Why Democrats Need a Purity Test
There are so many fallacious statements and assumptions in this article, I literally didn’t know where to begin. But I finally decided to start with this, because it is one of the more insidious falsehoods the authors put forth as “fact”:
“When purity is your main objective, you are always going to be easy to exploit. By contrast, Republicans have no such requirement for purity. They play dirty, talk dirty and do whatever it takes to win. All of our time last year was wasted on a war between leftist purists and Democratic pragmatists.”
I say “insidious” because prima facie such an argument seems reasonable, when in fact it is not at all reasonable and indeed falls apart under the slightest examination.
I want to make two points about the above statement: (1) it is a disingenuous and factually incorrect statement, and (2) the argument that it seeks to convey is conceptually and practically flawed.
First, let’s be clear: when people like Sasha Stone talk about “leftist purists” they are talking about people who oppose the corruption caused by money in politics; those who recognise and condemn the fact that money from PACs, corporations, lobbyists and billionaires influences the politicians they give to.
And let us also be clear that the people whom Stone considers to be “pragmatists” are those Democrats who accept the corruption and believe that big money has a place in US politics and especially within the Democratic Party. This establishment argument was summed up by Tom Perez, the establishment chair of the DNC who said “you don’t bring a spoon to a knife fight”.
Obviously Tom fails to realise that when you have two sides fighting with knives, the only real winner is the guy who sells them the knives.
But — back to my two points regarding the false premises and unsupportable arguments contained in Stone’s comments.
Republicans invented the purity test.
To assert that Republicans are not concerned with purity is laughable. Reagan famously invented an 11th Commandment which says,“thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” That commandment has had wide repercussions, including the call for a forced unity, a lock-step mentality and a uniformity of policy goals, a set of principles which all Republicans must uphold. The purity of the Republican side was further enhanced and enforced by the arrival of the Tea Party, a Koch-Brothers funded group which threatened to “primary” any Republican not perceived to be sufficiently pure (and yes, they invented the verb to primary.)
The results of the Tea Party’s “purity tests” have been devastating — but not to the Republicans. The rise of the Tea Party led to the fall of the Democratic Party in all levels and branches of government.
The very idea that Republicans do not care about purity is thus disproved by the popularity and effectiveness of the Tea Party in moving the GOP sharply to the Right.
Just try to imagine ANY of the following:
I am a Republican, and I think that taxes on the wealthy need to be raised.
I am a Republican, and I think the Estate Tax is a good thing.
I am a Republican, and I think corporations just aren’t paying enough in taxes.
I am a Republican, and I think we need to invest more in our public schools.
I am a Republican, and I believe that regulations on industry save lives and protect workers.
Any Republican saying any of the above would be booed if not laughed off the stage — assuming they even made it to a stage in the first place.
“Purity” as a “main objective” is necessary and good.
As I mentioned above, when we discuss purity in the context of the Democratic Party establishment, we are really only talking about one thing, and that is big money in politics. There is a reason, after all, why Democrats refuse to embrace policy positions which poll after poll show the vast majority of Americans support. Everything from Single Payer healthcare to increasing taxes on the wealthy, a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, even free college tuition ALL enjoy majoritarian support by over 50% of the American people, and a much, much higher proportion of Democrats. So why aren’t more Democrats pushing these positions?
The answer is as clear as it is simple: rich Democratic donors oppose these policies.
At this point I feel it is incumbent on me to explain a little history. The Democratic Party really was the party of working people at one time. They garnered their support from “the little guy” and from organised labor. Union dues went to fund Democratic campaigns. Progressive individuals and organisations also gave. Democrats were clearly on the side of the working class and the oppressed. All that, however, changed in the 1990’s under Bill Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC).
As Robert Dreyfuss explained in The American Prospect:
“…28 giant companies found their way onto the DLC’s executive council, including Aetna, AT&T, American Airlines, AIG, BellSouth, Chevron, DuPont, Enron, IBM, Merck and Company, Microsoft, Philip Morris, Texaco, and Verizon Communications. Few, if any, of these corporations would be seen as leaning Democratic, of course, but here and there are some real surprises. One member of the DLC’s executive council is none other than Koch Industries, the privately held, Kansas-based oil company whose namesake family members are avatars of the far right, having helped to found archconservative institutions like the Cato Institute and Citizens for a Sound Economy. Not only that, but two Koch executives, Richard Fink and Robert P. Hall III, are listed as members of the board of trustees and the event committee, respectively–meaning that they gave significantly more than $25,000.”
In short, the Democrats abandoned unions and the workers in order to pledge fealty to corporate interests and Wall Street. They were able to get away with this scheme for a long time, because the GOP had always openly and vigorously represented the interests of Management, the owner class, and the wealthy. Clinton and his cohorts correctly calculated that they could safely sell out to those same interests, chase the same donor pools, and still win elections because their “traditional” constituencies (workers, women and minorities) literally had nowhere else to go.
Well, in 2016, Donald Trump gave the long-abandoned working class somewhere else to go.
We “leftist purists” are now demanding that the Democratic Party go back to what it used to be, that Democrats start to represent the constituency that they have always claimed to champion. In order to do that, big money MUST be expunged from the system.
It should be painfully (and I do mean painfully) obvious to anyone reading this that a Party cannot claim to represent the interests of working people while they are funding themselves with money from Wall Street and Corporate America. It just doesn’t work.
Now let’s close the circle.
The two points I set out to make can be expressed through a simple example. Let’s take a hypothetical Republican and have him make a hypothetical “purity pledge” — as follows:
“I, the Republican candidate for this office, do hereby pledge NEVER to accept any money from PACs, Corporations, Lobbyists, or billionaires. I further pledge to fund my campaign 100% through small donations from the working people in my District.”
Can you imagine this? No, neither can I. I assume no one can. But it is illustrative of the disingenuousness of the “anti-purity” argument raised by Stone and Adams. If a Republican were to make that pledge, it would be ridiculous and indeed antithetical to the traditional base of the Republican Party. Such a candidate would be shut down and crushed by the Republican Party elite before s/he ever had the chance to make even their first campaign ad.
And yet, establishment Dems like Stone and Adams would have us believe that it is equally silly to expect a Democrat to make the same pledge.
Surely they must realise that in making this argument, they are admitting that there is no difference between the two parties when it comes to sourcing campaign funds or financing Party operations.
And this is where the argument really breaks down: campaign and Party funding should be a MAJOR difference between the Democrats and the GOP. The two Parties should be representing different constituent groups, and drawing their funding from different sources accordingly. But that is no longer the case.
This is the dirty little secret that establishment Dems are trying to hide behind a smokescreen of faux-outrage at “purity” tests. Beware when you hear such rhetoric. It is a well-known fact of life that the only people who object to purity tests are the ones who cannot pass them.
In short, you cannot claim to defend the oppressed when you are literally taking money from the oppressors. And THAT is the truth that these authors and other establishment Democrats are trying to hide with their tirade against “purity.”
A Parting Note
The Democrats are now widely recognised as the “party of Wall Street.” Yes, Trump has hired many Wall Streeters, but Obama had 31 Wall Streeters in his White House, each hand picked by Eric Froman at Citigroup (who later went on to become USTR and negotiate the TPP). Just look at the number of Goldman Sachs execs who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations.
As I mention in my response above, it is simply counterfactual to suggest that the Party who funds themselves from Corporate America and who appoint so many Wall Street moguls to positions within their government, can ever really claim to represent the workers.