Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Why I Am Against Purity Tests

Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable. - James A. Baldwin

There has been talk recently about the Dems needing to imitate the wing-nuts and teabaggers and create purity tests for potential candidates to demonstrate their allegiance to progressive issues. While I personally support many progressive ideas and feel that our country would be better served if some were enacted, I do not believe for a minute that we live in a progressive nation. If we enacted these progressive purity tests we would have a very small caucus because many of these progressive candidates could not be elected in many districts and states. I am somewhat of an oddity in my state as I am sure many of the folks who will read this. I am fortunate to be represented by a progressive Congressman but my state went for McCain.

In a blog I wrote during the Arkansas primary with Blanche Lincoln against Bill Halter I stated that while I am not personally opposed to primarying Democratic candidates who fail to tow the party line on major initiatives, but is it rational to believe that those who do not live in a state can dictate how progressive that state’s voters should be. Are there many progressives who believe that the Republican candidate will be a better advocate of their issues than Blanche Lincoln? At least with Lincoln she may not support the public option but she supported the concept of healthcare reform. Would the Republican have even supported the concept? Whether progressives will acknowledge it or not there are states where a progressive candidate cannot win. An excellent example would be what happened in Massachusetts with Scott Brown. Of course it can be argued that his opponent was a lousy campaigner but this was Ted Kennedy’s seat and the seat had been in the Kennedy family before Ted was elected. Was there anymore progressive a Senator than Ted Kennedy and his seat was not safe from teabaggers.

It has been argued that the use of purity tests and other tactics have moved the country to the right. I disagree. All one has to do is to look at the history of this country to realize we have always been a conservative country which has at times of great social stress reluctantly risen to the defense of the defenseless. Let’s not be confused this notion of a social democracy is ludicrous. All one has to do is to go back a few months to the healthcare debate and see how single payer was demonized and how many folks who would have benefited from it that were turned against it. So is it a lack of education or fear that allows people to choose against their own interests? If it is education then it makes sense to promote a progressive campaign to instruct voters on issues that serve their interests. If it is fear as I think it is then any attempts at promoting progressive issues will backfire with these voters. Unfortunately, in our country we have an extensive history of division and fear. Those divisions and fears have been encouraged and fueled by the rich and the greedy. Who else benefits from keeping America divided?

I believe that progressives have to continue to press the progressive agenda nationally but it must be done strategically. There is a wing of progressives who want to emulate the tactics and mentality of the wing-nuts. Just as there were wing-nuts who justified torture and ignoring the Constitution because of the tactics of terrorists, so there are progressives who are willing to sacrifice principle for victory. It will always be easier to surrender one’s principles in times of crisis and hardship rather than standing firm in the face of fear. We should not allow the fear of defeat to cause us to change what we stand for. Our strength lies in the certainty of our ideas not in the certainty in any individual. The one thing we should learn from the wing-nuts is that these purity tests don’t always work. The other thing is that purity tests work great for campaigning but not so well for governing.
News Flash – Politicians lie.

While I am opposed to purity tests I do believe that as a party the Dems have to develop a set of governing principles, not campaigning principles. Different candidates in different regions have to campaign to their local electorates based on where those electorates are not on where progressives in other regions may want them to be. When you institute governing principles then regardless of what region or state a Democrat comes from as a Democrat they adhere to these principles. It would be similar to the “Contract with America” only this one would actually be for the American people and not for the corporate elites. The time has come in this political climate for the Dems to make a compelling case of their vision for the future of America and draw the contrast between the two. I believe it has never been easier to draw those contrasts. As the wing-nuts and teabaggers move the Republican Party further right and they continue to blatantly show disdain for the average American as they rally behind the rich and infamous there has not been a better opportunity since the 1920’s to provide the American public with such clear choices.

Those choices however have to be articulated and put forward with clarity and with unity. These governing principles will not work unless the majority of Dems sign off on them. The American public has lost faith in the credibility government institutions and politicians because they will say anything to be elected. The Republicans say they are for smaller government and have continually increased the size and cost of government. Democrats say they stand for the average American but they have allowed jobs to be shipped overseas and have not fought for what they said they would. This is the opportunity for the Dems to put into writing what they stand for and then fight for it because this would provide them with the mandate they so desperately need. The President has demonstrated the ability to take very complicated issues and articulate them in a way that most Americans can understand, but this election will not be won by him alone. With these governing principles every candidate will be able to articulate the Dems future of America and let the voters choose. This strategy would allow the Dems to focus on the future and not get caught up in the diversions and smoke screens being offered by the Republicans.

Here is my principle: Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle. - Franklin D. Roosevelt

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