Robert Gibbs frequently advances messages celebrating pragmatism in politics, which implicitly or explicitly roast progressive activism and politics.
This year one of the most searched for words on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary website was "pragmatic." It was number two on the top ten list and the President and Publisher of Merriam-Webster, John M. Morse, suggests, "The popularity of pragmatic is reminiscent of 2005, when integrity was the most frequently looked-up word. In both cases, I think the word described a quality that people value highly, want to understand fully, and are looking for in their leaders."
The Merriam Webster definitions of "pragmatic" are: archaic or busy, officious and opinionated; relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters, practical as opposed to idealistic; relating to or being in accordance wit philosophical pragmatism.
An example found in the dictionary is the following, "His pragmatic view of public education comes from years of working in city schools." Thus a "pragmatic" person is suggested to know from experience what should be done and not done.
Since Obama first stepped into the White House, pragmatic or practical has been an adjective used to describe his presidency. An editorial published by The Oklahoman encapsulates how many Americans expected Obama to govern:
Since his election in November, Barack Obama has indicated his presidency will be pragmatic and practical, searching for things that work and eliminating those that don't. His administration will not spend time rehashing the proper size of government, as has been good sport in Washington for nearly three decades.
President Obama repeated the theme during his inaugural address Tuesday, challenging Americans to support his quest for new dialogues, new processes -- yes, new politics -- as the country tackles serious economic problems while standing guard against threats that occupied his predecessor.
It was a sound, if not scintillating, speech -- consistent with the Obama precedent for good speechifying. It properly touched on the country's problems, vowed strong leadership in meeting them and sought to assure Americans that their common destiny remains shapeable by devotion, hard work and good will"
Obama's pragmatic presidency has pushed through a Credit Card Bill of Rights, a health reform bill, a finance reform bill, an expansion of Medicaid, additional funding to the Veterans Administration, stepped up regulation of student loans and eliminated some private lender subsidies, withdrawn some combat brigades from Iraq, expanded hate crime law, passed an economic stimulus, extended benefits to same-sex partners employed by the federal government, passed a tax cut deal with temporary unemployment benefits attached and now repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
His "pragmatism" has also led to a record amount of deportations of undocumented immigrants, continued renditions of terror suspects to countries where they could be tortured, opposition to marriage equality through appeals to challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, a blocking of the release of photos documenting torture and abuse of detainees by the U.S. military, a continuation of the practice of indefinite detention for terror suspects, increased government secrecy with more blocked Freedom of Information Act requests in 2009 than Bush in 2008, a secret deal to kill the public option (while simultaneously campaigning on its behalf), the granting of waivers to companies like McDonald's so they could be exempt from health reform, the invocation of "state secrets" to protect former Bush Administration officials from criminal prosecution, the censorship of reporters covering military tribunals at Guantanamo, an increase in drone strikes in Pakistan (which has resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties), an escalation of the Afghanistan war, a permanent troop presence in Iraq, more contracts for mercenary contractors like Blackwater, and a tax cut deal that renews the Bush tax cuts and largely favors the rich by lowering their taxes (it even includes a tiny raise in taxes for those Americans at the bottom of the income scale).
Most recently, his pragmatic presidency produced a cave-in by the FCC to telecommunications companies on net neutrality. New rules that passed are riddled with loopholes that put the notion of an open, free and fair Internet at risk.
There is nothing wrong with being pragmatic, but pragmatic politics is relative. Unless the interests of citizens are the same as those in government, the pragmatic politics of citizens should be different from the pragmatic politics of people in government. For if one agrees pragmatism comes from experience and is empirical--something to be drawn from observation and reason, then pragmatism those in power talk about should always be different from the pragmatism citizens seek to adopt.
Consider the following --
White House pragmatism has meant wars continue. It has meant wealth continues to be funneled to corporations or the top 2% in America. It has meant more secrecy in government. It has meant more ignorance of the coming devastation that the Earth will incur as a result of global warming. It has meant more economic globalization that utilizes neoliberal and centrist ideas. And, all along the way, it has been those opposed to the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, the ballooning of a surveillance state in America, the welfare the military industrial-complex enjoys, the wars which brutally maim and kill innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries, etc, who must give it up, be "adults", learn how government works, and compromise.
Pragmatism from those at the top has been a cover for further delegitimizing liberal or progressive politica in America. It has been a cover for turning the Democratic Party into a more "business-friendly" party. It has been a way of further debasing the idea of social justice in American society and culture.
1 | 2