioritize what you are going to do with the facts. Indeed, the very question of deciding what to be pragmatic about -- this but not that -- requires applying an ideological test.

The president invokes his or America's "values" to justify a ban on waterboarding, passage of universal health care, sustaining legalized abortion, higher taxes for the wealthy, gay equality and -- coming soon -- a more expedient system for selecting a college football champion. Those all involve pursuing ideological ends, even if that fact is obscured with rhetorical blather about pragmatic means.

A truly "ruthless pragmatist" might opt for summarily executing enemy combatants after torturing them with hot pokers. He might abandon anyone who can't afford health insurance. He might ban abortion on the grounds that Social Security needs more young people or eliminate college football entirely as a needless distraction and a drain on resources.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in 1909 that if everyone becomes a pragmatist, then "ironclads and Maxim guns must be the ultimate arbiters of metaphysical truth." Russell's point was that there's nothing within pragmatism to delineate the proper and just limits of pragmatism. We must look outside pragmatism for that.

Our values, customs, traditions and principles provide the insulation against the corrosive acid of undiluted pragmatism. When you bundle these things together, it's often called an ideology, and there's no reason to apologize for having one.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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