In my years of writing about politics I’ve always been intrigued when people refer to political ideology as a negative. It’s not at all uncommon to hear someone described pejoratively as “ideological.”
I understand the point being made. Hidebound ideologues, more interested in purity than pragmatism, are an obstacle not only to their own objectives but to effective governance and meaningful reform.
Yet ideology is important. Ideology is a guide. A set of values around which coalitions can be formed.
But we don’t talk about ideology any more. Not really. We speak in ideological terms – we call people “liberal” or “conservative” and we talk about “left” and “right” – but those are less descriptions of philosophies than team names.
We may as well be talking about the Bears versus the Lions. Because politics, it seems, isn’t about policy any more. It’s about being angry at the other team. It’s about gathering outrageous anecdotes to prove that the opposing side is evil.
Why else would Republicans be willing to back someone like Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was the topic of my Sunday print column?
Moore is no thoughtful person’s idea of a good policymaker. He’s a bigot who is not in favor of equal access to the liberties guaranteed us by the Constitution. So why support him?
Because right now, at this harrowing moment in American politics, he’s wearing the right team colors. He’s “anti-establishment.” He’s “not politically correct.”
He makes the right people angry, in other words, and apparently that’s what really matters.
You could make the same point about Senator Bernie Sanders, who is a sort of Roy Moore for Democrats. He’s not a serious policymaker. His proposals for things like health care reform are downright zany. Unworkable not just in a political sense, but in terms of simple math.
Yet for a lot of progressives Sanders, like Moore, makes the right people mad. That his policy proposals should be accompanied by a laugh track simply doesn’t matter.
Our politicians aren’t governing any more. They’re entertaining, and the best way to entertain one’s political base is to enrage the opposition.
No wonder we elected a celebrity as President. No wonder it’s becoming hard to discern where the entertainment industry stops and the political world begins.
Unfortunately, until we get better priorities, we’re all going to suffer.