You Want To Talk About Standing On Principle?

Recently, on several blogs, and principally Daily Kos, there has been push back from some about the criticism they’re receiving from many other progressives.    What they say, either overtly or walking around it, is that they’re just “demanding that people stand firm on their principles.”  Yes, they want Democrats to emulate the Tea Party Republicans, and never compromise.  Those of us who accept compromise as a part of the process are considered “weak-spined,” “appeasers,” and “compromising for the sake of compromise.”  Right.   As if they’re such sterling examples of “standing firm.”

It’d be laughable, if it weren’t so sad.  Let’s see, Daily Kos.  A site with the mission to elect “more and better Democrats.”  Which has been thrown into the garbage can for some time.  You see, that “principle,” or heck, even one about supporting “pure progressives” has often been disregarded, or overlooked when it suits them.  Anyone remember Kos stating he was “so over ConservaDems?”  I do, since it applied to an election I was active in.  But that’s OK, it turned out we didn’t need his blessing.  But he managed to change that stance when it came to Bill Halter in Arkansas.  Yes, you see, by the time the various “pure progressive” blogs got finished, you’d have thought that Bill Halter was to the Left of Dennis Kucinich.  Which didn’t really bear a whole lot of relationship to Halter’s actual record in office.  You see, his actual record was of a moderate, a “center” politician, with a few stances that were actually to the right of center.  But, because he was willing to say the right thing about labor unions and a few other things, he became a “progressive hero.”

That was followed up by Kos’ embrace of Charlie Crist.  By the time Daily Kos and other “progressive” blogs got through, he’d undergone a makeover.  Instead of the Republican Governor of the State of Florida, with a conservative record and stances, he was a “progressive” who was running as an Independent.  Who had promised to caucus with the Republicans in the Senate if he won.

That’s also the case with “demand purity” Jane Hamsher.  It’s not just that her advertising business does work with Republicans, who can forget her demand that every one, and in particular Democrats, boycott Fox News.  Which she promptly ditched when it came to her appearances on Fox News.   Her demand for progressive purity also managed to be set aside when she teamed up with Grover Norquist.

Over and over again, you see it.  The very places whose owners and bloggers demand “no compromise,” who want Democrats to “stand on principle” turn out to have a very different definition of that when it comes to themselves.  It’s very much a case of “do as I say, not as I do.”

Way back when I was the military, one of the leadership principles we learned was “Set The Example.”   Quite simply, you had to show that you did everything you were asking others to do.   Otherwise you weren’t going to get a lot of respect.  Which is exactly where I am with them.  You want to ask Democrats to stand on principle?  Tell you what, let’s see you do it.  So far you haven’t, unless your principle is “What makes me money or gets me power.”   You get to tell us about standing on principle when you do it, not before.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “You Want To Talk About Standing On Principle?

  1. fleetadmiralj

    I think part of the problem here is a difference in concepts and definitions. To me, there is a difference between a “principle” and a demand for specific policy. Hell, I remember at one point Kos writing posts about how it was important for Democrats to create cross-cutting ideals that everyone in the party could agree with.

    On health care reform, an overarching principle that almost everyone in the party can agree to is “universal healthcare.” Now, the best way to each that goal may be different for different people, but it’s still an overarching principle. And with the mandate and other regulations in the ACA, it would be hard to argue that the party didn’t in fact hold to that principle, even if some of the specific POLICIES weren’t exactly what some in the party liked.

    On the tax cut deal, I would say asking the rich to pay their fair share and protecting the middle class are both principles most people in the party can agree with. The problem in December is that these principles came into conflict. We had a situation where we were going to get one but not the other, so the question became which was more important.

    Obviously most moderates and pragmatic progressives believed that, at least in conjunction with what else we were able to gain (extending UI – clearing an advancement of a Dem principle; ending DADT – also a pretty widely held principle), that it was worth sacrificing the principle of asking the rich to pay more, at least temporarily, in exchange for protecting the middle class. So we basically held on to 3, and perhaps more, of our principles while losing 1. Meanwhile, if the purists had their way, the opposite would likely be true. So who is being the principled group again?

