On Friday, May 21, I checked the memeorandum.com politics website--it's one of the best politics aggregator sites on the web--to find the important news. The dominant story involved Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul's comments about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the president's remarks about British Petroleum.
Receiving less than half of the attention devoted to Rand Paul was Senate passage of a sweeping financial regulation bill.
Now, ask yourself this question: Which event is more likely to make a large difference in your life--federal financial reform or Rand Paul's opinions?
As someone managing my family's finances, the answer is easy. My family's fate hinges far less on Rand Paul's opinions than on the future of federal regulation of financial markets. If financial reform has such big impact, why wasn't it the top story on May 21?
The focus on Rand Paul's comments is all about conflict and ideology. Conflict draws attention, so Internet sites magnify it. Also, Paul's comments are controversial so his political opponents want to make political hay with them. That's because ultimately the salience of the May 20 Rand Paul story is illustrative of the triumph of ideology among our political elites. After all, Paul is an ideological individual, and so are many of his outspoken opponents.
Ideologues are convinced they have a monopoly on truth and fact in politics. Since opponents are empirically wrong and evil, the game of politics involves defaming them effectively. This activity characterizes much political discussion on the Internet. Ideologues dominate much Internet discourse, and their activism gives them disproportionately large voice in our politics.
Political analyst Bill Schneider some years ago noted that ideologues are sure that the approach they think is right will also work in the real world. In other words, there is no conflict between the good and the true.
Many voters, Schneider argued, believe just the opposite: that whatever works well is probably right. Such pragmatism is lost on many fervent participants in the blogosphere.
Increasingly, rigid ideology is evident among our elected officials. Floor voting in Congress is more polarized by party than ever before in our nation's history, and party leaders in Congress are pretty much in step with their party's ideologues.
So I'll have to hope, for my family's financial sake, that in between their ideological food fights, those who govern us might actually know what they are doing when they regulate our major financial institutions.
Our national politics needs to focus on major national problems and how, realistically, to solve them--but ideologues aren't much interested in that.
Steven E. Schier is the Dorothy H. and Edward C. Congdon Professor of Political Science at Carleton College. His columns have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Washington Monthly, Brookings Review and other publications. Visit his Web site here .