Andrew Sullivan described President Obama deal on taxes as “cold-blooded pragmatism,” and wondered “why is this still news?” What the purists often miss is that in their attacks against the “pragmatists,” particularly the President, is that it’s not that we don’t have ideals, we have an appreciation of the difficulties inherent in getting things done. Sometimes, the ideal just isn’t realistic or not entirely achievable at the present time when a number of factors are taken into consideration.
I realized that a long time ago, through bitter experience. At one time, I was a founding member of a breed rescue group. We were the people who went into shelters, and took dogs of a specific breed who were on “death row,” and helped find them forever homes. The ideal was that every dog we rescued would be found an ideal home. The reality was that some of them weren’t. We had dogs who were too old and sick. Dogs who were vicious, or had other serious behavioral problems. Dogs with serious physical problems. The ideal would have been to spend whatever it took financially to try to treat their medical issues and in time to work on their behavior problems, and if not, keep them in a safe environment until they passed away. The reality was they were euthanized. We didn’t have the financial resources, or the large amount of time it would take to rehabilitate or nurse them. Was it hard to make those decisions? Yes, and it was never a one-person decision. But given limited resources, you have to allocate them. You consider the number of dogs you could save with those resources against what you’d be putting into one dog that was unlikely to ever be adopted if you went with ideal. It was hard-headed pragmatism. I will always remember the ones I had to “make the call” on, but we saved a lot more dogs too.
Another example is when I was in the military. We were on a field exercise, and one of the tasks was a land navigation course. This is where you’re given a topographic map, a compass, a set of coordinates for places you’re to go, and you’re expected to go to them in order. It’s pretty straightforward if you know how to read a map and use a compass. I was the first person in at the finishing point, and as various wet, bedraggled, and exhausted people straggled into it, they all had a question for me. “How the hell did you get here without getting wet?” You see, the last part of the course went through a swamp. My answer? “I used an old technique: IFR. That means I follow roads.” What I’d done was to look at the map, realize there was this nice dirt road that circled the swamp, get on it, and walk around. Yes, it was “longer” and yes, it definitely wasn’t the ideal straight line I should have followed. But you know what? I got there faster than the others, I stayed nice and dry, and I didn’t have to fight through a swamp to get there.
Experiences like that are why I wear the badge “pragmatic” proudly. It’s why I support the President when he’s being a pragmatic. I don’t want an idealist who’s going to hold strictly to the ideal and ignore reality. I want a pragmatic, who’s going to to accept that “perfect” isn’t always achievable at the moment, and get the best he can for the country. Someone who recognizes the swamp in their path and decides to go around, even if it isn’t the “ideal” way. That’s who we have in the Oval Office right now. Someone who gets that, and works with the possible, not the ideal.