There’s an song from the 70’s by Stealer’s Wheel called “Stuck in the Middle with You.” The refrain is the title of this post, and it’s been running through my head as I look at various blogs and news from the purists on both sides. Both have have been regularly jumping off the tracks when it comes to riding the clue train. Watching the fun at CPAC, as various conservatives tried to out-wingnut each other, the antics of the birthers, and of course the battles between the various Tea Parties is cause for much hilarity – and a bit of dismay. I’ve also watched as various thinking conservatives have broken away from them, realizing that there is such a thing as “too far.” Various of the right-wing blogs have also fallen prey to “purity” wars, with sites like Free Republic booting off anyone critical of Sarah Palin, despite the general realization that she’s an idiot, or RedState deciding to boot off the birthers. As someone who describes himself as a “pragmatic liberal,” it’s fun to see the Right self-destruct.
What isn’t so much fun is to watch the same phenomenon on the Left. The 2008 election had many groups on the Left claiming credit for the victory. Not “we were a part of,” but “because of.” The impression you quickly came away with was that they believed they were principally – if not solely – responsible for Democratic victories in Congressional and the Presidential races. As a result of that belief, they thought they were going to get their way, their programs enacted, and that it heralded a massive shift to the left by the country. The reality was that they were just a part of a much larger coalition, and even then not always a large part. Consider that four of the congressional races that “the netroots” took an active interest in and heavily supported were losses. Not only did they fail to take a seat away from an incumbent in three of them, they failed in an open seat. In some races, yes, they did have a solid role in financing and in winning the race. But overall, they were just a part of a much larger picture.
What they did could have formed the basis for a real movement within the Democratic Party. That would be alright, except for what happened. Because they deluded themselves about their actual influence and capability, they had a collective fit when Congress and the President didn’t just automatically enact everything they wanted – right away. They had a massive poutrage, indulging in temper tantrums. “How could they do this to us?” the whining went. “Don’t they know how powerful we are?” Actually, yes, “they” did. That’s why they weren’t getting everything they wanted. The purists in a fit of wounded ego at “being ignored,” along with the still-bitter PUMA’s, went into full-blown attack mode. The pragmatic people, the ones who were involved in local politics, and had spent years advocating causes tried to inject a note of reality into the situation, only to be attacked in turn, and often driven off the sites. The purity people had jumped to exactly the same wrong conclusion that the ultra-conservatives had jumped to. Their Party was failing because it wasn’t “pure enough.”
The difference between the Right and the Left in these purity wars is that the Right actually seems to be able to implement their cause. It isn’t doing the Republican Party much good, but they are coming up with primary candidates to challenge Republicans who aren’t “conservative enough.” That’s not true of the Left. The People’s View has a great post up entitled “Markos wants to primary Jay Rockefeller.” Yes, Markos is making a list of people who have strayed from the progressive (as he defines it) line, and they’re going to be primaried! He’s not the only one – Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake sent a very nasty letter to Senator Bernie Sanders, threatening to primary him. Why aren’t Democrats shaking in their boots over this? Besides it being stupid, that is. It’s a threat they haven’t shown any ability to back up. We’re heading into the primary season for Congressional elections. All of the “Blue Dogs” are up for re-election, along with some less-than-progressive Democratic Senators. The number of primary challengers they’ve recruited for these seats is: None. They’re still working on one potential challenger for Senate, but overall, their demonstrated ability to challenge sitting Representatives is non-existent. If they want to be taken seriously, they have to be credible when they make their threats – and they’re not.
I’m a pragmatic liberal. Along with a number of others, I consider “progressive” to mean “I’m making progress,” not “I’m holier than thou.” Yes, on the political scale, I’m to the left. But I also want things to get done, not to get bogged down in purity wars. In the real world, there are a lot of people who fall on the conservative side of the scale who want that as well. But, we have to watch as the purists fight over some ideal, and get in the way of actually accomplishing something. As the song goes, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you”.