Tuesday, December 14, 2004

From Ideology to dogma

From an essay on Jimmy Carter, written by one of his speechwriters, Hendrik Hertzberg:

“A political ideology is a very handy thing to have. It’s a real time-saver, because it tells you what you think about things you know nothing about. Reagan never had to agonize over the merits of this tax versus that tax—if it was a tax, he was against it. He never lost sleep over the proper design of some environmental regulation—if it was an environmental regulation, he was against it. He never worried about whether to build up the Navy at the expense of the Army, or the Army at the expense of the Navy. His view was, if it was military, build it all—and damn the expense.
Another way to put this same point is that Ronald Reagan did all of his thinking and made most of his decisions long before he became President. He had a complete ideological framework that answered virtually every policy question in advance. So, as President, he was able to devote all his time and energy to selling and implementing the ideas he had adopted during his years as spokesman of the conservative wing of his party.
This observation applies as much to ideologues of the left as to ideologues of the right….A fully developed, fully worked out political ideology provides a model of how the whole organism works. It may not provide you with the details, but it does provide you with a clear general direction.”

This is what we have in our executive branch today. George Bush has an ideological compass that he lives by, and it provides a foundation for all his decision-making. Iraq is a good example. Iraq and Saddam were part of an evil axis, a threat to peaceful stability in the Middle East, an extension of the terrorist protectorate. The lack of WMD need not stand in the way. When that fact becomes irrelevant, substitute another high moral purpose: Saddam is evil, must be eliminated; liberty is on the march; or we will make Iraq a beacon of democracy and stability in Middle East.

These are basic foreign policy tenets from the middle of the last century. Might makes right. We can spread our model of liberty, democracy, and capitalism, because we have demonstrated the rightness of our cause by our own freedom and economic growth.

I respect someone with a strong center. Successful people have a belief set that gives them both a foundation for action, and the self-confidence to carry it out. The danger is when such a foundation is so unassailable that it becomes dogma, and no other point of view is accepted. Then the ideological core becomes dangerous fundamentalism.

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