Purists Are Lousy At Governing

The political news that’s got various pundits buzzing is that Jim DeMint is resigning from the Senate to take over the Heritage Foundation.   While he’s been in the media a lot, often portrayed as a powerful voice for the conservative movement, there’s one thing that should be highlighted:  He wasn’t a very good Senator.

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint accomplished very little in the Senate in the traditional sense: He wasn’t a legislator, has no signature laws to his name and has never been part of any major bipartisan negotiations.

After 8 years as a Senator, he’s built himself a reputation for being a pure conservative, and recruited other conservatives to run for Congress, pushing the Republican Party to the far right.  He was very good at that, but he wasn’t doing the job he was elected to do.  But, he was … pure!
In fact, it’s because of his “purity” that he’s leaving:

“The problem is not Harry Reid,” DeMint told Limbaugh, referring to the Senate majority leader. “The problem is, as conservatives, we have not taken enough control of our message and our ideas and communicated them directly to the American people.”

Over the past two election cycles, DeMint, first elected to the Senate in 2004, worked hard to help get hard-line conservatives elected to Congress. Through his Senate Conservatives Fund, DeMint financially and logistically supported conservatives running for office and made enemies of some of his more moderate GOP colleagues by backing their primary challengers.

Funny, I can’t recall any lack of control or communication of their “message and ideas.”  It’s just that the American public sent a strong message this past election cycle that they don’t like them.   It’s noteworthy that the Tea Party conservatives he helped get elected turned this recent Congress into the most unproductive and unpopular Congress in recent memory.

It’s not just DeMint, or even just the Republican Party.  While the Republican Party has been in large measure turned over to its purists, the Democratic Party has examples of that as well.   Earlier this year, I talked about Dennis Kucinich, and had this quote:

For all of his advocacy for liberal issues, Kucinich got almost nothing accomplished. He’s one of those legislators who becomes a favorite of the base—this happens on both sides; look at Michele Bachmann—by talking a lot while doing very little. Effective legislators build coalitions, they work to persuade their colleagues, they even compromise, if that’s what’s necessary to get legislation passed (or blocked, if that’s the goal). Not Kucinich.

Michele Bachmann is a good example on the Republican side of “popular with the base, but doesn’t do anything.”  I can point at Alan Grayson, Allen West, and others.  All ideologically pure, but in terms of accomplishing anything relating to governing, they’re not on the list.    That’s the problem.

In the form of government we have, there are certain rules that have to be followed, and things that must be done.   Even the most hide-bound conservative expects certain things from the government.  We have a military, we have a host of obligations, and it’s expected that our elected representatives will keep the lights on and the wheels turning.  When we have different parties in control of one part, those obligations don’t go away.  It means compromise.  Even when we have just one party in the majority, there are rules which mean they must deal with the minority party.

Purists don’t want that.  They have their cause, and will not accept anything less than “perfect.”   If it means that it renders government non-functional, so be it.  The purity of their beliefs, and getting their own way, trumps any foolish concerns about government not being able to do what their constituents expect it to do.   It doesn’t matter to them that the economy might tank, people will be seriously hurt, or projects in their own backyard won’t happen.  If it’s not pure enough according to them,  they’ll stop it.

Which is why I greet Senator DeMint’s departure with a “good riddance.”  It’s better for the Senate, and hopefully, better for the people of South Carolina.  Maybe they’ll have a Senator who actually … works for them.  But he’s helped teach a valuable lesson to the public.  Purists are lousy at governing.  The more people wake up to that, the more trouble the purists are going to be in.  Ideals are wonderful things, but unless they work in the real world and accomplish something,  the purists are going to be ideally unemployed.  The American public has this streak of pragmatism, and politicians who have put purity first have found that out the hard way.   It may take a while, but the Republicans are about to learn it.



Filed under Politics

22 responses to “Purists Are Lousy At Governing

  1. aquagranny911

    This is completely OT but I am really pissed off! Apparently the goatfigging Cantor is willing to ‘negotiate’ with VP Biden over passing the VAWA if the protections for Native American women are removed from the bill.

    This is just unconscionable to me. Violence against women on some of our native lands is rampant. We had a serial rapist here who was preying on women & getting away because of lack of law enforcement coordination. Native women subject to domestic violence often have no means of escape or legal support.

    This is just making me boil! Sorry for the rant but I hope you will understand. I see you are a supporter of Pretty Bird Woman House as I have also been for a number of years.

    I’m just so tired of this evil caca from the repugnant goatfiggers & I WILL keep speaking out!

    • Every time I think they couldn’t possibly go lower, they do. 😥 I thought they’d been muck-diving after their vote on the disabilities treaty – Stonekettle Station has a good post on that, but it seems they’re wallowing around pushing themselves even deeper.

