Is Political Purity Undermining The Democratic Party?

The Republican Party has been hijacked by uncompromising members resulting in legislative gridlock. The Republican Tea Party absolutists have been willing to shut down the government rather than compromise their positions. These Republican ideological purists are not only unwilling to compromise with Democrats, they’re unwilling to compromise with other Republicans. Republican leaders can’t get these ultra-conservatives to negotiate, which has resulted in government chaos. Speaker John Boehner resigned rather than continue to fight these rogue Republicans. To these Republican purists, “compromise” is considered a dirty word.

They demand absolute issue purity on certain subjects with no concession possible. On issues like abortion they take the most extreme and absolute positions which prevents any room for bargaining. Their obstructionist tactics have resulted in a totally dysfunctional Republican Party mired in gridlock. They have blocked any meaningful legislation within their own party unless it meets their narrow purist’s criteria.

Politics has been described as the art of the possible. The possible is achieved by competing interests bargaining to an agreement acceptable to each. Compromise is the glue that binds these competing political forces together. Rarely does anyone involved in the political process get everything they want. Each side must compromise, and in that give-and-take of negotiation, those competing forces can reach common ground. Anyone that is married understands that compromise is essential for long-term marital bliss.

In a divided government where neither party has an overwhelming majority, compromise is essential. To pass legislation it requires the votes from members of both parties to form a majority.  President Obama and Democrats have struggled to pass any legislative initiatives because they have a Republican Party that is so deeply divided it’s unwilling to cooperate within its own membership. Hopefully, seeing the devastating results of that gridlock, Democrats will carefully and thoughtfully avoid the same mistakes made by Republicans.

However, we are seeing some of that uncompromising purity infecting the Democratic Party as well. It’s visible in the number of folks suggesting they won’t vote at all or will vote for third party candidates because they think Democratic candidates are imperfect. Rarely is a voter going to find a perfect candidate that meets every one of their criteria. Democrats are seeing some of the same inflexibility on issues.

The minimum wage is an example of this absolutist-purity requirement. The Fight for $15 has been a powerful motivating issue that the Democratic Party has embraced. A minimum wage of $15 is an excellent goal the party should support. However, an absolute refusal to compromise on the amount could result in no increase at all.

The Democratic Polk County Supervisors attempting to increase the minimum wage have come under intense and nasty criticism for a willingness to compromise on that amount. They have been called cowards and accused of collusion with special interests because they are willing to bargain. They’ve been attacked because they have been willing to listen to all stakeholders. The purists are demanding $15 regardless of the reality of the power of these competing forces. The supervisors have made it clear that they want the highest minimum wage possible, but they also understand they must pass an amount that the cities in Polk County will support. If the cities reject the increase because they believe it’s too high, there will be no increase of any amount.

The passion of the Fight for $15 activists is laudable. Their efforts are needed and essential. Their support will be needed to get the cities to accept the eventual wage increase passed. Hopefully, they will be able to accept some negotiated amount that is less than their goal.

The concern for Democrats is finding the right balance between purity and the possible on all issues. Compromise can’t become a dirty word within the Democratic Party or we are destined for the same gridlock that has paralyzed the Republicans. Democrats can’t allow the perfect to become the enemy of the possible.


by Rick Smith
Posted 10/5/16

11 Comments on "Is Political Purity Undermining The Democratic Party?"

  • Extremism of any form is not good the article supports a $15/hr minimum wage but I believe that is too high yes, there should be an increase but $15/hr may actually backfire and cause the lose of jobs because many small business employers will not be able to absorb such a huge increase in labor costs or higher prices to pay for the higher pay they have to give their workers. On issues I go about 70%-65% towards the Liberal side so, to the purists I am not liberal enough. The Purist in the Democratic party at least for now are a Minority but they still make up a large enough portion of the party to cause trouble for any candidate or office holder that does not hold radical liberal ideals.

  • Rick,
    The article on compromise was right on point.Compromise is critical to the democratic process.I hope,two things-that Democrats don’t fall into trap of no compromise and that Republicans get back on track and recognize it’s key to gov.working.

  • Rick we do agree, the Democratic Party is pure when it comes to doing things not good for Americans.

    Is there a better example of failed purity than Obamacare? It was rammed down the American people’s throats by a questionable manuever and without a single Republican vote. Further the Republicans and Democrats had no opportunity to offer amendments.

