Pragmatism is a word that has been sticking out in my mind for quite a while now. Progressive pragmatism, to be more specific. I don't know if that phrase has been coined yet; if not, I hereby copyright it before the political jackals steal it.
What I mean by progressive pragmatism is recognizing societal problems, outside the context of the bipolar American political model, and working towards pragmatic solutions. It involves bringing numerous voices together and striking a path of sensical compromise. The players need to enter negotiations knowing that their self-interests may not be fulfilled, but also knowing that the other players won't take advantage of that fact, and in reality that all players are willing to give up some parts of their self-interests.
An example of where this concept worked is welfare reform, which Robert Samuelson discussed in his Newsweek column this week. (Yes, I just linked to Newsweek...again!) Despite calls for elimination on the right, and calls for no change on the left, a solution was achieved. Granted, the solution wasn't foolproof, and there are holes that ought to be filled. But overall, welfare reform has been a success in striking a middle ground to win a pragmatic answer.
That reform, however, came in very different times. A Democrat in the White House, a Republican majority in the House (and maybe the Senate...I don't remember). No large-scale conflict. A booming economy. Today, we find ourselves in quite a different situation. We have a poisonous political climate, with lawmakers feelings forced to huddle in their corners. Meeting in the middle and working out compromise is seen as a betrayal.
The primary problem with this is that it causes people to lock up their viewpoints in the relative safety of their political perspectives. If Republicans can make themselves believe that there is a "debate" over global warming, then they don't have to make concessions for progressive pragmatic environmental reform. If Democrats can make themselves believe that Social Security is a sustainable program, they don't have to make concessions to make the program better and stronger. (Although I also don't believe Republicans are willing to seek other or additional solutions beside the one that failed miserably last year.)
The most recent example, of course, is the minimum wage increase/estate tax elimination bill that just failed in the Senate. This is a case of bipolar politics gone awry. Rather than working to achieve their aims, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle failed to win any of their objectives. If Democrats had been more willing to work with ideas like Xtra's, and Republicans had been more willing to concede on estate taxes, perhaps a solution could have been reached that would have fulfilled (partially) the self-interests of both sides.