    • majiir

      Why some Americans keep sending pols like Cantor to Congress, I’ll never understand. Cantor knows little/nothing about U.S. treaties with American Indians. If he did, he’d know that many of these treaties grant American Indians a certain amount of autonomy to run their own affairs. I’m upset, too, aq, that Cantor doesn’t believe that American Indian women deserve the same protections as all women in this country. It’s embarrassing to our nation that people keep sending politicians like Cantor, Gohmert, DeMint, Bachmann and others to do the very serious work of governing because too many of them replace facts and reality with ideology.

      • aquagranny911

        Majiir, it’s not just that. Tribal police & courts often don’t get cooperation from other law enforcement which means that someone can commit a crime on the Rez, then flee which makes it real difficult to catch & bring them to justice especially if they are not native to that Rez.

        Giving tribal courts & law enforcement the power to deal, even with non-natives who commit crimes on Native lands, is in Joe Biden’s words a BFD for real justice especially for Native women who are often the victims. The original VAWA would give Native American women some real help & legal recourse for rape & domestic abuse.

        I try not to wish evil on people but Cantor & his ilk deserve a serious visit from the goddess Karma!

  2. Vic78

    I believe people like Kucinich are media darlings. If the base liked him, he would’ve won the last primary. I get your point. The ideologically pure are a pain in the ass. It’s terrible in dark red districts. The imbecile Mo Brooks didn’t have to compete for his seat. He’s about as pure as one gets. If they had sense they would consider their self interest and try to stop sequestration. Fuck the debt ceiling.

    Years of anti government speak is coming back to bite them.

    • Vic78

      What I meant about the debt ceiling is that repubs should act as if they’re at a disadvantage. It’s stupid to make everything a fight. Majority rules.

      Jim DeMint should never have been a senator. If he thought McConnel was too moderate, there’s no telling how frustrating it must’ve been for Jimmy. Governor Haley gets a chance to pick someone as crazy as she is. I’ll bet the house and car it’ll be another incompetent.

      What really kills me about the GOP is that they haven’t adapted to the times. All they say is tax cuts and job killing regulations. They campaign with the same platform they used in the 60s. They have adjusted their dog whistles. I think we’re at the point where there’s no excuse for not knowing better. The GOP shouldn’t be able to trick anyone else from here on out.

      Just how crazy are some of our fellow citizens? I mean people are afraid of a primary challenge from someone more hardcore? Thankfully the Senate won’t allow too many crazies in. The House is where our problems lie.

      • Kucinich was a slap in the face by the base to the media and purity crew on the Internet. They constantly asserted they spoke for the base, and he was held up as a model for what Democrats should be like. 🙄 I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat it. The difference between the Republican crazies and the Democratic crazies is that the Republican ones went and took over the party.

  3. see above

    I’d guess on some things I’m a purist but there are others I can give a little on. The biggest problem I have is that the DEMS have moved right and nobody ever challenges the “the country is right of center” I don’t think I live in a cacoon and when I talk generalities with people they don’t sound right even if the are RR’s. I personally find myself more liberal on many things the older I get so I have a hard time with the folks who lump those of us who might carry an AARP card in the brain dead column on politics. In my state there are lots of us and during the election we outnumbered the youngsters who were working it. I’m for using the old fashioned term liberal and pushing liberal ideas progressive works but I prefer to stick liberal in the ears of the RR’s.
    And yes good riddance to Jim DeMint. He’s one of those RR’s that looks angry all the time.
    Changing or expanding topics does any one but me notice how frequently the RR’s accuse others of the very things they are doing? Things from the campaign that come to mind are a short interview Romney gave just before the first debate where he said something to the effect that “well if the President comes out and just spouts a lot of lies my choice will be do I refute them or try to make my points and ignore him” he then did that very thing with 31 lies or 32 minutes or so. Or the President won because of gifts. I’d say a 20% across the board tax cut could fall into the gift classification. Just sayin

    • One of the things about purists is not just that they’re “all or nothing,” it’s that they’re quite willing to accept “nothing” even though it’s unacceptable to everyone else. I think the Dems are still “center-left” but the key word is “center.” My own opinion is that the country orbits the center politically, and moving where the center is is a long-term project.

