Giving Them a Pass: Pragmatism in White House

Chuck Colson | BreakPoint | Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Giving Them a Pass: Pragmatism in White House


January 28, 2009

As I noted yesterday on BreakPoint, the inauguration of America’s first African-American President was one of the most moving moments in American history.

But now that the celebrations are over, it’s time to take a close look at how President Obama is planning to govern. And the closer I look, the greater my concerns. In his first week in office, he showed shown an alarming tendency to choose pragmatism over principle.

For example, I applaud the President ordering higher ethical standards for lobbying. “If you are a lobbyist entering my administration,” Obama said, “you will not be able to work on matters you lobbied on, or in the agencies you lobbied during the previous two years.”

Obama appointed him as deputy secretary of defense—despite the fact that, until very recently, he had been a lobbyist for Raytheon, one of the nation’s biggest defense contractors, right up until the time he was appointed.

When the press challenged him on this, Obama said Lynn was uniquely qualified to do the job, so he issued a waiver. How was he uniquely qualified? He knew how the system worked.

Pragmatism trumped principle.

Obama used the same argument when it turned out that his choice for Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, had neglected to pay $35,000 in self-employment taxes for a number of years. Senator Robert Byrd—a member of Obama’s own party—called Geithner’s behavior “inexcusable negligence.” He’s right.

Again, pragmatism trumped principle.

Most shameful of all is Obama’s decision to nominate Eric Holder as attorney general. This is the man who, after all, as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, helped make possible the pardon of fugitive Mark Rich, a man who was guilty of—as Andrew McCarthy writes in National Review Online—“massive tax evasion, fraud, racketeering, and, worst of all, funding America’s enemies.” A House committee called Holder’s actions “unconscionable.”

Obama evidently thinks Holder’s abilities outweigh his shameful past. Pragmatism, once again.

Sadly, the message he’s sending out to kids is: “If you’re smart enough, it’s okay to be unethical.”

But Obama’s pragmatism may go beyond a few bad appointments. In his inaugural address, the President said we should not ask “whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.”

The history of the last 80 years should teach us that large and powerful central governments are dangerous. Unchecked pragmatism is how tyrants gain power. Mussolini became El Duce on the argument that he’d make the trains run on time.

Pragmatism is the handmaiden of utilitarianism—the idea that you should do the greatest good for the greatest number. But this means people on the margins of society—the poor, the weak, the vulnerable—get cast aside.

This is why it is so important to fully understand worldviews. Pragmatism, you see, is antithetical to a biblical worldview. So we need to be equipping our churches to understand what a biblical worldview is and how it clashes with non-biblical worldviews. That’s what we do at BreakPoint, so come to our website for materials including my book on worldview, How Now Shall We Live?

And by the way—continue to pray for the President, that he will uphold the principles that have made this nation strong.


Chuck Colson’s daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. 

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