Belding: Flexibility essential in politics

Michael Belding

Some time ago, Newt Gingrich made some comments on the Sunday morning show “Meet the Press,” for which he has been roundly criticized by various Republican Party officials and pundits.

The details of the comment are not terribly important. Its gist was that Gingrich supported requiring individuals to either have health insurance or post a bond when visiting a doctor.

By saying so, Gingrich continued to distance himself from the plan of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). This distancing drew comments such as, “With allies like that, who needs the left?” from Ryan himself, as well as radio host Bill Bennett’s characterization of the statement as “unforgivable.”

This series of events is interesting, because it highlights one of the problems in American politics that politicians often harp on, but seldom do much about. That problem is partisanship. It could also be called an unyielding adherence to ideology.

Since the emergence of the Tea Party, the Republican Party has increasingly focused not on results, but on establishing ideological purity. Compromise is a dirty word, and to be a moderate in politics — to be more concerned with practical results than achieving some set of abstract principles — is dangerous. If you’re an incumbent, it could cost you your seat.

Think about that: you might find yourself unseated just because you didn’t break your communion wafer in the base-sanctioned chapel of party thought.

Voters seem to care more now about voting into people who agree with them into office than choosing people who have demonstrated a proven ability to guide the ship of state.

The weightiest credentials a candidate can possess now are holding the same beliefs as a majority of his or her constituents and being unwilling to compromise those beliefs.

But politics is not supposed to be a code. It is supposed to be a practice. It is an activity. We should start thinking of politics as a verb — something to be done. Politics is not a set of iron-clad laws to be obeyed. And in the practice of politics, the world can be changed.

As that world changes, politicians must change.

Rigidity does not allow the freedom of movement needed to meet unexpected needs. History is full of events that bear this fact out.

Just think — had we clung to our neutrality in the Second World War, how might have that conflict ended?

A certain flexibility, or capacity for adjustment, is a better quality than strict adherence to ideological presuppositions about how the world works.

Gingrich’s seeming abandonment of Ryan’s plan isn’t bad. If Gingrich’s idea can be shown to be a more adequate solution to the problem of health insurance, we should applaud his rejection of the Ryan plan and cheer his adoption of a solution that actually works.

Burying your head in ideological sand won’t shelter you from the sandstorm going on outside.