A couple thoughts have been floating around my head in the last couple days, and hopefully, they fruitfully come together in this post with an overarching theme.
Currently, the Republican party is in turmoil. From talks of a permanent majority four years ago to near legislative irrelevance, the Republicans are currently arguing about whether either philosophical moderation or philosophical purity will best regrow the party. Unfortunately for them, it appears that ideological purity currently has the upper hand. As Republican moderates were generally defeated the last two cycles, conservative Republicans, generally from the solid, safer South, became an increased voice within their party caucuses. This increased voice, while believing in ideological purity, has become less and less tolerant of ideological moderation, and constant primaries, forcing the party ever rightward (i.e., Toomey against Specter), moved the parties philisophical tenets outside of the mainstream. In my mind, the defection of Arlen Specter and Olympia Snowe's response, most recently, cemented the public understanding that Republicans are out-of-touch.
During the 2006 election, the lefty blogosophere produced a meme, the election of "More and Better Democrats." At the time, Democrats were the minority party and the Democratic campaign leadership, most notably led by Sen. Shumer and the then Rep. Rahm Emanuel, sought Democrats, from all points of the ideological spectrum, that could best represent their districts; they recruited conservative Democratic candidates to run in conservative districts (think Sen. Tester and Rep. Shuler). Democrats took the majority, but the blogosphere was disappointed that some of the newly elected Democrats produced less-than-progressive voting records.
Afterwards in 2008, burned by disappointing Democratic "betrayals," the blosopheric election meme became "Better Democrats." With control of the House and Senate, the complimentary focuses of "more and better" were seen as somewhat dualing and competing, and a hierarchy of emphases occured thereafter; the emphasis of electing more new Democrats in Republican-held seats became subordinated to the emphasis of electing better, progressive-minded Democrats. The election of new Democrats wasn't pushed aside entirely, but the blogosphere would only support progressive-minded Democrats. At the same time, conservative Democrats, many of them recently elected, were constantly berated for their "Bush-enabling" voting records within the blogosphere, and backing progressive primary challengers against non-progressive Democrats emerged as a new strategy to push the progressive agenda (think Donna Edwards).
While a devoted progressive myself, I have always felt uneasy about this strategy, and it wasn't until several random and non-related events, that I figured out why. I feel that there is a certain strand within our party so devoted to progressive principles that they, like our Republican counterparts, have created purity tests. Candidates who aren't pro-choice, pro-environmentalism, anti-Big Business, for net-neutrality, for bringing our troops home, for EFCA, etc., etc., are suspect and cursed - our progressive purity test. This mentality, as we are currently seeing within the opposition, can be counter-productive and ultimately self-destructive. Perhaps I am overblowing this sentiment, but I feel it bubbling beneath the surface, especially within the blogosphere.
Immediately after Specter joined our party, proud progressives called to primary Specter, as his stances against certain issues were anathema to our ideals. While I cannot justify his stances, I do expect an inevitable leftward slide in his voting. Specter has only been in our caucus for a week, and as such, we should summon patience. Yet, some groups are pushing the possibility of a primary hard. Just like Specter's pro-stimulus vote lost his chance of re-election as a Republican, we, displeased with his anti-EFCA stance and his opposition to the budget and Obama's nominees, have called for his head.
I'm not saying that primaries aren't good for Democrats. Primaries are good for democracy, and primaries hold elected officials accountable. No American politician is entitled to power, and primaries underly this principle. Yet, there is a danger of using purity tests to primary all Democrats. Primarying Al Winn with Donna Edwards is one thing, but primarying a Georgia congressman with a progressive is insane. If that progressive wins, they, more than likely, would be destroyed in a general. We can't fall into the potential Toomey-Specter (where ideological purification wins the primary but loses the general) primary trap (I assume that Toomey would have lost to a generic Democratic challenger).
Locally, within the last couple days, Rep. Perriello has been berated by local Democratic bloggers for some of his recent votes and comments, the latter was unfortunately caused by one reporter's misunderstandings. While neither and unwavering progressive nor a conservative blue dog, Perriello is voting with his district in mind, breaking several times with party leadership (see TARP and the budget). Perhaps oversimpified, the district is comprised of liberal Charlottesville, but, electorally speaking, 2/3 of the district is constituted with conservative-leaning Southside. Perriello cannot and does not vote with Charlottesville solely in mind. There are innumerable reasons to be proud of Perriello, and berating Perriello for his non-progressive votes employs this same purity principle.
We are the big-tent party, the party of moderates, independents, and progressives. Inherent within this diversity is a tension of philosophies, a grating of ideologies. A constitutional Democratic characteristic is the appreciation and the embracing of the plurality of voices and ideas in our society. We preach toleration and acceptance as part of our social justice platforms, standing firm against rigid ideology. As such, we should respect those within our party who aren't progressives; we grow stronger, electorally speaking, with a plurality of voices within our party. Let us recognize the beauty and strength in diversity. Having districts represented by like-minded Democrats is good for us in the long run, even if those Democrats vote against the progressive agenda. Let us view ideological purity as counter to our party's principles, even if we respectfully disagree with the personal stances of certain elected officials.
Yesterday James Carville mused that the Democratic Party will be in power for the next 40 years. This is only true if we maintain our big-tent and refrain from our own set of purity tests. Look where ideological purity is taking the Republican party.
(h/t JohnCos for the inspiration)