Some people are bound by professional canon or peculiar personality to concern themselves more with proclate judges, members of the American Civil Liberties Union and supply-side economists come to mind.
But most of the rest of us see ourselves as common-sense pragmatists who want to know only: Does it work?
Well, maybe we're not as pragmatic as we think we are. Run through a series of public questions and you'll see what I mean.
A pragmatist looking at public welfare, for instance, would ask bottom-line questions: What does it accomplish, and at what net cost? Can we make it better or less costly?
An ideologist may (if he is on the right) be very sad that some people are starving to death and yet be immobilized by his general principle that handouts do more harm than good. His left-wing counterpart may be equally sad that some people are being seduced into permanent dependency and loss of self-esteem and yet insist on continuing the handouts because of his general belief that decent people must give to the poor.
A pragmatist looking at "Star Wars" would head naturally toward Jeremy Bernstein's two-edged question: If our experts say the intrinsically untestable system would protect us against a Soviet missile threat, could those responsible for the American defense afford to believe it (and, on the basis of that belief, move away from present deterrent strategy)? Could anyone responsible for Soviet security afford not to believe it? Since the answer to both questions is an obvious and resounding no, then what purpose would "Star Wars" serve?
But the questions that seem so obvious to Bernstein (a professor of physics at Stevens Institute of Technology) hardly matter to the ideologues who tend to be for or against "Star Wars" for reasons that have nothing to do with its ultimate workability. One side is for anything that can be labeled "stronger defense," the other in favor of anything that can be called "arms reduction," no matter if neither actually makes us more secure.
Or take the question of how to respond to terrorism. It seems that for every pragmatist who only wants to know whether retaliation is likely to reduce terrorism or increase it, there are a dozen ideologues who don't care. Their insistence on retaliation or forbearance has nothing to do with predictable results.
It's the same with a nontechnical question such as public school prayer. The pragmatist wants to know: What does it do? Make students behave better? Subject them to the influence of alien religions? Elevate children? Embarrass them?
A pragmatist might conclude that school prayer does none of these things. But for the ideologues, the concls an irrelevancy. Their arguments may be couched in terms of what the Constitution requires (or allows), but their conclusions have noth with their arguments. They are for or against prayer in the schools because they are for or against prayer in the schools.
And how do you tell whether you are a pragmatist or an ideologue? Try this test. Think of someone who in your mind personifies the other side the debate -- whether it's affirmative action, rent control, capital punishment or South Africa. If the picture in your mind is of a decent, intelligent person who just happens to differ with you on the particular question, you are a pragmatist. But if what you see is a stubborn, closed-minded idiot who not only has reached a wrong conclusion but who also means you no good, well, there you are.