Civil Affairs: Pragmatism


For those who did not hear, I was on television last night. Specifically, on the program “Red, White and Blue” on the local PBS affiliate. Among the many topics that we discussed was just how the Statewide Democratic slate might do well in November. Jay Aiyer, a law professor at Texas Southern University and one of my fellow panelists, opined that Democrats should move to the center and embrace causes typically not associated with contemporary liberalism. As you may have noticed if you watched the program, I also suggested that some embrace of social issues, specifically gay rights and abortion, might end up benefiting the Democrats. I also noted that Aiyer’s suggestion and mine were not necessarily mutually exclusive, as evident by a political persona such as Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo, the Governor of New York, is likely the type of Democrat that candidates in Texas should strive to emulate. Unapologetic in his embrace of liberal social positions, though overwhelmingly business friendly, Cuomo has marked out of position on the political spectrum that transcends the typical constraints of dichotomous opposition.  Most important of all, Cuomo possesses a trait that I call “ruthless pragmatism,” not necessarily in the style of Frank Underwood, but maintaining a healthy alacrity to changing issues and conventions nonetheless.

However, a true of pet peeve of mine would be when the idea of pragmatism is misused or otherwise adulterated by someone who is just weak willed. Not to be too cliche, but the word is defined as practically, realistically or otherwise sensibly dealing with issues. Pragmatism is not tantamount to equivocation. Just because something might be popular does not mean that it is necessarily pragmatic, particularly if there are other negative implications.

This all connects back to the Statewide elections, for the underlying theme that Aiyer and I agree upon is that Texas Democrats must engage in ruthless pragmatism to win. The problem is that intelligent people can have honest disagreements about which issues should be incorporated into this obligatory “pragmatic platform.” For example, I think that backing a healthy level of education reform would be a very good start. However, for heavier issues such as fracking, the same simply cannot be said.

Charter Schools, for one, are obviously popular and resonate well with a center-to-right electorate in this State. More importantly, they work. Study after survey after evaluation has shown that they consistently outperform legacy schools and are easily one of the most successful facets of public education. That being said, there is still an ideological argument to be made that perhaps it is not the best idea to privatize the public education system. But the conjecture that public schools should serve as anchors of the community and are not beyond repair is’ not an argument of the facts, it is an argument of ideology.

Repudiating one’s ideology in favor of what works, when it comes to the facts, is the very quintessence of pragmatism. Cuomo, an ardent supporter of these schools, is a pragmatist, while Bill de Blasio, the firebrand liberal Mayor of New York, who initially tried to shut them down in the City, is not. This is not all that dissimilar to the pension issue in Houston and other major cities. There is an ideological argument to be made, one that I am actually quite sympathetic to and supportive of, that workers who have been promised a pension should not have it snatched away from them. But that is wholly independent from the purely pragmatic viewpoint of acknowledging the dangers of municipal insolvency.

But fracking is so very different. While one may argue that it is a wondrous short-term boost to the economy and creates jobs, wholehearted support should not come from any Democrat for one very simple reason: the facts are not on this issue’s side. At current, fracking is responsible for horrendously polluting the groundwater around its operations. Furthermore, convincing evidence is present that the process causes earthquakes.

This is not to say that hydraulic fracking, which has surely been responsible for a great deal of good in weaning this nation off of foreign fuel sources, is not beyond reproach. As technology is improved and further refined, I have faith that safeguards will be increased to prevent contamination and make the process safer.

Unfortunately, the future is not here yet, and the externalities currently associated with the procedure are just too high, especially for members of a party who pride themselves on conservation and environmental stewardship. The pragmatic position among Democrats is still absolutely to support much more stringent regulations on the process, if not a total moratorium.

As the campaign gears up and we begin to see more incongruous position-taking from candidates on both sides, we should all be quick to remember the invaluable differences between pragmatism and equivocation. Only one actually depends on the facts, the other solely on the whims and caprices of the general public.

One thought on “Civil Affairs: Pragmatism

  1. Put public pensions in with fracking… mismanagement and underreserving are the reasons for the shortfall. Sidestepping the issue causes more problems in the future.

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