“Purity” in politics and how it plays into the 2018 elections

Conor Lamb’s apparent special election victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district is stunning. A district that has regularly sent Republicans to Congress; a district that gave Donald Trump a 20 point victory 16 months ago; a slam-dunk district that the Republicans spent more than $10 million trying to hold on to – falls to a Democratic first-time candidate. The blue wave moves on.

Following on the Doug Jones victory in the Alabama Senate special election, a big win in the race for governor of Virginia, and nearly 40 other special elections that saw state legislative seats throughout the country flip from Republican to Democrat, there is something very serious going on. Trump went all in with the Republican candidate, Rick Saccone – two personal visits plus Pence, Conway and the Trump children. The Republican effort for their candidate eventually abandoned a strategy of bragging about tax cuts, retreating instead to their old stand-by, basic Nancy Pelosi bashing. It didn’t work.

So we now resume our regularly scheduled electioneering. The Texas primaries were last week, but there is a whole lot more to come.

There are a record number of Democratic candidates declared for Congress and other offices and they are doing quite well raising money. Incumbent Republican members of Congress, including many in leadership positions, are dropping out in record numbers.

As the election year moves along a real concern for anyone who is interested in where this country is headed is the polarization of the electorate, sometimes encouraged and sometimes led by politicos on the far wings of the parties, helped along by talk radio, cable news and the internet. Alternative facts or just no facts at all are the rule of the day, and with the Russians playing their games you sometimes don’t know what you can believe or trust. Every now and then I get a reader of the blog from Russia who wants to be friendly, and that sort of makes me nervous. Watch the original film version of The Manchurian Candidate someday and you might realize how really creepy things are now, as life imitates art.

The matter of “purity” in politics is a very disturbing problem, something I would define as a commitment or an obsession with a particular point of view, allowing for no alternatives or variations. Purity is basically believing that I’m right, you’re wrong; or it’s my way or the highway. But, as the Buffalo Springfield sing it, “nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”

Both parties have their purity wings. A party that holds the executive office and majorities in the legislative branch might for a while be able to pacify their purity wing with token executive or legislative actions, or even for a period of time by just continuing to lie their way into convincing the purity folks that they are really, really with them, and if only they can increase their majority they will take care of all the far-out promises. For reference, see particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has BSed his way through a lot of sticky situations. Eventually, though, that tends to catch up with people when the purity wings don’t actually get what they want.

As 2018 moves along it is likely that we will see Republican candidates try to hunker down with the base, be pushed even more by the extreme purists like the House Freedom Caucus, and abandon much hope of finding support among what is actually left of the political center in this country at the moment.

Democrats also have a problem going forward this year. Because of the strong interest among both party leaders and the rank-and-file, there are some situations developing among various elements of the party that could lead to serious divisions. The purity end of the Democratic Party is feeling its oats too, and they aren’t being shy about expressing their opinions.

Donald Trump has done more to energize the Democratic Party than any one Democrat could ever hope to do. But how that energy might best be used is a question yet to be answered.

As a Democrat who is seriously interested in slowing down and stopping the craziness of the Trump administration, it concerns me that people will lose sight of the target while promoting an exclusive set of policy positions. Compromise is not a dirty word, and politicians who advocate for such an approach should be supported. How that works out in 2018 remains to be seen.

Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders recently informed members of the California Democratic Party that he would not support Democrat Diane Finestein for re-election to the Senate. Bernie seems to think that Diane is not progressive enough.

The way that the California election for United States senator is developing this year it appears that only Democrats will be challenging one another for the office. In the so-called “jungle primary” that the state uses, the ultimate winner of the Senate election is pretty much guaranteed to be a Democrat. But that, for me, is beside the point. With literally the fate of the country at stake in the 2018 elections, trying to pick candidates who are “progressives,” or “practical progressives,” or whatever, takes the eye off the target.

Bernie Sanders is entitled to his own view of things but I couldn’t care less about him supporting or not supporting a candidate. Bernie operates under his own personal view of what an acceptable “progressive” is. I’m more interested in seeing the biggest tent of Democrats that can be possibly assembled in the next Congress to challenge Donald Trump. We can sort other things out in 2019.

What the Democrats need now is a slogan that suits the situation. I suppose the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis, had the slogan copyrighted, but in my view the Dems should go into battle this year shouting “just win, baby!”

This all circles back to what just happened in the 18th Congressional District of Pennsylvania this week. Conor Lamb is an extremely talented fellow whose electoral success has been defined by tailoring his campaign to the district he sought to represent. He’s a former federal prosecutor, a Marine, a hunter and someone who supports the views of the steelworkers of his district. It produced a win and got the party a little closer to their goal.

He doesn’t seem like the kind of “progressive” whom Bernie Sanders might support. Well, too bad. Getting a Congress that can take on Trump and all the stuff that goes with that requires getting as many Democrats, on all points in the political spectrum, engaged and elected in 2018. That’s the only way to make this work.

2 thoughts on ““Purity” in politics and how it plays into the 2018 elections

  1. Ken, another good, well researched article but as usual clearly more defense to the Democrats than the Republicans, when it is extremely clear that severe damage is done on both sides.
    You mentioned the “polarization of the electorate” and “purity in politics”. In my opinion, all of this comes from the lack of rules in public elections. As you are aware, once someone runs for public office they become a public figure and the rules of libel and slander do not apply. Candidates say anything they want against their opponent. Half-truths and outright lies are typical. Without a measure of accountability, the typical electric is turned off by both sides. In my opinion again, this is clearly the reason you see voter turnout becoming less and less every year. People see the “dirt” in political campaigns and consider all politicians “dirty”. Only the extremes on both sides continue the fight and continue the vote. It is then the extremes that elect candidates and therefore candidates play to the base. My opinion would clearly be that the Democrats are much better at this than Republicans. Because Republicans clearly “attempt” to take the high road they more often knuckle under the criticism and as a result more criticism is thrown upon them by Democrats.
    The electorate should demand a new set of rules and so should every civilized politician. No lies, no half-truths, no last minute unnamed mail pieces. Candidates should have to give you their platform or their record as opposed to attacking their opponent. All political mail should identify who prepared it, who paid for it, and who sent it out.
    Ralph C. Lorigo, Esq.


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