It would be convenient if all of our problems could be solved by a single ideology.
On the right, politicians are exclaiming the virtues of conservatism. Give the free market reign, and all our problems will be solved. An unrestricted market may benefit the wealthy more, but it will lift all boats. Government intrusion in the marketplace is the cause of all of our problems.
On the left, some politicians are touting socialism as a cure to our ills. If the wealthy who currently control the nation’s capital are replaced or severely restricted by elected representatives answerable to the people, the democratic socialists suggest, we will live in a utopia.
To be sure, a single template for national progress would be convenient. If the magic bullet that would take down our problems were conservatism or liberalism or socialism, our choices as voters would be simple.
Unfortunately, self-governance is not so easy.
Despising immigrants fits in nicely with the ideology of nationalism. Unfortunately, we depend heavily on immigrants to sustain a vibrant economy.
The panacea of socialism might work great in the short term, giving financial security to struggling low- and middle-income citizens, but it would squelch needed entrepreneurs and likely would discourage domestic investment.
The empathy of liberalism might be most consistent with our religious values, but as social policy it can create economic dependency, and it manifests itself as weakness when our nation confronts real enemies.
The truth is our nation’s governance cannot rely on any single ideology. Competent political leaders must choose strategies that come from multiple perspectives, eschewing ideology for pragmatism.
The pragmatic leaders we need, sadly, find it nearly impossible to get elected. The public is so attuned to narrow ideologies that we tend to evaluate candidates not on their ability to lead, but on their adherence to our ideology of choice. Hillary Clinton falls short for liberals because of her aggressive stance in foreign policy. Bernie Sanders loses points because of his one-time rejection of gun-control measures. Marco Rubio sounds conservative, but he has been lax on immigration. Donald Trump gets conservative credits for his anti-immigrant stance, even though it is unrealistic.
The strategies necessary for guiding our nation do not fit into a single philosophical template, and we weaken our nation when our evaluation of political candidates requires them to automatically denounce ideas that fail to adhere to their announced ideology.
We need leaders who can run a diverse and complex nation. We need pragmatists who recognize good ideas can come from anywhere in the political spectrum. To get such leaders, we must stop penalizing candidates who stray from the narrow set of principles that define a particular ideology.