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Have Republicans replaced Democrats as the party of pragmatism?

9:00 AM, Mar 21, 2005 • By PAUL MIRENGOFF
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Some disclaimers: It may not always be better to be pragmatic than doctrinaire. And being doctrinaire is not always anti-pragmatic. For example, George W. Bush's insistence on the primacy of democracy in American foreign policy is a doctrinaire policy rooted in the pragmatic observation that democracy makes the United States safer. As a result, it is not always obvious whose approach to a given problem is pragmatic and whose is doctrinaire. And even today there are some issues as to which the Democrats are more pragmatic than the Republicans. (Stem-cell research comes to mind.)

THAT SAID, when one party is perceived as more pragmatic than the other, it has gained a major advantage. The public swoons over politicians such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appear to focus "like a lazar" on that which isn't working and to propose solutions based on a good faith analysis of what will work going forward. Ask Bob Dole whether voters prefer a candidate who claims to be a bridge to the past or one who runs as a bridge to the future. The public's preference for pragmatism helps explain why governors have done so well in recent presidential races. They appear to be problem solvers while Senators labor under the image of being bogged down in ideological disputes.

If it is true that Republicans have become the more pragmatic of the two parties, how and why did this transformation happen? The "how" part has a great deal to do with the failure of a potentially great pragmatist, Bill Clinton, to propose a pragmatic answer on healthcare. It has even more to do with the rise of George W. Bush and his big government conservatism. But that's a subject for another day.

Paul Mirengoff is a contributor to the blog Power Line and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard.

Correction appended, 3/21/05: The article originally stated that outside of ANWR, the United States has about 21 million barrels of proven reserves. The correct number is about 21 billion barrels.