Even as a progressive, I have pulled the lever for a Republican in the past. I think former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson has a lot to teach us about our current political situation. Republican Senator Mark Hatfield is one of this country's politicians that I admired most.
On the other hand, there is hardly a policy issue I'd find myself disagreeing with Senator Bernie Sanders about. Other than our current President, the national politician I have admired the most in my lifetime was Senator Paul Wellstone.
I say all that to put some context around what I mean by the word "pragmatic." It is first of all a refutation of the obstructionist politics of the Republicans these days...the attempt to block legislation that might improve people's lives simply to make a play for political power.
But its also a refutation of being wedded to ideology over what works. I tend to react to ideologues (ie, purists) the same way I react to the dogmatists of my christian fundamentalist past. In my experience, both approaches tend to value an idea (or ideal) over the opportunity to actually make a difference in real people's lives.
The thing I notice about both dogmatists and ideologues is that they tend to isolate themselves from the everyday struggles of human beings. Their world often seems to be insulated from the complexities of human suffering to the point that ideals can be contemplated without application to what is actually happening on the ground. In other words, they live in a bubble of privilege.
One of my favorite examples on the right of how this broke down is Dick Cheney's embrace of marriage equality. That's a perfect example of how the real world of having a lesbian daughter actually broke through dogmatism. When you come fact-to-face with how someone you love suffers as a result of dogmatism, it will sometimes break the hold that purity attempts to maintain.
On the left, this is also what many of us pragmatic progressives suggested was important to keep in mind when trying to pass health care reform. I believe it was Senator Sanders who suggested that the progressive alternative of single payer had a total of 8 votes in the Senate. In other words, it didn't have a prayer of passing. Meanwhile, millions of people were suffering in our current system. Only an ideologue would suggest that we simply allow that to continue while holding true to our preferred ideal.
The challenge for pragmatic progressives is - however - a difficult one. It means having to calibrate what is good enough for today and what we assign to the long-game struggle. You can imagine how a concept like "good enough" is anathema to the dogmatists and ideologues. It reeks of co-optation. I completely understand the concern. Examples of people/groups who abandoned their ideals in that process abound.
So I don't kid myself. There are pitfalls to this position of pragmatism. I believe those are mitigated by an ongoing connection to the very real struggles of everyday life. The minute we remove ourselves from that - either physically or emotionally - we are in danger of being co-opted. That's exactly why President Obama struggles so much with living in the D.C. bubble. It's an admonition that we should pay heed to as well.
Derrick Jensen said something very powerful about this in his book The Culture of Make Believe. He was talking about the similarity between corporations and hate groups. But I would posit that the same thing applies to dogmatists, ideologues and those who are co-opted away from their ideals.
He said, "They're cousins." I just listened. "Nobody talks about this," he said, "but they're branches from the same tree, different forms of the same cultural imperative..."
"To rob the world of its subjectivity."
"Wait - " I said.
"Or to put this another way," he continued, " to turn everyone and everything into objects."The minute the people/causes for which we advocate become objects, we've lost the battle. The alternative is to stay in touch - subjectively - with the struggle. That means feeling the pain but not getting lost in it to the point of cynicism or exploiting it for sentimental gain. That is the work of a pragmatic progressive.