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Friday, 30 July 2010 01:03

From the Desk of P.M. Carpenter, a Farewell Note (2)

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Just a few remarks in this final column for BuzzFlash, for whom it has been my immense pleasure for nearly two and a half years to write daily.

First, and above all, I wanted to publicly thank BuzzFlash's publisher and editor, Mark Karlin, the hardest working man on the Internet, for his many kindnesses and especially for his unsurpassed graciousness in coping with whatever grief I caused him.

About every three or four months I'd receive an email from Mark (I'm not a Chicago resident; in fact, I've never even met Mr. Karlin in person), in which he'd gently inform me that online commenters were dousing my effigy in kerosene and demanding its charred remains, either because of some specific incitement on my part or some general accumulation of philosophical differences.

But, Mark would add, on BuzzFlash my independence would always be secure. Not to worry.

Opinion columns, unsurprisingly, should reflect the columnist's opinions. I hadn't been hired to act as the captain of a booster club or to cheerlead the latest in progressive conventional thought or to rack up a wall-full of blue ribbons for online popularity. A columnist should work to stir and stimulate, not soothe. Mark's exceptional recognition of that singular injunction largely offset, in this columnist's opinion, Christopher Hitchens' mildly whimsical but "valuable discovery that there is no intolerance like liberal intolerance."

No doubt, chief among internal progressive battlegrounds is the symmetrical demarcation of idealists and pragmatists. To my mind, however, the estrangement is artificial. Idealism is essentially pointless if at least the thrust of its tenets cannot be enacted, and pragmatism would of course be non-existent as a political practice if no authentic ideals were being pursued.

In short, idealism requires a pragmatic approach, otherwise it's just pretty words and metaphysical daydreaming. And human needs need help, now, not daydreams, which are better left to lofty college seminars in political philosophy, where one perhaps acquires idealism but only later learns how to do something about it.

The other night I caught a few minutes of Rep. Barney Frank in an MSNBC interview and he succinctly put it quite well: "If you're idealistic, you have a moral obligation to be pragmatic." There is not, or, let's say, there should not be, any distinction here.

Intensely related to this imaginary division within progressive ranks has been the more tangible debate between incrementalists and absolutists. Again, like collegiate aspirations the latter are needed up front as political shock troops, but at some point they must morph into the former, if anything is to get done.

I direct your attention to American history, from early 19th-century social reforms to the decades-long battle for emancipation to the century's later political-bureaucratic reforms to TR and Wilson's Progressive Era to FDR's New Dealism and to the Great(er) Society envisioned by LBJ. Each level of sociopolitical progress was grinding and grueling and packed with half-measures -- because remember, the other side gets its say, too; plus the other side, notwithstanding our oft-proper ridicule, is not always without its own version of idealism, possessed just as passionately.

And now, Barack Obama's correction of a dreadful, 30-year pseudoconservative misadventure. Step by step. Piece by piece. Half-measures by half-measures, which in time will become 60-percent measures, then 80-percent measures ...

That, quite simply, is the way it is. Indeed, that's the way it's supposed to be. If genuine conservative genius there ever was, it came in the Founders' Burkean inspiration that true and lasting progress must pass the tests of peaceful struggle and tireless debate. Achieving a national consensus is hard, but it's necessary to progress' durability; vast and overanxious progress in a consensual void only insures its unraveling.

Well, I see that my few remarks have rather swelled. So I'll stop and leave you merely with this: Sometime in August I'll likely return to my old site, pmcarpenter.blogs.com, where I'll welcome all visitors to a civilized conversation.

Thank you. It's been grand.

-- Phillip (P.M.) Carpenter


Read 3726 times Last modified on Saturday, 31 July 2010 09:02