The Destructive Politics Of Purity

Bill Quick has an article in which he lays out the case against John McCain. He’s quite right—McCain’s record leaves a lot to be desired. He’s also dead wrong in the idea that if conservatives sit out this election they’ll do anything but hurt the country. That counter-argument is laid out by Judith Apter Klinghoffer who asks whether partisans are putting party above country in this election.

I’m not sold on McCain yet, so much so that I’m considering caucusing for Romney tomorrow—if for no other reason than to remind Sen. McCain that conservatives do care about advancing an agenda and want more than lip service from the “maverick.” At the same time, Quick’s argument just doesn’t hold much weight. As much as he wants to deny it, the result of not voting for John McCain if he’s the nominee is President Barack Obama or President Hillary Clinton—either of whom would be a disaster for this country. Even if all his arguments are true, and John McCain is a squish in key issues—and there’s plenty of evidence to back up all of his points—so what? Is Hillary Clinton really any better. Should we then take a chance that Barack Obama would be a decent President rather than the doctrinaire liberal activist he’s been all of his life? That dog won’t hunt. I’d rather go with an 80% conservative or a 60% conservative than a Fabian socialist or a liberal crusader. Ideological purity is a waste if it ends up taking this country in the wrong direction for at least four years.

The bell curve of American politics

The politics of purity is ultimately destructive. American politics falls along a bell curve—the only way for a party to win is to get the center. When parties end up trying to do nothing more than consolidate their “base” they end up losing. The only way to advance an agenda is to have the political power to do that. You don’t get to shape the agenda from the sidelines, and the politics of purity ensures that the liberal Democrats end up having the center all to themselves. That kind of ideological purity means that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama gets to nominate some new Supreme Court justices who will give civil rights to terrorists and further enshrine Roe v. Wade as being more important than the Constitution. That sort of ideological purity puts the regulatory state further into the hands of those who see government as the solution to every problem. That kind of ideological purity means that the center gets shifted even farther to the left as more and more people are put into a position of dependence on the state. The argument that things have to get worse before they’ll get better is an argument that the good of the country should be sacrificed for the good of one party. That argument is wrong from first principles, and doubly wrong in a time of war.

John McCain may have a laundry list of faults, and he may not be a conservative even though he’s certainly conservative on most issues. He was out there defending this war when it was politically suicidal to do so. He believes in limiting spending and preventing government waste. He’s firmly on the side of protecting human life. He’s being supported by people who are mainstream conservatives, and they will continue to provide a voice for conservative values in a McCain Administration.

For a group of people who have been constantly saying that the war is the issue that defines our times, they certainly seem all too willing to hand political power to the surrender caucus if they don’t get their way. Apparently this defining battle for Western Civilization takes a backseat to ideological purity as well.

Does anyone think that conservatives will be welcome in a Clinton or an Obama White House? That people who believe in limited government and the rule of law will even get a voice at the table? That the Republicans will stop this country from taking a huge step farther down the road to serfdom? If so, then those people are hopelessly naive.

Politics is the art of compromise. Those who aren’t willing to compromise to advance parts of their agenda don’t win in politics. Reagan is looked at as the symbol of the Republican Party not just because he was a conservative (and in many ways Reagan wasn’t the conservative that he’s viewed as today), but because he was a conservative who could win. That’s why we hearken back to Reagan and not Barry Goldwater. Reagan wasn’t perfect, but he was instrumental in not only defeating Soviet Communism, but moving this country in a better direction. He wasn’t perfect, but he advanced the agenda.

John McCain is not perfect. Far from it. But the conservative agenda is better off with John McCain in the White House than someone like Hillary or Obama. It’s as simple as that: either go half a step forward or ten steps back. It shouldn’t be that hard of a choice.

If conservatives want a voice at the table, they can’t go petulantly stomping off whenever they don’t get their way. Do that, and conservative become an electoral liability and the country shifts further and further to the left.

It’s this simple: we have to win the war. We have to control spending. We have to reform entitlements. We need judges who follow the law, not make it. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama will do that, and they’ll set up back on all three fronts. John McCain, for all his faults will stand up to Iran, will put Congress on notice in regards to spending, and will give conservatives a voice at the table in reforming entitlements and picking judges.

If not wanting to see this country end up with four years of socialism and surrender makes me a “Shit Sandwich Republican,” then so be it.

2 thoughts on “The Destructive Politics Of Purity

  1. “Should we then take a chance that Barack Obama would be a decent President rather than the doctrinaire liberal activist he’s been all of his life?”

    –> You could always *hope*, banal as it may be 🙂

    “But the conservative agenda is better off with John McCain in the White House than someone like Hillary or Obama.”

    –> Hmm, it would be fun to try to argue the other way around on that one…

    “You don’t get to shape the agenda from the sidelines…”

    –> I rather thought you did get to shape the agenda from the sidelines. Isn’t that what all the internal struggles are all about? You are right in saying that you win elections by winning the center. But it is after this that the “sidelines” come into play. A party will win by winning the center. After that, the outer fractions (the parts that dangle off to the left or the right of the bell curve) try to get some of their points carried out. As you say, politics is about compromising. The party leaders are faced, after winning the election, with the task of re-orientation. Will they side with the “liberal” elements of their party, or with the “conservative” elements? Or will they try to please both sides by giving them some of what they want?

    “I’m considering caucusing for Romney tomorrow.”

    –> Do report about the caucus. The whole caucus/primary concept is not practiced in Germany, which is a pity, in a way. I actually think that, were it not for the fact that getting money for campaigning is such a prominent issue in the primary process, the concept of the voters actually deciding whom they want to run in the election is a deeply democratic idea. More focussed on the public than what we have in Germany where a party convention more or less confirms the candidate chosen by the party leadership – the actual party members or sympathizers have no say in that process.

    Anyway… tell us about how your caucus is going, will you :-)?


  2. The “I’m-gonna-sit-out-the-2008-election-if-McCain-is-the-nominee” crowd is bluffing. They’re playing the only hand they have–banging their spoons against their high chairs–to try to scare the infidels into voting for Willard. With limited exception, the Bill Quicks of the right-wing pointy heads will snuggle up to McCain the same way McCain snuggled up to George Bush in the summer of 2000.

    Plus, if McCain gets elected, conservatives will continue to carry on their long-standing tradition of self-proclaimed victimhood, deflecting responsibility for their political failures on “all those lib’ruls, including our own Republican President”. A McCain Presidency is the perfect scenario to continue simultaneously controlling government and decrying themselves as getting hosed by hyperempowered forces and entities beyond their control.

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