The Left’s Purity Dilemma, or Don’t Get Fooled Again
Democrats are fighting a battle between those who want progressive ideals and those who desire a centrist appeal. The question isn’t whether are they fighting to beat Trump or fighting to change things, it’s whether it matters at all.
By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, January 8, 2020
The basic, political strategy of moving to the center somehow making you more palatable to the other side, is a notion from bygone era when the chasm between the Left and the Right wasn’t so unmanageable. We all sort of agreed on the main issues of democracy, but we had different ideas on how we thought we should get there. Members of Congress took their oaths solemnly and believed in the hollowed halls and histories of the institutions they were in. They carried themselves with honor and believed that following the rules of decorum and pageantry was part of the oath they had taken before the American people. Anything short of this was to disgrace the office, the nation, and the memory of those who had come before you. Things have certainly changed.
There was a time when we had fundamental differences in what each side believed was the role of government. Now we don’t agree on what is a fact, let alone what is truth. There is no common ground because there is no common language. We might as well be speaking Portuguese and Urdu, while one of us is deaf and the other blind.
The Republican Party is in shambles, especially by any traditional standards set by longtime members of the party. It has been overrun by Trump and his sycophants, a band of lawless, partisan hacks willing to do anything to curry favor with the Boss, regardless of morality, legality or constitutionality. Normally this would be considered the height of hyperbole, but there is nothing remaining of the traditional Republican Party, who even at their worst, at least pretended to care about ideology and moral values. Not any more.
So, why do Democrats have such a hard time choosing a hero to beat back this seemingly indefensible throng of greedy hucksters? Because we want to do better, but really we want to be superior, and mostly we want to be right. Which leaves us fighting about who is better, who is superior and who is right.
Much has been written about the Left’s tests for ideological purity, especially in an age of social media, where everyone has an opinion, everyone is an expert, and everyone but your choice might as well be evil incarnate. On the Right, there are Republicans and everyone else. On the Left, there is your candidate and everyone else might as well be a Republican.
In the 2nd Congressional District of New Jersey, we were cajoled into voting for Jeff Van Drew, a politician who had proven himself, over a fairly long career, to be a conservative animal despite running as a Democrat his entire career and pretending to be a moderate. It wasn’t until he hit the national spotlight, and pledged his undying support to Donald Trump, did we realize he had always been a Republican, and that we had been had.
So here in South Jersey, we might be forgiven for wanting to ensure that we actually elected a Democrat for once. The fight between establishment types who encourage us to vote blue no matter what, and progressives who see this as an opportunity to elect a real change maker, is not just some ideological mud fight. It’s a battle for the soul of the party in our district.
Are we really just a conservative, Republican district who has occasionally elected a moderate Democrat in a state that is run by a Democratic political machine? Do we really have the voters to elect a progressive Democrat? In a congressional district that is 73% white, that elected a Republican for eleven terms prior to Van Drew, and that Trump won by four points, can we elect a person of color, or a woman?
Here is the thing. The Democrats are not going to convince Trump supporters to vote for a Democrat no matter who they choose. You’re probably not going to convince a Republican to vote for a Democrat, no matter who they choose. It’s even unlikely that you will get independents to vote for anyone that doesn’t fall in line with whomever they choose at the top of the ticket.
So, it’s going to largely come down to who is at the top of the ballot, and how well they are able to turn out the vote in the district.
The primary for CD2 is already a large field, with as many as seven possible candidates, and it could be more. The Party is anxious to choose a candidate and rally around them, so that any fundraising goes to winning the general election. But many grassroots, progressive organizations are wary of another Van Drew being forced upon the electorate in the name of party unity.
This is the fight for the party right now. What are we most interested in? Electability or ideology. Which, maybe not so ironically, is the same fight we’re having at the national level.
Do we pick the candidate we think will be most likely to beat Van Drew/Trump? Or do we pick the candidate we believe will best represent the values of the voters. There is no easy answer and there is no way to know at this point where the political winds will go in the coming year. But it’s safe to say that Democrats would be well advised to not cut off their nose to spite their face.
We still need the best, qualified candidate that we think can win, we just don’t want to get fooled again.