An Independent, Intelligent Ideologue

In a late—October editorial, the Milwaukee Journal—Sentinel — like many large U.S. cities, Milwaukee is unfortunately stuck with only one major newspaper — ran an editorial entitled 'No Ideologue For The Court.' The editorial made the case that President Bush would be remiss to nominate another 'ideologue' to the United States Supreme Court. This was after Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination and before the President's choice of Federal Appellate Judge Samuel Alito.

Predictably, Democrats have ramped up their rhetorical revulsion at Alito after initially welcoming him with accolades. Just as Democratic critics (read: multimillion—dollar lobbying groups) planned to brand Harriet Miers as an 'ideologue' — before many conservative critics rejected her qualifications themselves, thus proving their intellectual independence — they are now branding Alito with the same inane, nonsensical word.

'Alito is an ideologue with an agenda of using the judiciary to reverse important constitutional protections,' said Wade Henderson, executive director of the far—left Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) in late November. The statement appears to be intentionally vague, because, of course, there is absolutely no evidence of Alito reversing any constitutional law — much less a 'constitutional protection.' What his record shows, rather, is an individual who has legitimate concerns about employing a constitutional right to privacy to defend the legality of on—demand abortions. This puts Alito right in the middle of mainstream conservatism (and perhaps America) — not out on some fringe of right—wing philosophy.

To be fair, the word 'ideologue' does have a specific meaning that is neither inane nor nonsensical. But, unfortunately, many ignore the true definition — and their own history — to their peril.

On its most basic level, an ideologue is someone who adheres to an ideology or a set of core beliefs. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, describes an ideologue as

'an advocate of a particular ideology, especially an official exponent of that ideology.'

There are good ideologies and there are bad ideologies, but to steadfastly defend an ideology should not be a source of shame for any SCOTUS nominee. Unless, of course, the ideology itself is a shameful one.

Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, King, Kennedy and Reagan were all ideologues in one way or another. For Martin Luther King, Jr., it was strict adherence to the unshakeable ideology that content of character trumps color of skin every time. (A very different view than that of the NAACP's current leadership.) No matter how many fine—sounding arguments were thrown out to obstruct him — 'It's not the right time for change'; 'You're not the right man to lead this charge'; 'Be realistic, and stop living in your utopian, fantasy world' — King stood his ground, deeply committed to an ideology that he knew was right.

The example of King underscores the more contemporary definition of 'ideologue' offered by Merriam—Webster. This rendering, with its sneering subtext, varies significantly from the plainspoken American Heritage version. According to Merriam—Webster, an ideologue is either 'an impractical idealist' or 'an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology.'

Was King 'impractical' in his pursuit of equal rights? A cursory sampling of headlines and editorials by the journalistic intelligentsia of his day clearly suggests that he was. Was he 'an often blindly partisan advocate' for civil rights? That depends on how one interprets both 'blindly' and 'partisan,' but it's safe to say that he consciously ignored the rebuttals and attacks of those who opposed him, all for the sake of his ideology. (Incidentally, the use of the word 'often' is a curious bit of hedging in this definition; almost like defining a chair as a piece of furniture that is 'often used for sitting.')

In the end, the question of how to identify an ideologue is exactly the same as the question of how to determine an ideology. To possess or defend an ideology is to possess or defend a body of ideas, which everyone — hopefully — does as a simple matter of neurological faculty. The United States Constitution is a body of ideas, for example, and the vast majority of Americans still believe that it is worth defending.

Fault can be found in the validity of particular ideas, but it cannot be found in a person simply having ideas and defending them — even when editorial writers, politicians and powerful lobbying groups strain to portray their own opposing ideology as the only suitable option.

As long as Judge Alito has a mind of his own, and as long as he serves in a free nation that prides itself for being a marketplace of ideas, he can wear his newly minted moniker of ideologue with dignity. All the way to the Supreme Court.

