"I am not an ideologue," President Obama insisted at his truly refreshing confab with the Republican caucus in Baltimore last Friday. When he heard some incredulous murmurs and chuckles from the audience in response to the idea that the most sincerely ideological president in a generation is no ideologue, he added a somewhat plaintive, "I'm not."It's such a loaded word, it would be helpful to have a definition of "ideologue."
If it means "dogmatist" then Obama is a mixed case. He's dogmatic about Progressive ideology (i.e. philosophy), but pragmatic about how he applies it. It's no accident that Dewey was one of the foremost developers of both Progressivism and Pragmatism. Far from being antithetical, they're complementary. (One refers to content, the other to a method.)
If it just means someone who has a philosophy, that's true of everyone. It couldn't be otherwise. If it means having a consistent, coherent, or comprehensive philosophy... these days that's true of very few on all points of the political compass. Pragmatism, in the technical sense of that term, is the overwhelmingly dominant philosophy of our day, and half the cause of most of our problems. (Progressivism is the other half.)
Finally, the word "pragmatism" does NOT mean "practical," in theory or practice. Dewey would have shuddered at the idea, and – in fact – a pragmatist (i.e. someone who doesn't use a conscious, consistent philosophy to guide his or her actions) is the most impractical creature on Earth. Such a person is continually buffeted by winds internal and external, his emotions on the one hand, the beliefs of others on the other.
All those confusions over important words are a major source of countless unnecessary debates. In too many cases, that confusion is no doubt deliberate. The last thing a pragmatic Progressive would want is clear definitions.