Perhaps the scariest thing about humans is their profound discomfort with ambiguity, and their concomitant desire to know things for sure, to have all the answers, and to demand that others believe exactly as they do.
Ideology, it seems, is reasserting itself in a world that less than a generation ago appeared headed toward pluralism, tolerance and pragmatism, all bolstered by an unprecedented flow of free information that promised to render extremism obsolete.
Too bad it hasn’t worked out that way. Unpacking his 40-year career as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, John Burns recently concluded: “What those years bred in me, more than anything else, was an abiding revulsion for ideology, in all its guises.”
Burns worked in some of the world’s ugliest places, among them Soviet Russia, Mao’s China, Afghanistan under the Taliban, South Africa under apartheid and North Korea under the Kim dynasty. “I learned that there is no limit to the lunacy, malice and suffering that can plague any society with a ruling ideology,” Burns reflected.
But even in the Britain and America to which he has now retired, Burns detects a frightening partisan rigidity. “It can be depressing beyond words,” he wrote, “to hear the loyalists of a given political creed — whether left or right — adopt the unyielding certainties common in totalitarian states.”
We agree. Screeds portraying government as a manifest evil are especially damaging because they taint even the most sensible government solutions. With national campaigns approaching, our fervent hope is that voters have grown weary of the threadbare recitations common to both parties and will instead demand pragmatic, creative and courageous approaches that bypass the tiresome interest groups. This campaign will be wasted if voters continue to hear (on the right) about the dreary social issues and the virtues of never, never raising taxes, and (on the left) about candidates “who will fight for people like you.” Oh, please!
We yearn for an agenda that matches the nation’s and the state’s actual problems: Creating a wider prosperity; building an infrastructure that works; forging a coherent, sophisticated foreign policy; fostering a truly effective system for education and training; reforming the corrupt financing of campaigns, and devising serious policies on climate and energy. We long for solutions based on hard evidence, not ideological correctness.
It’s encouraging that ideology has suffered a few setbacks lately, among them the opening to Cuba and the repudiation of state laws that protected the “religious freedom” to discriminate. This advice from candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton offers another positive signal that should spread throughout the campaigns in both parties: “Don’t vote for anybody of any party anywhere in the country who proudly tells you they will never compromise.”