    Obamacare is collapsing. The policy requirements are onerous to the point of being ridiculous. Deductibles are crazy high and premiums are sky rocketing. Insurance companies are running for the hills. Millions of Americans lost their doctors and their preferred insurance. Its a failure.

    The Iran Nuclear deal is another example. It guarantees that Iran will have nuclear weapons in 10 years and the US gave and gave and got nothing. We’re paying ransom to a terrorist state that is off the rails violating UN resolutions and harassing US military. Iran has joined Russia in Syria.

    Obama and Hillary were so bent on getting out of Iraq that they left a vacuum and ISIS emerged. Hillary was set on getting rid of Kaddafi so she destabilized Libya, got a US ambassador and three Americans murdered and turned Libya into a terrorist haven.

    Hillary Clinton was so bent on keeping her emails private that she violated State Department rules, federal laws and national security to do it. She has been lying about it ever since.

    We could talk about the invasion of illegal aliens, the Democratic Party’s war on police and many other issues as well. How about stop calling the American people racist, deplorable and irredeemable?

    Do Democrats need to change their ways?? Absolutely!!!!

    • Obamacare was as far from a pure solution as you could get. This adaptation of Romney’s version of an Heritage Foundation proposal was intended as a compromise reasonable Republucans could accept, but in the years since the Herirage Foundation created it that breed of Republican vanished. As for the list of other ‘facts’ presented, they range from untrue (a ‘war on police’, a guaranty that the Iranians will get nuclear weapons in ten years, an ‘invasion of illegal aliens’ when those rates are down) to half-true (Ms Clinton called ‘half’ of Trump’s supporters, that is roughly 40% of 35% of America, ‘deplorable`—but the confusion is easily understood when it were remembered that one unpleasant truth about many Trump supporters is that they only class persons who agree with them as ‘Americans’, the rest of us presumably will be deported or fertiliser) and the irrelevant (Ms Clintons mistakes and evasions were not dealing with principle, which is the subject of this piece).

    • Gary,
      You are wrong about the affordable care act. If the purist would not have compromised, we would have single payer health care now. The compromise caused the debacle we are working with now.

  • Tim Kaine’s performance in the VP debate was simply terrible. He showed that all Hillary has as a campaign is criticizing Trump because that’s all he did. Kaine was rude. He showed the failure of the Clinton policies by repeating a bunch of scripted lines because there is no substance there.

    Mike Pence showed he could be President and he defended Trump and his campaign policies very well.

    • This had nothing to do with principle vs practicality, save that strict principles would forbid Ms Clinton’s acknowledging the output of a troll of Mr Trump’s sort,but that were not practical.

  • Beyond Gary obviously being a Trumpista, the article itself highlights a long time problem in the political sphere … allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. One thing I have learned over decades in politics is that if I can my “half a loaf” now that is better than no loaf and I’ll go after the rest of loaf later.

    The reality is that to get anything done in a divided country requires some compromise … each of those involved needs to feel it has a reason to vote for the matter. The idea of political compromise is not new … it goes back to the writing of the Constitution, if not earlier. If the founding fathers could use compromise to make progress, that lesson ought not be lost on those of us engaged today.

  • Gary, why don’t you say outright that you are a Republican? Obamacare has allowed millions to get health insurance who could not get it otherwise. It was not rammed through anything, rather delayed far too long and watered down by endless efforts to negotiate. Its problems result from unprecedented obstruction by Republicans. The Iran deal prevents Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
    Illegal immigration is WAY DOWN, even net negative, under Obama. War on police? Emails compromised national security? Failure of “Clinton policies? Pence defended Trump (how, exactly? by claiming Trump never said stuff that he did, in fact, say)? Gary, switch off Fox News and delete the bookmark before it’s too late.

  • The problem is that Democrats campaigned on a $15/hour minimum wage, raising expectations to that point. When the votes are there, party supporters expect the elected officials to deliver. As for being too “purist,” that is not a problem. As long as the party promises to help the middle class while providing support for the Party’s various voting blocks, everything will work out fine.

  • The lure of The Pure is an ever-present temptation for some because they hold the positions they do in order to feel that they are right, as opposed to getting right things done.

    For such, political success were in fact a threat, because actually governing both usually (in a democracy) requires compromise, can result in a guilty conscience because very often someone were worse-off even when a new scheme were on the whole good (reducing death-rates is bad for the undertakers!) and also puts ideas to tests they might not fully pass. For these people, the purity of utter powerlessness and irrelevance is preferable to maybe doing some good but maybe getting hands a little dirty or seeing that they were even a little wrong.

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