When principle rubs up against pragmatismWritten by Eric McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For as long as I can remember, Sen. Ted Kennedy was there … an unapologetic liberal voice in an unrepentant conservative age. For those of us who believe deeply in progressive and communitarian values, he was a durable and reliable soul. The fact that he was able to rise above the pain, tragedy and messiness of his own personal life to keep the progressive dream alive is a testament to all of this. God bless him.
But he was also a pragmatist who enjoyed an exceedingly productive career in the Senate. Though he would eagerly carry the spear for the cause, he would not fall on it. At the end of the day, he knew that is was always better to walk away with something. So, it is reported that he befriended the likes of Orrin Hatch, Trent Lott and President Bush 43 (an unholy triumvirate to most of us lefties) to negotiate a better deal for America’s children, poor, disabled and the rest of those who, for whatever reason, have been unable to make the prevailing political and economic systems work for them. There would always be tomorrow to get what couldn’t be gotten today.
This blending of idealism with pragmatism may be one of his greatest gifts. It is so easy to live and die for principle. There is an odd and pathetic comfort found in being on the losing side of a great moral struggle. It can make us feel morally superior. I know; I have been there. It is equally easy to allow every prevailing wind to toss us to and fro. The upside is that one is always dancing in the winner’s circle. But winning can be addictive. Sooner or later, the victory dance becomes more important than the actual cause. The winning of an election becomes more important than a resolution to a problem.
To wed principle to pragmatism is a difficult thing. It is also an essential thing if one is going to be productive in a democratic society. This is especially true for one of Kennedy’s greatest passions: the development of a national health care policy.
The debate surrounding this issue does involve principle. We lefties believe that health care is much too important an issue to be left to the whims and fancies of the marketplace. My conservative friends tell me that health care is much too important an issue to be left to the dictates of government bureaucrats. We lefties believe health care ought to be a right. My conservative friends tell me that it should be a privilege for those who have worked for it. We want a public option because we believe government can resolve problems; they don’t because they believe government is the problem. And so it goes.
The debate also involves the practical. Our system is broken. Ask accountants who pay the bills for their company, or agency or religious community. How many doctors feel frustrated when the insurance company tells them they cannot do what they think best?
We spend twice as much per person on health care in this country as do our European friends and, according to the World Health Organization, their outcomes are far better than ours.
In my conference of my own church, we spend more on medications to treat high blood pressure, gird and depression than we spend on our reason to be to serve others and to share hope.
Clearly this can not go on. On this, most of us agree.
Getting the mix right between principle and pragmatism is the challenge facing our leaders. As much as I wish otherwise, America may not, or ever, be ready for a single payer plan.
As much as my conservative friends wish otherwise, America will never be comfortable with allowing an unfettered and free marketplace make the decision as to who gets care and who doesn’t. Somewhere between these two principled places lies a path that may not satisfy either side, but will begin a process that will lead us out of this mess. That path will only be found by those principled souls who understand the need for pragmatism.
Sen. Kennedy, I hope you taught your colleagues well. We will miss your passion, your pragmatism and your leadership on this.
Eric McGlade is a United Methodist pastor living in Bowling Green. E-mail him at email@example.com.
Tags: Ted Kennedy