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The Current Political Landscape, Ideology vs. Reality

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, on July 15, 2011. (Photo: Philip Scott Andrews / The New York Times) In describing the recent budget debate impasse between the Obama administration and the Republican-led Congress, House Majority Leader Boehner (R-Ohio) stated, “The gulf between the two parties now is about policy. It's not about process, it's not about personalities.” Boehner is wrong; it's not about policy. It's about ideology, and has everything to do with personality.

In describing the recent budget debate impasse between the Obama administration and the Republican-led Congress, House Majority Leader Boehner (R-Ohio) stated, “The gulf between the two parties now is about policy. It's not about process, it's not about personalities.” Boehner is wrong; it's not about policy. It's about ideology, and has everything to do with personality.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) clearly made it about personality when he stated in 2010 that, “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” From that point forward, it became much easier to understand why the relationship between the White House and Congress has been so contentious. Instead of demonstrating to the country how Republican-supported policy would make the country stronger and safer, create jobs and provide much needed health care coverage for all Americans, Republicans turned their focus to ensuring that the president serves only one term. It's not about policy; it's about personality.

As Boehner tries to negotiate with President Obama, he is hamstrung by the members of the Tea Party Caucus and their uncompromising ideological stance for a constitutionally limited government. They are championing the position of “cut, cap and balance.” According to the South Florida Tea Party, this plan calls for substantial spending cuts in fiscal year 2012, a statutory spending cap and Congressional passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution. Their inflexible position will not allow them to support any measure that includes an increase in taxes.

Most fiscal experts are stating that any serious balanced budget reduction plan must include an increase in tax revenues. Alice Rivlin from Brookings states, .”.. any balanced budget plan has to include both spending cuts and tax increases – unpleasant medicine.” Tea Party Caucus spokeswoman Rep. Michelle Bachmann has refused to sign on to any bipartisan deal stating, “It's time for tough love … Don't let them scare you by telling you that the country's going to fall apart.” When negotiating positions are grounded in ideology and not focused on the best long-term interest of all Americans, facts don't matter; reality does not matter.

Boehner has stated, “Most Americans would say a balanced approach is a simple one: The administration gets its debt-limit increase and the American people get their spending cut …” Once again, his rhetoric is not consistent with the facts. According to the most recent USA Today/Gallup survey by a 2-1 margin, Americans want lawmakers in Congress to seek compromise (and not the compromise Boehner touts) to avoid a government shutdown. The most recent Quinnipiac University survey on this issue finds that 67 to 25 percent that an agreement to raise the debt ceiling should include tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, not just spending cuts. The survey's overall sampling error is a very good plus or minus two percentage points.

The budget debate is not the only area where adherence to ideology matters more than the facts. Recently, Republican presidential candidates Bachmann and Rick Santorum signed the “The Marriage Vow – A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family.” Of the many problematic elements of “the pledge” is the following: “Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President.” In spite of the factual inaccuracy in this statement and its irrelevance to current circumstances, Christian ideologues find it necessary to promote this baseless and insulting statement in a feeble attempt to promote traditional marriage.

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The problem with ideologies is that, when left to their own merit, they do not hold up to rational, fact-based scrutiny. They tend to focus on and confuse the imagery of the “should be” and “ought to be” with the practical “is.” Without people who are able to inject pragmatism and tie logic and reason to an ideology, it can take an institution, group or country down some very perilous roads. This is why ideologues (people who profess ideologies) make terrible politicians and ideology can make for very bad public policy. Ideologues are so focused on the “should be” that they fail to take into account the practical applications of the “how.” At their worst, they alter facts to fit their ideology, as was the case when Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Florida) falsely claimed on the Senate floor that, “If you want an abortion, you go to Planned Parenthood and that's well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” Planned Parenthood has been prevented by federal law from using federal dollars for abortion services.

After several years of ideological babble such as “compassionate conservatism,” “American internationalism,” “ownership society” and “war on terror,” Americans are finally beginning to focus on real issues such as home foreclosures, affordable health care, outsourcing American jobs, global warming and skyrocketing energy costs. Ironically, much of the blame for these problems can be traced back to some of the same ideologues that now threaten to shut down the government.

Facts matter, especially when part of your ideology claims to make you more American than those who disagree with you and is supposed to be based on an understanding of history and the Constitution. No, Mrs. Bachmann, the shot heard around the world was not fired in Concord, New Hampshire; it was Concord, Massachusetts. John Quincy Adams was not a founding father; he was only nine years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Finally, the founding fathers did not work “tirelessly to end slavery.” Twelve owned slaves during their lifetime; eight owned slaves while in the White House; and of the first five presidents, four owned slaves.

When seeking clarity on American values and ideals, Americans should look to the document upon which the ideological basis of the country was founded. In the Declaration of Independence, ideology was combined with pragmatic application. The true ideological basis of the country is articulated as follows: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The pragmatic manner to implement the ideology is stated as, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …”

We can also look to the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity and to accomplish this the Framer's practically ordained and established the Constitution for the United States of America.” The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are where the real traditional ideals of America are articulated.

The current political landscape is being polluted with ideological babble by politicians trying to facilitate the transference of wealth from the working and middle class to the wealthy, and impose a narrow self-serving social agenda on the country as a whole.