Global Ethics Corner: Jumping Parties: Principles or Pragmatism?

May 1, 2009

Senator Specter is now a Democrat. Was his decision to switch parties principled, pragmatic, or just expedient?

Senator Specter is now a Democrat. His principles have not changed, and he doesn't argue that he will be more effective. He avoided an election he would lose, against a conservative, in a Republican primary dominated by the principled right wing.

Was Specter principled, pragmatic, or just expedient?

Perhaps parties exist to express values. You need to embrace core principles to participate. Without a core, the party loses purpose.

Perhaps political parties exist to govern. In democracies that requires winning elections and sustaining majorities. Here, pragmatic compromise is key.

From which premise do you begin? Each can lead down a slippery slope to either a values-based party that can never govern or to a politically expedient party whose only value is winning.

Perhaps we should balance principles with pragmatism. That balance, however, is difficult. Gray areas are unpopular, hard to explain, and often boring.

People care strongly about a limited number of things and have litmus tests for these. The new media multiply and push us to extremes in order to capture definable audiences.

Principles or pragmatism? Where do you start when you judge politicians?

By William Vocke

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