Reform Party of California Commentary: Why Ideology is Bad for Politics

A key criticism the Reform Party of California (RPCA) has repeatedly leveled at the two-party system is its heavy reliance on rigid ideology as a guide to inform and evaluate competing policy choices.[1] That flaw is a key driver of fantasy, failure and waste in governance. The RPCA is not alone in seeing ideology as a major bad actor in politics.

The magazine Scientific American published a commentary on ideology in its October 2013 issue.[2] The piece was written by Dr. Michael Shermer, a hard core libertarian who argues that when reality or science does not support belief or ideology, then the ideology needs to give way. Dr. Shermer described simple but powerful examples of how ideology distorts reality.

One example was Dr. Shermer’s slow realization that in the gun control debate he saw himself engaging in “the cherry picking and data mining of studies to suit ideological convictions.” He further explained that “We all do it, and when the science is complicated, the confirmation bias (a type of motivated reasoning) that directs the mind to seek and find confirming facts and ignore disconfirming evidence kicks in.”

Another example Dr. Shermer described related to global warming. The RPCA has used the same topic to illustrate the same corrupting influence of ideology on reality that Shermer sees.[3] There, Mr. Shermer was attending the libertarian 2013 FreedomFest conference in Las Vegas, NV. At the meeting Dr. Sherment made the unremarkable observation that “between 90 and 98 percent of climate scientists accept anthropogenic (man-made) global warming.” At that point  “someone shouted, “LIAR!” and stormed out of the room.” The effect of the collision between ideology and unspun reality could not be clearer.


The reasonable conclusion is simple: Ideology is bad for smart, efficient politics. As Dr. Shermer put it in his commentary: “. . . not all libertarians deny science, but all of us are subject to the psychological forces at play when it comes to choosing between facts and beliefs when they do not mesh. In the long run, it is better to understand the way the world really is rather than how we would like it to be.” Those comments reflect exactly the point about ideology that the RPCA has been making over and over.[4] Ideology is powerful and usually acts subconsciously to distort reality. Recognizing that fact (not opinion) is very difficult and once recognized, it usually leads to uncomfortable conclusions about one’s own beliefs. Being a realist isn’t for the faint of heart. The RPCA cannot offer comfort on that point.

The RPCA is not alone in rejecting a major role for ideology in politics. If you want your ideology stick with it and you will get it along with the waste and inefficiency it typically generates. If you want something better, the RPCA is offering centrism grounded in non-ideological pragmatism. Take your pick.


1. Links:;

2. Scientific American, Oct. 2013, page 95; online at

3. Link:

4. It is not the case that science has all the answers to everything. It doesn’t. For example, science cannot prove the big bang theory. However, religion cannot prove Creationism. Nonetheless, there is solid scientific evidence that accords with the big bang. For Creationism there is religious faith, which is perfectly fine for personal religious belief. But when it comes to governing, which intellectual framework do you want to rely on: one grounded in scientific evidence and unspun reality or one grounded in religious faith and/or political ideology?

4 thoughts on “Reform Party of California Commentary: Why Ideology is Bad for Politics”

  1. Was the U.S. Constitution not founded on a few sound ideologies? There goes the bicameral mind at work. Ideology and pragmatism should both be relied upon in evaluating policies… depending on the context. Lets not argue if the glass is half full or half empty. It just depends whether you’re drinking it or filling it.

  2. Good question, was the constitution founded on a few ideologies? If so, what were they? And, where in the constitution does it say that the ideologies, assuming they exist at all, have to remain frozen in time? Why are we in the messes we are in?

    As far as glass half full or empty goes, the analogy is not appropriate to what the RPCA is arguing. The whole point is that the main flaws (ideology, self-interest and special interest money) all tend to conspire to disserve the public interest. Filling or draining the glass is beside the point.

    BTW, what is a bicameral mind? It sounds potentially useful.

  3. How can you claim to reconcile differences between ideology and reality when ideology is part of who people are? If people let go of their ideology, they let go of who they are. You cant fix that. Nobody can. This focus on reality makes no sense.

  4. “How can you claim to reconcile differences between ideology and reality when ideology is part of who people are?”

    Great question. It gets right to the heart of the matter. As an initial matter, the RPCA does not claim to reconcile the differences. The best that any political party can do is to present unspun reality in a fair, transparent and unbiased way. People have to reconcile the differences between reality and ideology themselves. The RPCA pointed this out in one of the essays ( Does that make sense? To some people it doesn’t. To the RPCA, it is the only way the RPCA is aware of to maximize the efficiency of politics and policy choices. Shermer’s comments make crystal clear what can happen when ideology and reality collide – either reality gets distorted, you walk away from the ideology or you mix the two by distorting reality less and giving in a bit on the ideology. There are no other options. When ideology is in the mix, how can anyone possibly expect politics to be the most efficient and effective, except by pure chance? Ideological politics is, by definition, based on reality that is distorted to some degree by ideology.

    And you are right, ideology is part of who most people are. The RPCA blames the two-party system for fostering the idea that one has to believe in the ideology of the left or right when it comes to politics. Ideology might be fine in other areas of life, but not in politics. Spinning a left-right only world is a tactic the two parties use to make it harder for people to see that there are other ways of viewing politics. It helps to maintain the status quo, which is exactly what the two parties want, need and fight dirty to maintain.

    What the RPCA is doing is arguing for politics based on unspun reality and unbiased thinking. If some people believe that that compromises who they are, that is something personal to them. The RPCA sees no problem with giving in to reality in politics because that maximizes efficiency and best serves the public interest. If that is considered to be somehow giving up part of one’s own identity, then that’s just what it is. That is why the comment here included this about recognition of the fact that ideology tends to distort reality: “it usually leads to uncomfortable conclusions about one’s own beliefs. Being a realist isn’t for the faint of heart. The RPCA cannot offer comfort on that point.”

    In short, everyone has to decide on their own who they are and what they stand for. The RPCA comes down firmly on the side of unspun reality and rejects ideology. Does that make people who think like that any worse than people who blindly adhere to their cherished ideology (faith) in the context of modern politics? If so, how is it worse? Because the two-party system tells you that? You need to decide these things on you own. Although it would be nice if it were otherwise, the RPCA cannot help you with that.

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