There are two signs over my desk, one reads
“The man that favors the ideal over the real learn to achieve not his salvation but his ruin”
the other reads
“Ideals must be defended with idealism”
Yes, they seem to contradict each other yet to me they are the essence of politics and policy.
On the one hand, when we are talking about policy, there is the need to get things done, to make progress on the issues, even if we don’t finish them in this fight. If there is not a pressing need, then the issue should not be the focus of political and legislative policy, so by definition if an issue is being worked on it has a real world impact for real people. This generally means that doing nothing is unacceptable. Trying and failing often means that nothing will change, and the damage (whatever it may be) that is spurring the debate will continue.
The bigger the issue the more important it is likely to be and thus the need for progress is greater. However, the bigger the issue the more important the ideals one holds to become as well. When looking at a policy that would mean major change, there is always the chance that the change will go in a direction that you vehemently oppose. This can engage the ideals that guide your thinking in an immediate fashion.
Ideals are important. They are the rudder that keeps your policy thinking and actions on course. Without a clear set of principles that you use to inform your thinking you will blow in every political wind. It will make you susceptible to weak arguments and worse, corruption that never starts with the big crime but with the little one. By sticking to ideals and defending them with idealism, you are signing up to lose from time to time and lose totally. If there can be no bending in your point of view, then there can be no compromise and thus all your ideals have to be total wins or total losses.