At his core, Bill Clinton was the ultimate pragmatist. How else could one explain a "liberal" Democrat who cut the capital gains tax, signed welfare reform legislation and vigorously promoted the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)?
In fact, Clinton defied the will of his core constituency in supporting all three of those measures. He wrote about welfare reform in an August 22, 2006 opinion piece in the New York Times:
"On Aug. 22, 1996, after vetoing two earlier versions, I signed welfare reform into law. At the time, I was widely criticized by liberals who thought the work requirements too harsh and conservatives who thought the work incentives too generous. Three members of my administration ultimately resigned in protest. Thankfully, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans voted for the bill because they thought we shouldn't be satisfied with a system that had led to intergenerational dependency."
The Agile Centrist recalls a speech Clinton gave at the time to a hostile group of liberals who demanded he withdraw his support for the bill. Clinton asked them to consider the consequences of continuing to defend a program that was an indisputable failure. The balloon of opposition began to deflate because there was simply no suitable response.
That is what we used to call leadership.
As much as the suggestion irritates conservatives, Ronald Regan was also more of a pragmatist than an ideologue. Many Republicans refuse to acknowledge that during his two terms, Reagan negotiated a substantial increase in the Social Security payroll tax, granted amnesty to three million illegal aliens, and signed a bill that raised taxes on corporations by $120 billion.
The willingness to acknowledge certain truths, despite how they might contradict partisan ideology, is the stuff from which great leaders are made. Unfortunately, it is exactly what is missing from modern politics. As zealots driven by inflexible principles throttle any attempt at compromise, the ability to implement critical national policy evaporates.
For liberal-socialists, partisan intransigence manifests itself in a climate change doctrine that remains entrenched despite uncovering the purposeful manipulation of raw data. It has also surfaced in health care legislation that ignores malpractice insurance reform and increased competition as meaningful solutions for rising insurance premiums.
Conservatives are not without blame either. Their unwillingness to acknowledge that the bank bailout programs of 2008 clearly avoided a financial catastrophe of global proportions plays to the fears of their constituency, but completely ignores reality.
The Agile Centrist finds it appalling that extreme partisans cannot even agree when their objectives are essentially the same. The goals of short-term energy price relief and a