    With the tax cut deal it’s harder to really flesh it out because I never thought it would come down to having “believing we shouldn’t default” as being a principle as the party, as I figured it was universally shared by everyone. But I would say that responsible deficit reduction is also a principle shared by almost all but the hardest of hard core progressives as well. Again, while we sacrificed one principle, perhaps temporarily, in the form of new revenues, I still think we held to the principles of – if there are going to be cuts, where those cuts come from as well as back loading them, in conjunction with not defaulting. The purist’s option would have been defaulting, which would have damaged the prospects for many of their principles, including protecting the middle class, protecting medicare, protecting social security, and avoiding future, more onerous budget cuts due to increased interest rates.

    However, people like Kos, FDL, etc. do is substitute specific policy goals – public option, repealing the Bush tax cuts, completely ignoring deficit reduction – for actual principles. This is harmful in a few ways. First, it says that there is only one allowable road to follow. It’s either public option or bust. It’s new revenues or bust. It’s repealing the Bush tax cuts or bust, with no regard for the alternatives or the consequences for forcing those outcomes. Second, it tells the other half (or more) of the Democratic Party who doesn’t agree that they can go fuck themselves. Yeah, way to build party unity there.

    And you’re right. They have a bad habit of picking a candidate they like because they say some things that sound attractive to their ears, and project full out progressiveness onto that candidate. They did it with Obama, they did it with Tester, as you say they did it with Halter. And when people like Tester and Obama govern like the people they are instead of who the purist progressives projected onto them, they scream “betrayal.”

    Anyway, I think I’ll end now since I think this comment is longer than your actual blog post heh.

    • fleetadmiralj

      lol damn I should proofread my post before I post it. I assume that with most of my typos people knew what I was talking about, heh

      • Well, I got it. :) A principle is a general statement of belief. I believe every one should have access to healthcare. That’s a principle. How that happens is policy. “Public option” (which was never adequately defined) is a policy method used to let everyone have access to healthcare. Now, if I say “No, we’re not doing that, we’re doing this instead,” it is not a “betrayal of principle,” it’s simply a different method. From a practical standpoint, I also recognize that the principle may not be achievable in one step, but may require multiple steps over time. But, if I have confused a policy with a principle, or conflated them, then I’m going to be constantly “betrayed.” :roll:

        What gets me about these idiots is that they make strong statements, and set forth their own “principles,” but then turn around and chuck them away for convenience. But they’ll gripe like no one else about someone doing something “against principle.”

    • LOL. Exactly. It’s clear every time they put fingers to keyboard that they have no clue about the difference between a principle and a policy. It’s also clear that they never paid any attention to what the candidates actually said. I knew exactly what Obama was running on, and how he wanted to govern as President. That’s because I took the time to read his platform, his policy prescriptions, and listen to his speeches or read their transcripts. So I never once confused him for a “pure progressive.”

    • JanF

      Excellent comment, fleetadmiralj. This is spot on:

      substitute specific policy goals – public option, repealing the Bush tax cuts, completely ignoring deficit reduction – for actual principles.

      We are almost always going to disagree on the details of how we achieve our goals and so if we require purity on the policies we will never come together on anything. It is almost as if it is set up to generate more controversy rather than consensus. Hmmmm. Does that drive page hits? ;-)

      • Does it drive page hits? Yup. ;) Heck, I can see it every time I step on the toes of followers of Glenn, Jane, and/or Kos. :roll: They run off, tell their buddies, who come over here, then go to their little clubhouse and whine about it. :lol: Then again, way back at the beginning of this blog, I said that we agree on goals – but nothing else. Still holds true.

  2. Dancer

    I’m so in agreement with all said above…I guess it’s the “labels” that drive me nuts as they are so meaningless given the way they are misused. Yes, anyone bothering to read and listen to Obama’s positions during the campaign would have to be nuts to label him “purel progressive or liberal”…he neve put himself into that box. And I long ago left FDL but do occasionally check into DKOS for a look…I perhaps flatter myself by wanting to be defined as a person in search of the ever more and more elusive “truth” in information who then uses the ability to THINK to form opinions and beliefs. Realizing that is the mark of an dinosaur these days I continue to believe we ALL need to rail harder and louder against a corporate media that is entrenched and married to the idea of DRIVING the news rather than REPORTING it to anyone’s benefit other than their corporate masters and themselves. NOW there is a fight worth taking up…where are the polls on how popular and trustworthy our media is?

    • I regard myself as a “pragmatic liberal.” As fleetadmiralj points out, there’s a difference between a principle and a policy, which is what the so-called “progressive” pundits and their minions forget or don’t realize.

      Most of their complaining is based on “I didn’t get my way,” and “I want this, and I want it now!” It’s immature.

