There is a conceit in much of the discourse over politics today: that politics is antithetical to idealism. Idealists, especially on the left, are written off as being “single issue voters”, “special interest voters”, “shrill”, “naive” … pick an epithet.
My question is this: can there BE politics without ideals?
Would we be a country without ideals? Without idealists? Are there many more idealistic political documents than the Declaration of Independence?
I would submit that the answer to both questions is no. Why, then, is the Democratic Party so terribly afraid of people with strong ideals? What kind of party STARTS a campaign with some fuzzy belief that one candidate or another is more electable? Isn’t that what elections are for? After all, we all found out just how “electable” our last “safe” choice was. Would we have been better served by a contest fought out over ideals, not simple money and clout and insider pressure on the media? Will we make the same mistake again?
crossposted at Liberal Street Fight
So, can idealists find a place anymore in American politics? Would Thomas Jefferson have a place in the Democratic Party today? Despite his ideals, his words:
were belied by his ownership of slaves. Despite his his words, he himself fell woefully short of the hope he espoused. Does that make his ideals less sincere, less powerful? Does the institution of slavery and the disenfrancisement of women make those ideals moot? Worthless? Would the American Revolution have happened without them? Were pragmatists like Hamilton and Madison enough without Jefferson and Franklin?
Idealists set the horizon. Idealists point out the top of the mountain, giving a political movement, a political party a goal to aim for. Without them, all you’re left with is a bunch of maps without destinations.
The Republicans nurture, promote and celebrate their idealists. In many ways, their idealists are more purely “idealistic” than many leftists. They aim for “ideals” in the Platonic sense. Beliefs that are set by some external. Most ideals on the left are messier, set by human beings, yet in many ways more vital. The ideals of the left grow and adapt and celebrate humanity as good in and of itself.
I am a humanist. My ideals, as well as the ideals of many people I admire, aren’t supported by some cozy “external” validation. Increasingly, folks like me are being told by the so-called “centrists” in the Democratic Party that we have to “be realistic”. Only those on the left who have more “firm” ideals are apparently welcome. The ongoing litany from the center is that we need kinder, gentler platonists. We seek to ape the right, not move away from it.
This is a recipe for continued losses. We either have a goal to aim for as a party, an America where ALL of our citizens have equal opportunity before the law, where people come before profit, where we actually treat women as fully autonomous equal citizens, or our party will continue to enable the encroaching theocracy. If this party does not welcome and harness its idealists, it will continue down the path toward mere collaboration.
The idealists on the left had abandoned politics for many years as the party ran away from them, frightened by the success of Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and Reagan’s “Morning in America”. We fought in court. We fought on the local level. We dropped out and joined third parties. It was made plain that we were a problem to be “Sister Souljah’d”.
Thanks to the campaigns of Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun, the left has rejoined the political fray. Either the party will integrate us, utilize us and even follow us, or the party will lose. To do otherwise is to offer the public nothing to vote for than less of the same: less scary, less oppressive and less proactive. A small and spineless parking brake until the next loss. If the party doesn’t do so, there will be a movement building to either take over the party or destroy the party.
Change and grow or continue to be irrelevant. Those are the choices.