      On your other topic, 😉 yes, I have noticed that. The saying “it’s ok if you’re a Republican” came out of that. Another example for you is that “voter fraud” isn’t a major problem, but Republicans seem bound and determined to prove to everyone it is … by committing voter fraud. 🙄

      • majiir

        I read an article earlier this week that identified the Americans who voted for PBO as centrists/moderates. I wish the republicans would read the article and take heed because it made the point that although many republicans identify the president as a flaming liberal, he is really a moderate. What many republicans and democrats fail to notice about him is that above all else, he is a pragmatist. It is pragmatists who accomplish things, not purists who tend to take a position and tell everyone that it’s their way or the highway. The only result of having a Congress filled with purists is a government that can accomplish nothing. Jim DeMint staked out his positions, stuck to them, and almost brought the work of the Senate to a standstill. He and his backers were happy, but the rest of the country wasn’t. When the republicans didn’t win all of the seats in Congress they were aiming for in the last election, they were shocked. They shouldn’t have been. Just because you don’t realize there’s a problem doesn’t mean that everyone else doesn’t.

        • The only people who think President Obama is a wild-eyed, dyed-in-the-wool “marxist liberal” are the far left liberals who didn’t pay attention and the far right nitwits who lost their minds when they saw a black man becoming President.

          Just about everyone else saw someone who is more centrist – albeit leaning left – and as Andrew Sullivan put it, “a cold-blooded pragmatist.”

  4. Snoring Dog Studio

    It leaves me wondering what purpose these “Foundations” actually serve – do you know? Does anyone pay much attention to them? Or are they just repositories of PAC funds? Good riddance, yes. I’m all for extremists on both sides of the aisle to go away and stop pretending to be governing. They’re taking up valuable space.

    • Technically they’re supposed to act as places where policy is analyzed and new ideas are developed. Unfortunately, at least on the conservative side, they’re mainly conduits for the donors to tell the conservatives what to say.

      For example, if Heritage was doing its job, it would have dropped the whole “tax cuts for the rich creates jobs” long ago. The data shows very clearly that they don’t. Instead of coming up with a new idea, they’re going to go down holding onto that. 🙄

      • majiir

        If Heritage were a serious “think tank,” it would have supported the individual mandate in the ACA, since it was a creation of the HF. Whenever an organization changes position on an issue, especially one it thought was great a few years ago, there’s no clearer way of saying that it’s goal is not serious policy-making, it’s politics intended to keep a political party in power. Mitch McConnell showed how unserious he was the other day when he filibustered his own bill. It seems that for him, everything is political and it’s never about doing the job you were sent ot Congress to do.

        • Last year, David Frum wrote about his own dismay – just after his departure from Heritage for failing to toe the correct line. It’s interesting reading. 😉

          • Vic78

            The GOP hasn’t been on planet Earth for a long time. I’m glad Frum figured that out. It’s time for him to find a hole and stay in it.

          • The problem with people with from is that he still supports the republicans and even wrote a piece shortly before the election that explained why he was voting for Romney. What it comes down to is that greed and ideology trumps everything even for so called moderate republicans such as Frum.

      • Snoring Dog Studio

        Thank you for the answer, Norbrook – and I’d say that definitely most of these foundations really aren’t carrying out their missions. They are writing platforms for the candidates, handing them sound bites, and generally acting as an arm of the Republican Party. Not even remotely objective.

  5. see above

    I read the article by Frum but he’s the kind of guy who I think I’d have to wash my hands after shaking his. He just can’t help lying and taking shots at the Dems. When he writes stuff like this you know he’s still a believer just not pure enough.
    “When I entered Republican politics, during an earlier period of malaise, in the late seventies and early eighties, the movement got most of the big questions—crime, inflation, the Cold War—right. This time, the party is getting the big questions disastrously wrong.”

    To me the seventies and eighties were not Nirvana and they didn’t get the big questions right. It was more like the beginning of the circus we now live in.

    • I never considered the seventies and eighties as Nirvana either. 😉 But, what I see Frum bemoaning most is that the Republicans not only are not accepting realities in numerous areas, they’re unwilling to come up with new ideas and … compromise. As much as I didn’t like various conservative legislators or Reagan back then, you at least knew that they were willing to cut a deal, that they understood that they had to compromise, and that they knew they had to govern. These days, none of that is true. It’s why I see a lot of blog posts out there from other Republicans talking about why they’re leaving the party.

  6. The far right is fighting for their ideal of America, which they see slipping away. Because it is. They don’t accept reality because they truly believe anything but their vision is disaster. Purists like that, left or right, have a place in pushing the discourse. But when they prevent compromise and rational decision making their role becomes exceedingly negative.

    • The problem for the far right is that their “ideal of America” hasn’t slipped away, it’s been dead, kicked the bucket, pushing up daisies, joined the choir invisible (/python) since 1900.

      It’s one thing to push the discourse, but as you point out, their role is now more negative. No one ever thought that Barry Goldwater wasn’t conservative, or Ted Kennedy wasn’t liberal, but they both knew that you had to get things done. Which is why they were also effective Senators