One can always tell that politicians are desperate when they hurl epithets indiscriminately at their opponents. It happened in the last week as Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner negotiated a budget compromise for the remainder of the current fiscal year that calls for some $38 billion in actual cuts.
Critics on the right have called the amounts involved minuscule and on the left massive, but the truth is that an historic event has just occurred. Not a cut in the rate of government spending but a real cut has been made — which explains why Democrats are revealing the limits to their vocabulary and the shallowness of their thought.
The most common epithets hurled were "ideology" and "extremist." Now it's not as if these are novel terms; it's just that they are invariably resorted to when things get tough. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) used both terms, assuming, of course, that they discredit those against whom they are directed.
What's with this "ideology" business? Is it because Republicans have the wrong ideology, or because they have one? At the first blush, it seems to be the latter, for Schumer and others did not criticize it but simply condemned for its baneful appearance in budget negotiations.
One does not have to be a political philosopher to know that the Republicans stand for government limited to promoting the general welfare and providing for national defense. Not coincidentally, that's the "ideology" that informs the United States Constitution. However, the framers of that valuable document were not under the impression that they were ideologues but rather prudent men of sound principle.
What the Democrats really take issue with are the constitutional principles to which Republicans, in their best moments, are dedicated. It is the so-called "right wing" ideology that Schumer and his cohorts object to. But let us take seriously nevertheless the implicit claim that the Democrats somehow are free of ideology. What does that mean?
These days those who claim to have no ideology call themselves "pragmatists," which is designed to convince the voters that such leaders are practical and sensible people who are not dreamers and such. But why are Republicans in effect denounced as dreamers for saying that we can't spend money that we haven't got? That there are limits to what government can do? What's impractical about that?
The truth is that Democrats are in thrall to an ideology, namely, that all perceived inequalities among the citizens should be reduced or eliminated. To that end, they have spent endless hours and trillions of dollars in a fruitless crusade that not only does not end inequalities but creates new ones between the recipients of government largesse and the largely forgotten taxpayers.
But let us press further. If the Democrats mean to be taken seriously in their claim that they have no "ideology," which in real terms means they have no principles, then they are taking a position which is both morally and politically indefensible. They are saying that they have the right to spend other people's money for any purpose they choose and not be accountable for this to the voters.
That evidently is the reason why the Senate's Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid has denounced Republicans for being influenced by that God-awful Tea Party movement that has had enough of freewheeling spending and top-heavy administration by the federal government. Those folks, Reid says, are "extremists" who object to such wonderful government programs as Cowboy poetry festivals that bring people to Nevada each year, who "would not exist" in the absence of such glorious events.
Offhand, I'd say that a politician who believes that expenditures of that sort are beyond question is a man without principles, a man who thinks that his claim to your money is unlimited, whose purported compassion but real greed is on full display.
The Democrats' "ideology," it turns out, is a mask for a selfish interest in the "tax, spend and elect" doctrine first formulated by Harry Hopkins, Franklin Roosevelt's closest advisor, back in the 1930s. But that approach has reached its limits, as the money tree can no longer be shaken.
The next time the Democrats denounce the Republicans' "ideology," know that what they really mean is that no one has a right to stop them in their raid on the public treasury. Americans spoke clearly in 2010 their determination to end this farce. The 2012 elections can't get here soon enough.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of " Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at email@example.com.