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Memo To Pundits: Ideology Is Not A Four-letter Word

Today on MSNBC's Hardball, Politico columnist Roger Simon offered some advice to the President-Elect: Get past ideology and just deliver progress.

As he explained it--and, apologies, I didn't take direct notes--American voters don't want big, pitched battles in Washington. They just want somebody to pass laws and enact programs that will make their lives better.

I've heard this argument many times before. And, in a sense, it's true. If you go around and survey Americans on whether they want politicians to have noisy arguments over legislation, the majority of Americans will say no.

But sometimes you need to have those sorts of fights in order to deliver the policies that people want. In other words, sometimes ideology and progress go hand-in-hand.

Let's take a simple example: stimulating the economy. Among mainstream economists with solid intellectual credentials, there's a pretty broad consensus now that the govenrment needs to boost the economy with short-term deficit spending--and that at least some of the money should pay for infrastructure or aid to the states, rather than tax rebates.

But if Obama pursues such a poilcy, as I hope he will, some conservatives will object because they oppose government spending on principle. Others, who consider balanced budgets sacrosanct, will complain about the deficit.

Obama could sidestep this argument, I suppose, by meeting them all halfway. But then he'd be pushing for a much less effective stimulus, which would mean delivering less of the progress that people want.

This isn't true of every item on Obama's agenda, but it's true of many. And while Obama shouldn't covet ideological clash, he shouldn't fear it, either.

More than anything, the voters want results. They want better jobs, health care, affordable energy, and good schools. If Obama can deliver on those promises, even partly, I doubt they'll care how he did it.

--Jonathan Cohn