Monday, June 05, 2006


The Party of Purity

The Democratic Leadership Council put out an important statement yesterday about the rising tide of ideological fundamentalism within the Democratic Party and the threat it poses to our hopes of becoming a majority party again.

The whole piece is worth reading. But I was particularly struck by the following quote from progressive rock star Barack Obama, which was taken from a much-noted post he made on the Daily Kos blog and which aptly sums up the problem.

[T]o the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, "true" progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive "checklist," then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted. Beyond that, by applying such tests, we are hamstringing our ability to build a majority.

This to me is the greatest danger of the Maoist-like purity tests that more and more Democrats are imposing on elected leaders and aspiring candidates -- the suppression of intellectual diversity and innovation within the party.

If we keep running jihads against leaders who even slightly deviate from rigid orthordoxies, we will take away all incentive to take risks and embrace alternative approaches to solving complex problems. That's the last thing Democrats can afford to do right now, given our existing deficit of new ideas and our ongoing inability to articulate a compelling vision for where we want to take the country.

This is a question that the progressive movement must come to terms with before it loses what broader legitimacy it can currently claim. How can the Democrats be the party of diversity and tolerance if it purges those who substantively dissent or diverge in any meaningful way? How can we crediblly call ourselves progressive if we continually behave like reactionaries?

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