      To use a metaphor, I happen to like blackberries. That can be a “principle.” But, it does me no good if there are no blackberries growing in my area to begin with. So I have to find them, or plant them. Then, even though I have the plants, I still have to wait for them to flower and ripen. Once they are, it turns out that blackberry canes have a lot of thorns, so unless I’m careful and take my time, I’m going to get pricked, my clothing is going to get torn, and I may end up giving up because it’s a lot of trouble. Saying “I want blackberries, and I want them now” and diving into a patch when they’re not ripe just means I’m going to get badly scratched and leave without anything.

      That’s what the PL and the frustrati are doing. They’re not only demanding diving in to a patch without the berries being ripe, they’re denying that they’re not ripe and that there are thorns. Then they’re complaining about getting scratched.

  3. Dancer

    OUCH like the previous commenter passion should NOT preclude proofreading…sorry…

  4. Dancer

    Interesting metaphor…sadly, speaking as an OLD GAL, we’ve trained much of our population to think that they can have it ALL and NOW with little regard to our and our parents/grandparents work ethics…and the group of folks who believe that they can and should grab as much of the pile as possible seems to be growing. Patience is a thing of the past as is intellectual curiosity and thinking in far too many cases. I get depressed when folks choose not to care about facts or the consideration of what effects will follow some actions they demand. It’s been refreshing to have a president who CAN use his head and look for pragmatic solutions…I may not always agree but I didn’t get elected!

    • It comes from the fact that the blackberry’s are ripening around here, and I’m harvesting them as I walk around the area. :D Having been keeping an eye on various patches for the past two months, it’s been a long wait, but worth it. It’s not that I enjoyed the wait, but no amount of wishing, screaming, stomping my feet, or other action would have hastened it.

  5. Nathan Katungi

    Norbrook, It is always quite refreshing to read your commentaries. I truly admire your ability to expose the hypocrisy of people who pretend to be “pure” progressives. I also appreciate the depth of your political knowledge. I also liked very much fleeetadmiralJ’s comment that clearly explained the difference between principle and policy. Another way of looking at this is to point out the difference between goals and tactics.

    • Thank you. I don’t think I have all that great a depth of political knowledge, it’s just that I’ve been around enough political situations, as well as being willing to actually observe and learn from the process. It does seem to be something that most of the punditry and those insisting on purity haven’t bothered with. It doesn’t take much to see the hypocrisy of many of these sites and their owners. “Elect more and better Democrats” is a principle. That means that you support Democrats, not jump all over the place to whichever politician you’ve decided to swoon over. It doesn’t mean you dump on a Democrat who is running against a Republican. It doesn’t mean that you constantly attack the Democratic President. That Daily Kos has done just that means that the principle that Kos postulated when he started the site is meaningless. When you ditch what was your founding principle for expediency, financial gain, or fame, then it’s the height of hypocrisy to start demanding that everyone else “stand on principle.”

  6. fromlaurelstreet

    Hamsher is doing for “progressive” what Republicans did for “liberal” and, inadvertently, “conservative.”

  7. Politics is the art of the possible. Also, I recall Walter Lippmann’s argument that democracy only works when the two sides listen to each other, engage each other’s ideas and not assume that they have it absolutely right. Then they figure out where they can compromise. Principle too often is an excuse to simply not question ones’ own subjective opinion. My complaint about conservatives is that too many (but not all) don’t question their beliefs. They don’t acknowledge that debt went up under Reagan and Bush the Younger more than other Presidents (and in fact Reagan’s policies set up the current mess). When confronted with facts they often simply find ways to avoid actually dealing with the reality of the data (including data about the increase in wealth maldistribution, etc.) They close their ears and don’t listen.

    As I ponder that, I realize there are also opinions and beliefs common on the left that need to be questioned — perhaps entitlement reform is necessary in some form, perhaps social welfare programs have too often led to dependency and not real liberation. I think listening to each other and being self-critical as well as other-critical is what a democracy needs.

    • Well said. :) I agree that both sides have “hard” positions that they’re not willing to look at, although the current Republican Party seems to be more and more overwhelmed by those people. I’m a pragmatist. Entitlements and other programs should be re-examined on a regular basis, keeping in mind the overall goal that they were supposed to address. The questions should be “did they succeed?”; “what didn’t work?”; “what should be changed?”; and “do we still need it?” are things we should be asking.