Friday, August 1, 2014

Don't Walk the Talk

Elections are coming up and, like always, I won't publicly take a stand for or against any candidate. But I will vote, and I will consider carefully the various positions that candidates take on a number of issues.

I've been slowly reading a great book (great in quality and size!) by Stephen Prothero called The American Bible. Prothero selected many of the most influential documents in American History. I just read The Speech, Ronald Reagan's 1964 speech that began his rise to prominence that finished with his election as President in 1980. The Speech is frequently quoted or alluded to by Tea Party and other conservative candidates who want to continue the Reagan Revolution.

Here's the interesting thing. Reagan was clearly against tax increases, yet he increased taxes 4 times in  a three year period. Reagan vowed to cut the size of government, but he actually increased the number of government employees and added a new cabinet-level position. He said that government spending would shrink, but he grew it. He was against Social Security but bailed it out.

My point is not that Reagan went back on his word or that he was really a "liberal" instead of a "conservative". I have no reason to doubt that when he entered office Reagan the ideologue really intended to act out the revolution he preached. His early actions back that up. But then reality took hold. He realized that the real world that we live in is not all that friendly to ideologues. In the real world, even in the pseudo-real world of politics, we are forced to compromise all the time (we all know that our family is more important than our job but don't we all occasionally have to put the job first? We balance priorities.) We take new facts into consideration and change our minds (no matter how committed I was to buying a hybrid car after I had all the facts we went standard). Compromise and taking in new information are the kinds of things that mature, reasonable adults do every day. They are the things that ideologues do not do.

To be clear - there are ideologues on the left as well as the right. There is a kind of "fundamentalist liberalism" just as there is a "fundamentalist conservatism". I don't want to vote for someone who once elected will do exactly what they said they would do when running. I want to vote for someone who, like Reagan, understood that times and data change and that compromise for the sake of progress is not always a bad thing. The "talk" that wins elections today may not be the "walk" that moves our country forward.