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Reform Party of California: Pragmatism, Two Party Style

The Reform Party has repeatedly stressed that its brand of politics is pragmatic and non-ideological.[1] Put another way, the party looks at reality and politics through a lens of objective common sense, unspun facts and unbiased analysis. The point is to assess strengths and weaknesses of competing policy options and their impact on the public interest as best as can reasonably be done. Of course, when pressed, the democratic and republican parties generally claim that they are pragmatic, possibly pragmatic with a more than just a tinge or left- or right-wing ideology providing inspired or some other form of guidance.

Regardless of how the two parties portray (spin) their commitment to pragmatism, it can be manifest in some bizarre ways that would never occur to the Reform Party as being under the umbrella of what political pragmatism is. A case in point is the speech by New Jersey governor Chris Christie to the Republican National Committee (RNC) in Boston last week. According to a Wall Street Journal article on gov. Christie’s speech, he is advocating to the RNC what the WSJ calls “a pragmatic form of conservatism” and “pragmatic governance” as the basis for the republicans to govern.[2] The WSJ said its’ information was based on review of Christie’s speech, which was supposed to be behind closed doors and not available to the public. Nonetheless, the WSJ obtained it and then reported about it. The gist of gov. Christie’s  speech is that he is offering for RNC consideration a moderate, pragmatic approach to politics that downplays ideology and the importance of republican party opposition to abortion and gay marriage.[3]

If the WSJ has this right and gov. Christie is a “conservative pragmatist”, one of the ways that manifests itself is unsettling to say the least. Specifically, gov. Christie said this: “For our ideas to win we have to govern. And if we don’t win, we don’t govern. I am going to do anything I need to do to win.” That is pure pragmatism, but in service to what? In service to the dominance of conservative ideology. In the minds of most or all conservatives, that is the best service to the public interest there can be. That proposition does not hold water with the Reform Party.

What is worth noting is the context in which gov. Christie spoke. He is seriously considering a run for president in 2016 and he spoke to the RNC as part of that exploration. He wants RNC support or at least their neutrality. When he says he will do anything to win, he means it. That does not bode well for a campaign that will be any better or different than what we have see recently.[4] If that is satisfactory, then there is no reason for concern or complaint. If not, then what? Could a break with the two-party system be in order?

Not a debating society

One other point is worth mention about the WSJ article. WSJ’s reporter, Neil King Jr., read gov. Christie’s speech as exhibiting impatience over internal republican party debates over foreign policy and social issues. That sounds about right. The WSJ quoted Gov. Christie as saying: “We are not a debating society. We are a political operation that wants to win.” Well, that may may be the way the RNC and gov. Christie feel.[5] The Reform Party is perfectly happy with open and public debate followed by advocacy of the best choices available. It would appear that the republican party has not engaged in nearly enough internal debate if what is coming from gov. Christie is any indication. The Reform Party arrives at ideas and policies that win debates on the merits, regardless of whether they are conservative or not. The Reform Party believes that problem solving with minimal impact from the three horsemen of the political Apocalypse[6] solves political problems more effectively than problem solving biased to serve any ideology or special interest concern.

A glimpse of what is to come

The WSJ article probably provides an accurate preview of what is to come. If so, then it is clear that the republican party and its potential candidates are still happy with their ossified conservative rhetoric and thinking. Assuming the WSJ article conveyed most of his key thoughts, gov. Christie’s speech contained nothing new or creative. At the least, gov. Christie will be constrained to thinking within the constricted confines of conservative ideology fouled by special interest money and political self-interest. It really is time for a change.

Footnotes:

1. Links: http://reformparty.org/reform-party-of-california-essays-what-is-the-proper-size-and-scope-in-government/; http://reformparty.org/reform-party-of-california-essays-6-what-is-the-public-interest-and-how-is-it-best-served/.

2. Wall Street Journal, Friday, August 16, 2013, page A5, online: http://stream.wsj.com/story/campaign-2012-continuous-coverage/SS-2-9156/SS-2-302682/.

3. This is very odd. A republican arguing to downplay ideology and focus more on pragmatism. That sounds familiar. As far as the Reform Party can tell, gov. Christie is completely out of his element being a republican advocating pragmatism and limits on ideology. The concept of downplaying ideology is an oxymoron for republicans (and most democrats), unless it means pragmatism as viewed through the lens of conservative political and religious (republican) ideology. As the Reform Party sees this, pure pragmatism isn’t driven by ideology, including its subjective impacts on perceptions of facts/reality and logic. Pure pragmatism is driven by unspun facts and unbiased logic.

4. The Reform Party assumes that gov. Christie means what he said within the confines of a standard presidential election. That does not include absurdities or heinous criminal acts. But it does include more of what we have seen in the last 30 years or so. That includes candidates not telling Americans what they would or would not do once in office. That tactic in politics goes back centuries or longer. For whatever reasons, the less the public knows about a political candidate’s plans for governing the better it is for the candidate. It happened with a vengeance in the 2012 election. The Reform Party has pointed out before that president Obama was a master of getting people to read into him what they wanted in the 2008 campaign. His opponent Mitt Romney used the same tactic (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/10/10/mitt-romneys-policies-are-really-vague-but-voters-like-vague/; http://www.dailycamera.com/ci_21887866/merry-mungo-mitt-romney-is-mystery-man). Some evidence says that ambiguity tends to attract voters to a candidate (http://www.stanford.edu/~tomz/pubs/TomzVanHouweling-2009-02.pdf). As the Reform Party has also pointed out before, president Obama was a master of being vague in 2008 (http://reformparty.org/reform-party-of-california-essays-6-what-is-the-public-interest-and-how-is-it-best-served/). That made it much easier for open minded/independent voters to read into him the things they wanted like to believe were there. This represents a fundamental difference between two-party politics and Reform Party politics. With the two-party system, you get vague, fluffy feel-good rhetoric with little or no substance or basis on which to make informed decisions. With the Reform Party, you get unspun reality, including the good, the bad and whatever else there is. By comparison to standard two-party politics, Reform Party politics takes real moral courage to honestly deal with political issues and policy choices. Voters are free to decide what it is they want: Empty rhetoric and comfortable ideology or real substance.

5. The RNC probably isn’t happy with the fact that gov. Christie’s speech made its way to the press. The RNC did not want the public to become aware of this kind of candid thinking. At the least, it makes them look closed minded and self-centered.

6. The three horsemen or drivers of failed two-party politics are (i) blind faith in rigid ideology, (ii) corruption of politics by special interest money and (iii) ineffective politics driven by political self-interest to the detriment of service to the public interest.

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