In a previous post, I discussed the “No True Progressive” variation of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. The problem with the self-described “Progressive movement” is that it’s alienating many who identified themselves as progressive. Led by several left-wing blogs, most notably Firedoglake and DocuDharma, they’re attempting to set a standard of “purity” to define who is or is not progressive. Anyone who does not absolutely meet their standard, which turns out to be a moving target, is not a progressive. That someone may agree with them on 90%, 95%, or even 100% of the issues, and have the same goals is not relevant. What is relevant to them is that you must also agree with the importance and priority that is assigned to them, as well as the tactics being used to achieve them. Which is where people start failing the purity standard. This is where the “purity wars” break out. Not all of us are going to agree with the importance of any given issue. We may agree with you on the issue, but differ on the importance. We’ll disagree on the priority an issue should have. We’ll very likely disagree with the tactics you’re trying to use.
Let’s look at some of the issues today: Jobs, healthcare reform, climate change, LGBT rights, financial regulatory reform, energy policy, and education. Seven of many issues. My ranking of where they stand in order of importance is not going to be your ranking. If you’re a member of the LGBT community, you might rank that as being of foremost importance. I’m not, so on my list of “important” it’s down near the bottom. It doesn’t mean I’m not for them, it just means that it’s not the most important thing to me. I acknowledge that if you are a member of that group it’s very important to you. How we rank importance also determines the priority we place on action for a given issue. If LGBT rights are the most important thing to you, then repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legislation, and getting gay marriage laws passed is your top priority. My top priority is going to be on the issue I’ve ranked as the most important. Having ranked the importance of an issue, and assigning it a priority, then comes the tactics used to achieve that goal. You may think that a tactic is a good one, and I may think it’s not.
Which is where the battles broke out. When you insist that I must agree with your rankings and tactics, we’re going to part ways. Which is why I decided to call myself a pragmatic liberal instead of a progressive. The fight was over healthcare reform. I agreed with the importance of the issue. I even agreed with the priority. But when it came time for tactics, I didn’t. Let me make it clear: This was important. It was the top priority. The tactics that the “true progressives” from Firedoglake and other sites chose were something I strongly disagreed with. I hold them responsible for many of the problems that have been faced moving this through Congress. It turned out that what was their top priority, the most important thing to them was not moving reform legislation through. It was moving their ideal. So much so, that they were willing to scuttle the entire thing if they didn’t get their way. Because I considered it important, and the top priority, I wasn’t. No, it wasn’t perfect by any means. No, it’s not my ideal. But that was not a reason to scuttle it. Attacking members of Congress because they held their noses and voted for it because it was important and a top priority was in my opinion counter-productive. Threatening them when you have no ability to back up your threats was just plain stupid.
As I’ve said in other posts, I’m a pragmatist, because I’ve had a lot of experience. I’m more interested in what works, what I can get, than in what’s ideal. I recognize – sometimes reluctantly – that “perfect” isn’t possible on the first attempt. It doesn’t happen often in any field, and most definitely does not in politics. You see, they want a whole loaf or none. For myself, when push comes to shove, I’ll take half a loaf over none. That’s why I broke from the “progressives.” We agree on goals – but nothing else.