Democrats Beware: Ideological Purity is Un-Democratic

Ideological purity – the idea that following only a prescribed set of political doctrines bestows legitimacy – is inherently un-democratic, and Democrats must avoid the trap Republicans fell into when they allowed their own moderates and centrists to go with the way of the buffalo.

For years, those on the left have laughed at those on the right as they fell victim to ideological purists (Tea Party politics being a notable example). The advent of Bernie Sanders’ revolution has exposed some of the same cracks, however, on the left. If Republicans castigate Sanders as a communist, Sanders supporters do no less by calling Hillary Clinton a Republican.

The New York primary takes place today. Doubtless there are Bernie supporters who, should their candidate lose the nomination, will will refuse to cast a vote for Clinton in November. You hear this from Sanders supporters. I’ve been told by one that he knows many who feel just this way. Of course, that just helps the Republicans into office but in their rage, they don’t stop to think about this.

Perhaps they haven’t thought of the millions of people who will lose their health insurance if any of the Republican candidates win the White House. They say Hillary Clinton is a “corporate shill” or has only Wall Street’s best interest at heart, but Hillary Clinton will not kill Obamacare. Democrats must not let hate get in the way of their common sense.

And we’re supposed to be the sensible party after all. The party not poisoned by ideological purity. Let’s keep in mind that if Hillary Clinton is a Democrat in name only that Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat at all, but an Independent. It’s funny how some Democrats are willing to welcome Sanders the Independent into the ranks but eject long-time Democrat from them.

We need to feel less, and think more. Take Trump’s lesson to heart: Feeling only leads to Hitler salutes.

We Democrats are all Democrats. There has always been a spectrum from moderate to extreme and some are socially liberal and some are socially conservative while supporting Democratic economic policies. A political party is a mixed bag and that is how it has always been. We don’t all agree on every point, but that’s why we vote.

Certainly, the left-right political spectrum has had its weaknesses exposed by numerous commentators and analysts. And what was a spectrum that really didn’t work is now replaced by labels: “Extremist” at one end and “RINO/DINO” in the middle. There is no place, it seems, for anyone anywhere between those points.

And that is a problem. A big problem. Either/or arguments, called the “false dilemma” fallacy by philosophers, are fallacious for a reason: there is almost always a third, or even a fourth or fifth choice. Our choices are almost never limited to either/or, black/white, or good/evil.

We live in a world of nuance, and either/or thinking is for weak minds who don’t want to be bothered with figuring it out.

We humans like to order our reality. We like definitions, but definitions, while helpful, are problematic by their very nature. We can’t agree on them for one thing. Christianity is the world’s largest religion, but try defining it. There is no definition of “Republican” that explains both Abraham Lincoln and Ted Cruz.

Things in nature don’t like to fit neatly into categories. This includes people. A well-documented example still confuses conservatives to this day. How could the National Socialist Party not be a party of the left, because “socialist”?

Well, there were actual socialists in the National Socialist Party, but Hitler drove them out, killed them, or threw them into concentration camps, because they dared to take that idea a little too seriously. Hitler himself said the movement he created was not in any way socialist as most people understood the term.

So there used to be a spectrum of the class “Nazi” but ideological purity put an end to it. There used to be moderate Republicans too. There are still moderate Republican voters, and even socially liberal Republican voters. A lot of them. What is a “Catholic”? What the cardinals say or what your average Catholic does?

You won’t find those moderate Republicans campaigning for office. Today, these folks are called “RINOs” – Republicans in Name Only. Democrats want to be cautious about applying similar labels to their fellow Democrats.

I say ideological purity is undemocratic. When I say that, I mean it in both senses, that is contrary to the very idea of democracy, which vests power in the hands of the people – all people, moderates and extremists alike and everyone in between. Democracy is the sum of its parts.

It is also contrary to the expressed ideals of the Democratic Party, which is supposed to be a party for all people, inclusive where the GOP has become inclusive: a party for whites and blacks and everyone in between, whatever your nationality and ethnicity, whatever your religion and gender, whether you’re gay or straight or sexually fluid.

And yes, you can be a Democrat whether you want to break up the banks or not, or whether you support Obamacare or want single payer, or whether you support socialism or not. There is room for us all.

The problem is not the wildly variant views we hold, but those who insist that they, and only they, are the real Democrats, the champions of ideological purity in the party where it can never be allowed to exist.

So let’s agree that we disagree and to settle our differences at the polls where they are meant to be settled, and work for a better tomorrow. Let’s look at the big picture, a picture where tyrants and oligarchs like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz loom over democracy like shadows of a past we thought our Constitution had banished.

It’s not an easy job, being democratic, but because one party as already given up on the dream of America does not mean we should do the same.