One of the more frequent topics I’ve addressed here has been the “purists” on the liberal blogs. They like to call themselves “the democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” all evidence to the contrary, and are constantly calling for the Party to run “true progressives.” Mind you, that doesn’t entail actually doing it themselves, just that the Party should do it for them. Hence their constant griping about current members of Congress who fail to meet their standards of purity, along with issuing meaningless threats.
In the current finger-pointing and blame games going on in the Republican Party right now, I can see some lessons for those “pure progressives.” One of the big ones came from a segment on Morning Joe, during a discussion on where the Republican Party needed to go from here.
A comment Joe Scarborough made struck me:
“It is a shame, there was a time when Republicans, or even conservatives, would listen to the wisdom of William F. Buckley, who would always say “You don’t elect the most conservative guy” – or woman – “you elect the most electable conservative guy.” Get them as conservative as you can, but a guy that can win in Northwest Florida like myself by 80%, is not the guy you want to nominate in Southern California.”
Substitute “liberal” for “conservative” in that statement, and you have your lesson. In a previous article, I talked about some numbers that purists needed to think about, I made this point:
If you don’t have 218 seats, you can have every Representative be a “purist Democrat,” , and it doesn’t matter. The cold reality is that “pure progressives” won’t win in many – or even most – areas. I’ll use my district as an example. It was about as close to a “reliably Republican” district as you’ll find in this country. There were big parts that hadn’t had a Democrat representing them in over 150 years. We have been for the past 2 years represented by a Democrat. Progressives had conniption fits when he was nominated, because he was “not progressive!
You want to know something? He just won re-election. Despite the previous district having been designed as a “safe Republican” seat, and this new district having a solid Republican advantage, he still won, and he’s increased his percentage of the vote each time. No, he’s not a “progressive” as they mean it, and never will be. However, here’s something to consider: Liberals have run in the past, and they’ve been absolutely hammered in elections. In other words, they might have been the “most liberal,” but they most definitely weren’t the most electable liberals. My congressman is as electable as a Democrat is going to get around here, and that’s why he’s won three times.
Now, here’s the other thing to consider about him. He’s voted with the Party when it was important to do so. He voted for the Affordable Care Act, and for the repeal of DADT. I don’t agree with him all the time, and yes, I do wish he were a staunch progressive. But I really like winning, and even more, that he’s still far and away more progressive than any Republican alternative.
There’s a take-away lesson from that, and also from this election. Senator Tester. Senator Heitkamp. Senator Manchin. All of them Democratic senators who won this year, in states that went solidly for Mitt Romney. Are any of them “pure progressives?” Not by a long shot. The purists will – and have for two of them – deride them as “Democrats in Name Only,” “ConservaDems,” or something even less flattering. But they won. Like it or not, and I know the purity brigade doesn’t, they’re the most electable liberal in those states. What’s important about their winning is not just that we have Democrats in their states. It’s that their wins enabled Democrats to keep control of the Senate. They’re the people who enable Democrats to chair committees, to have the Senate Majority Leader. If you want progressive legislation to have a prayer in the Senate, they’re the people responsible for that.
There’s also something to keep in mind about 2012. Democrats did not regain control of the House. While there’s a lot of champagne popping and cheering on various liberal blogs about Alan Grayson winning, it’s important to keep one figure in mind: 218. That’s the number of Democratic Representatives you need to control the House. Without that, all Alan Grayson is is a speechmaker. I’m sure he’ll say all the things that will make you feel soft, warm, and fuzzy, but you’d better remember the reality: It doesn’t matter. His ability to push any progressive agenda forward is non-existent without 217 other Democrats.
It’s early yet, but the take-away lesson for 2014 should be this: It’s not about running the most progressive candidate. It’s about running the most electable progressive candidates. Republicans forgot that lesson on their side, and it’d be a shame if the Democrats forgot it as well.