Alex Runner is a freelance writer living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He works and writes for Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

In a late—October editorial, the Milwaukee Journal—Sentinel — like many large U.S. cities, Milwaukee is unfortunately stuck with only one major newspaper — ran an editorial entitled 'No Ideologue For The Court.' The editorial made the case that President Bush would be remiss to nominate another 'ideologue' to the United States Supreme Court. This was after Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination and before the President's choice of Federal Appellate Judge Samuel Alito.

Predictably, Democrats have ramped up their rhetorical revulsion at Alito after initially welcoming him with accolades. Just as Democratic critics (read: multimillion—dollar lobbying groups) planned to brand Harriet Miers as an 'ideologue' — before many conservative critics rejected her qualifications themselves, thus proving their intellectual independence — they are now branding Alito with the same inane, nonsensical word.

'Alito is an ideologue with an agenda of using the judiciary to reverse important constitutional protections,' said Wade Henderson, executive director of the far—left Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) in late November. The statement appears to be intentionally vague, because, of course, there is absolutely no evidence of Alito reversing any constitutional law — much less a 'constitutional protection.' What his record shows, rather, is an individual who has legitimate concerns about employing a constitutional right to privacy to defend the legality of on—demand abortions. This puts Alito right in the middle of mainstream conservatism (and perhaps America) — not out on some fringe of right—wing philosophy.

To be fair, the word 'ideologue' does have a specific meaning that is neither inane nor nonsensical. But, unfortunately, many ignore the true definition — and their own history — to their peril.

On its most basic level, an ideologue is someone who adheres to an ideology or a set of core beliefs. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, describes an ideologue as

'an advocate of a particular ideology, especially an official exponent of that ideology.'

There are good ideologies and there are bad ideologies, but to steadfastly defend an ideology should not be a source of shame for any SCOTUS nominee. Unless, of course, the ideology itself is a shameful one.

Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, King, Kennedy and Reagan were all ideologues in one way or another. For Martin Luther King, Jr., it was strict adherence to the unshakeable ideology that content of character trumps color of skin every time. (A very different view than that of the NAACP's current leadership.) No matter how many fine—sounding arguments were thrown out to obstruct him — 'It's not the right time for change'; 'You're not the right man to lead this charge'; 'Be realistic, and stop living in your utopian, fantasy world' — King stood his ground, deeply committed to an ideology that he knew was right.

The example of King underscores the more contemporary definition of 'ideologue' offered by Merriam—Webster. This rendering, with its sneering subtext, varies significantly from the plainspoken American Heritage version. According to Merriam—Webster, an ideologue is either 'an impractical idealist' or 'an often blindly partisan advocate or adherent of a particular ideology.'

Was King 'impractical' in his pursuit of equal rights? A cursory sampling of headlines and editorials by the journalistic intelligentsia of his day clearly suggests that he was. Was he 'an often blindly partisan advocate' for civil rights? That depends on how one interprets both 'blindly' and 'partisan,' but it's safe to say that he consciously ignored the rebuttals and attacks of those who opposed him, all for the sake of his ideology. (Incidentally, the use of the word 'often' is a curious bit of hedging in this definition; almost like defining a chair as a piece of furniture that is 'often used for sitting.')

In the end, the question of how to identify an ideologue is exactly the same as the question of how to determine an ideology. To possess or defend an ideology is to possess or defend a body of ideas, which everyone — hopefully — does as a simple matter of neurological faculty. The United States Constitution is a body of ideas, for example, and the vast majority of Americans still believe that it is worth defending.

Fault can be found in the validity of particular ideas, but it cannot be found in a person simply having ideas and defending them — even when editorial writers, politicians and powerful lobbying groups strain to portray their own opposing ideology as the only suitable option.

As long as Judge Alito has a mind of his own, and as long as he serves in a free nation that prides itself for being a marketplace of ideas, he can wear his newly minted moniker of ideologue with dignity. All the way to the Supreme Court.

Alex Runner is a freelance writer living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He works and writes for Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.