Idealism vs. Ideology: Bambi vs. Godzilla

Anyone who has observed American politics for any length of time may have noticed a bit of difference, to understate it by several thousand feet of altitude, between how the left and the right go about doing it. It probably has not passed unnoticed by most that conservatives bring a little more destructive power and fire and brimstone to the general operation.

In the broadest sense it may be fair to say, in America at least, conservatives these days are ideologists first, while liberals are primarily idealists. Ideologues are preoccupied with how the world is supposed to be, idealists with how it might be better; idealists may yearn for improvement and the greater public good, while the ideologist is motivated to enforce a set of rules or beliefs: religious, cultural or political, or a combination of them all. In practice ironically idealists turn out to be pragmatic, ideologues utopian. History is full of examples of extreme ideologies of the left and right wreaking misery of all sorts; but in America at this precise moment in time the highest concentration of distilled, operational ideological dogma is on the right, dominant in the Republican Party in a way ideology rarely has been dominant in an American political party.

Ideology offers the security of an encompassing explanation, a quasi or even partially religious view that eliminates the discomfort (and perhaps humility) of uncertainty. Ideology instills implacable conviction and an unswerving desire to win; idealism impels one to explain and prove, in the belief that doing so will carry the day, and sway real or imagined open minds moved by the appeal to reason. This discrepancy of course is an epically devastating problem for liberals in the political and policy arenas.

It seems to me fair to say liberals, or at least some of them need to have a better idea of what they’re dealing with. I will concede that while for too long many liberals seemed unable to perceive or to accept their political foes as an existential threat, a movement with no intent to debate them, negotiate with them or govern with them but to drive them  into the dirt then bury them six feet underneath it, more liberals appear to have recognized since the full exposure of the machinations of operatives like the Koch brothers or operations such as ALEC, since Republican state governments around the country began to go for the jugular of labor unions and attempt first degree murder of the middle class in broad daylight that this tiff may be something more considerable than they had thought. The attempt to prevent large swaths of the Democratic constituency from even casting a vote ought to have been a self-preservation epiphany if there was going to be one, leading, if the rest hadn’t already to the conclusion, regrettable as it is true, that fairness, sweet reason and factuality while useful, even wonderful to have on one’s side aren’t inevitable winners, and in reality may end up bloodied and pummeled in the ring.

If nothing else, viewing current American politics through this idealist/ideologist split-screen explains to those who would expect more oomph from rationality, why no matter how low taxes descend for the wealthy they never can (and never will) be low enough for our Republicans; or why, no matter how freely available or freely carried or how often used with near impunity guns are, a mammoth lobbying organization pushes even harder, at this point with little left to win other than perhaps mandatory gun possession or penalties for failure to fire if there is a clear shot.

I’m willing to go so far as to posit that expecting a moderation of views from the Republican opposition is all but an admission of suicidal thoughts. Ideologues don’t change, though political parties do however sometimes cry uncle if and only if they are beaten into submission so thoroughly and so often they’ll do anything for the chance to participate fully again. Liberals should keep this in mind anytime they feel tempted by the serpent widely known by the name, “bipartisan spirit of cooperation”  to launch another disquisition on the credibility of climate science.  There are times when the only reasonable thing to do is to fight like a motherfucker.

I’m the kind loathe to offer advice, unless specifically requested, and even then with strong disclaimers of its likely uselessness. But at the least, any oddly precious sense of restraint or any perception that one inhabits a slightly higher plane certain liberals retain should be relieved of duty. If necessary they may do so in deference to exigent circumstance, such a circumstance being the possibility those who discount climate science, evolution and basic economics, who consider life to begin at holding hands (at this point one can fill in the blanks with the litany of absurdities) could capture every last branch of government. If the harm done with control of a single legislative body and a court majority is any indication, this may be the time to risk the undignified.

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