Idealism has taken a bit of a beating lately in American politics, particularly in discussion surrounding the stimulus package and economic recovery. According to many in the media and the new administration, for the sake of our nation we must enter a post-ideological era, where good policy should be based upon whether it works rather than whether it’s good for America’s long-term health, or even legal. Some in the conservative community have even echoed or applauded these sentiments, putting aside ideology in deference to “getting things done.” I am not one of those conservatives.
I don’t know if many people have stopped to consider what a post-ideological era really means. Results-based policy covers a whole manner of sins. For instance, the PATRIOT Act works; it catches terrorists and provides critical intelligence. It’s also an infringement upon the individual liberty of American citizens. There are lots of things that work in the short-term as well that are doomed to long-term failure, such as social security. The efficacy of a proposed policy must always be tempered with whether it is constitutional. Hence conservatism.
Times of crisis, when emotions run high, are when conservatism is needed most. These are the times when politicians, well-meaning or otherwise, attempt to seize more power. In the infancy of our nation, Jefferson’s Republicans were the voice of opposition to the Federalist government when war with France seemed inevitable. The Federalists, in an attempt to end partisanship for the sake of national unity (i.e. – create a post-ideological era), passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which made criticism of the government illegal. I truly believe a similar effort is currently underway, with liberal rhetoric increasingly aimed at stifling opposition. I am deeply concerned and annoyed, for instance, that the president has unilaterally declared the debate on the stimulus over, calling for passage now. Even more disturbing is the renewed talk of the Fairness Doctrine, a policy that represents the greatest infringement upon free speech since the Alien and Sedition Acts.
National unity is essential, but as Americans we have to sack up and remember that open debate and civil opposition aren’t going to destroy us. Politicians have been advocating for a post-partisan America since the nation began, and in nearly every case these politicians have been members of the governing majority. Consequently their concept of post-partisanship is typically just one-party rule.