Politics Magazine

Progressives (And Democrats) Don't Need A "Purity Test"

Posted on the 26 January 2016 by Jobsanger
Progressives (And Democrats) Don't Need (This image is from experimentaltheology.blogspot.com.)
Let me start with the dictionary.com definition of a progressive:
"apersonwhoisprogressiveorwhofavorsprogressorreform,especiallyinpoliticalmatters."
It goes on to list the word "liberal" as a synonym. That's a pretty broad definition, but I think it's a good one. Progressives are thinkers, and thinkers disagree. And it has always been commonplace for progressives to disagree -- and indeed, for Democrats in general to disagree. Humorist Will Rogers may have put it best when he said, "I'm not a member of an organized political party. I'm a Democrat."
Democrats have long been a "big tent" political party, and today (to my joy) they are more progressive than they have been in decades. To know that, all you have to do is look at the three candidates running for the party's presidential nomination. They are all progressives. They don't agree with each other on everything, but progressives (or Democrats) seldom do. Just sit through a meeting of either group, and you'll quickly realize the truth of that.
This is not a bad thing. Pragmatic solutions to intractable problems come from people disagreeing, and then finding a solution they can all live with. That is the very essence of democracy (which all progressives and Democrats claim to believe in). And it works for the benefit of all.
But there seems to be something troubling (at least to me) happening in the current Democratic presidential campaign. Some progressives (mainly some of Bernie Sanders more vociferous supporters) seem to be applying a "purity" test to other progressives (and Democrats). It is the idea being put forth by some that you cannot be a good progressive (or Democrat) unless you believe as Bernie does, and support his candidacy.
It has become commonplace among this group to deny Clinton's progressive stands, and even to call her a Republican, or Republican-Lite -- and the same labels are being applied to her supporters. I have myself been called a Republican several times in the last few days simply because I support Clinton -- even though I have never voted Republican in my life (and never will), and have a 50 year history of supporting progressive causes and candidates.
Maybe I'm being too thin-skinned, but I don't think so. That's a serious charge to fling at a fellow progressive, and one that I would never make. And it smells very much like the kind of purity test that teabaggers are applying to their fellow conservatives. They have chased many from their party, and seriously damaged that party by demanding conservative purity (that everyone in the party agree with their views).
I don't want the same thing to happen to Democrats. After the McGovern debacle, the Democratic Party lurched to the right (and for years was afraid to support progressive ideas). This hurt the party and the country. It is only recently that progressives have made a strong comeback in the party, and the current party is more progressive as a whole than it has been in a long time. Do we really want to destroy that by applying a purity test to fellow progressives (or Democrats in general)?
Some of you may think it is far-fetched to think that could happen -- and I agree that it won't follow the teabagger model. But it could cause some progressives, those who deem themselves more pure in their beliefs than the rest of us, to separate themselves from the rest of the party. Some have already said they would not vote for Hillary Clinton or Martin O'Malley if Bernie Sanders doesn't win the nomination. Clinton and O'Malley are not pure enough progressives for them. And such a withdrawal could fracture the fragile progressivism of the party (and maybe even prevent a Democrat from being sworn in in January of 2017).  That would be disastrous for the party and for the country.
I have no problem with progressives supporting the candidate of their choice. We should all vote our conscience in the primaries. But trying to apply a purity test (to fellow progressives, Democrats, or candidates) is just wrong. We must stand together in spite of our disagreements, if we want progressive ideas to be implemented in this country. Disagreement is good, but in the end we must stand unified.

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