Whenever Republicans in Washington are trying to sell conservatives a crap sandwich, you can count on some policy wonk, pundit, or “Fox News Contributor” pull this dull old saw out of his bag of flimflam. I’ve heard it a couple of times already with regard to the Republican plan to take full ownership of the Obamacare train wreck.
I don’t deny that there is a kernel of wisdom in that saying. If you’re shopping for a used car and you find a great deal on the exact make and model you wanted—and it literally was only driven by a little old lady to Church on Sundays—don’t pass it up because the seats aren’t your favorite shade of beige. THAT would be letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. That situation is not in any way an analog for the current Obamacare situation.
The phrase is mostly used in Washington by people who wish to sound as if they are above the fray, a wise and objective observer. “I am a pragmatist who is above petty disagreements over insignificant things like whether a piece of legislation will actually solve the problems at which it is aimed. The important thing is reaching a ‘deal,’ and ‘working together across the aisle to get things done for the American people,” it says.
It’s complete and utter horse manure.
That phrase when used to sell a horrible candidate or piece of legislation is as extreme an example of “virtue signaling” as you are likely to witness in politics. You won’t often see it labeled as such because those who most like to warn against letting the perfect be the enemy of the good are the ones who tend to attack others for virtue signaling. The “others” tend to be those people who actually want elected officials to implement actual solutions to actual problems, and do unthinkable things like keep promises they’ve been making for the better part of a decade.
The very worst part about this trite aphorism is that it implies that the latest act of madness Washington is trying to perpetrate is objectively good and that anything better would literally be perfection. The people at whom this saying is directed are more often than not trying to make the acceptable the enemy of the disastrous. Nobody is silly enough to expect anything perfect to come out of Washington.
If you feel that phrase rising to your lips about current events in Washington, please do everyone a favor. Stop. Reconsider whether it really conveys the meaning you think it does. Then regardless of what you decide, shut the hell up anyway.