The greatest thing about this man is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man's beliefs never will.
The larger idea as it relates to Hayes' piece is that the public - and most analysts and commentators these days - generally believe that when ideology trumps logic - a.k.a. - bad policies result. This belief can be felt in public condemnations of Congressional inactivity in the face of large-scale challenges - its just politics as usual, the two side of the aisle won't work together, etc, etc. It's also one of the logical underpinnings of Obama's professed commitment to get Republicans and Democrats working together in Washington.
There's another problem with the fetishization of the pragmatic, which is the brute fact that, at some level, ideology is inescapable. Obama may have told Steve Kroft that he's solely interested in "what works," but what constitutes "working" is not self-evident and, indeed, is impossible to detach from some worldview and set of principles.
Furthermore, if we think more deeply about it, pragmatism is often viewed as being the same thing as cowardice, spinelessness, and amorality. It's viewed as justifying conciliatory action. Bill Clinton put forward the idea of "triangulation" during his presidency. Today, it is often derided by those on the left as justifying centrist policies (in other words, he wasn't being ideological enough). Or consider this famous historical example involving Abraham Lincoln. As Hayes writes:
Lincoln was also pragmatic about the institution he helped end: "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it," he wrote to newspaper editor Horace Greeley in August 1862, "and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that." This is a kind of pragmatism that to our modern ears comes close to colluding with evil, and it shows how even the most "pragmatic" decisions are embedded in a hierarchy of values: in this case the integrity of the nation over the human rights of millions of its residents.What is more, ideology often stands in the way of conventional wisdom which may or may not be impractical. We at times are in desperate need of ideologues to protect us from impractical "pragmatism." Take the example of the Iraq war. As Hayes writes:
[The] Same goes for the Iraq War, which many "pragmatic" lawmakers--Hillary Clinton, Arlen Specter--voted for and which ideologues across the political spectrum, from Ron Paul to Bernie Sanders, opposed. Of course, by any reckoning, the war didn't work. That is, it failed to be a practical, non-ideological improvement to the nation's security. This, despite the fact that so many willed themselves to believe that the benefits would clearly outweigh the costs. Principle is often pragmatism's guardian. Particularly at times of crisis, when a polity succumbs to collective madness or delusion, it is only the obstinate ideologues who refuse to go along. Expediency may be a virtue in virtuous times, but it's a vice in vicious ones.Hayes rightly sees the whole issue of Obama's pragmatism as being tied up in something larger, specifically the policies he is likely to promote as President. Those on the left are concerned that he is surrounding himself with "pragmatists" who will push centrist policies. Those closer to the center - realize that we're talking about here - have applauded his cabinet appointments for their pragmatism. Their idea here is that Obama isn't going to immobilize the government through his own ideologically-driven agenda, and instead has picked smart people who know how to get something done. But this analysis is superficial, as Hayes explains:
[A]s Glenn Greenwald has astutely pointed out on his blog, while ideology can lead decision-makers to ignore facts, it is also what sets the limiting conditions for any pragmatic calculation of interests. "Presumably, there are instances where a proposed war might be very pragmatically beneficial in promoting our national self-interest," Greenwald wrote, "but is still something that we ought not to do. Why? Because as a matter of principle--of ideology--we believe that it is not just to do it, no matter how many benefits we might reap, no matter how much it might advance our 'national self-interest.'"