On purity politics and their discontents

On purity politics and their discontents

Yesterday Senator Bernie Sanders appeared at a joint rally with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which he gave her his full-throated endorsement.

By now, most of Sen. Sanders' supporters have pivoted to supporting Sec. Clinton. However, as with any political movement, there are the dead-enders, and their vitriol towards their one-time hero was something to behold. Within the space of a moment he had gone from being the Messiah to being worse than Judas, upending all their hopes and dreams. Some, like erstwhile celebrity Susan Sarandon, averred that the Revolution will continue, with or without Sen. Sanders. The level of delusion was something which required the consultation of the DSM V. 

As Democrats, we dodged a bullet. 

Both on the left and right there has been a startling descent towards purity politics. We can see the results of that in Donald Trump's ascendancy to the presidential nomination of the Republican Party. Going further afield, we can see that on the left in Jeremy Corbyn's rise from backbench gadfly to leadership of the Labour Party in the UK, which has proven to be nothing short of disastrous. The Purity Brigade on our shores wanted the same thing to occur in the Democratic Party, and chose Sen. Sanders as its stalking horse.

The problem with purity politics is that nothing is ever good enough. Either you get everything you want, as the GOP base has in Trump, and you go down in flames, or you fall short, as Sen. Sanders did. When you fall short you blame everyone but your own tactics and ideology. And if your "leader" veers at all away from the straight path, he or she has become corrupted, and you're confirmed in your belief of your superiority and everyone else's failings. 

Purity politics never move anything forward. Say what you will about Barack Obama and Sen. Clinton. Call them "centrists", or "corporate Democrats", or what have you. But each of them has a record of progressive accomplishments, mostly because they embrace that most essential of traits in a functioning democracy, which is compromise. We see what happens when compromise is a dirty word in the gridlock which grips the Republican-led Congress. Those who are pure get nothing done, because they're not willing to give up anything to move the larger project forward. Compromise on A so that you can get B, C, and D? No! We must have it all or have none of it!

In our two major parties, we have one which still believes in the idea of compromise, and one to which it is anathema as it has lurched further and further right. The Sanders dead-enders, for all their progressive prattle, wanted the Democratic Party to be more like the GOP, taking an uncompromising stance on every issue. Thus would the Revolution come.

I for one am glad that the majority of Democratic voters rejected that choice. Sec. Clinton stands in a long line of Democratic presidential nominees in being a common-sense liberal, not a doctrinaire Maoist. Despite what Sen. Sanders most fervent acolytes believe, the vast majority of Americans do not want to burn everything down. This is shown by polling in which Donald Trump, the Right's revolutionary, can't get above 40% in surveys. This is also shown, again, by the fact that the vast majority of Sanders supporters have pivoted to support Sec. Clinton. 

A mature democracy cannot abide the type of politics which broach no compromise. Utopia is not at the end of that road, but the kind of dystopia which fill the more lurid novels. Fortunately we've avoided that road on the Democratic side. Now it's time to make sure that the rest of the country doesn't choose it by voting for Trump. This summer and fall, nothing else matters.



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