By Tom Regan
I want to tell you about my mom. She’s the main reason that I’m the outspoken progressive that I am.
Mom been gone for about six years now. She was an advocate for gay rights. She was one of the first people I knew who openly embraced people with HIV in the late 80s. She was pro-immigration. She supported universal health care and public education. She believed in equal pay for women and fought for it her whole life. She was pro-union. She supported left-wing candidates for as long as I knew her.
But there are two other things that you should know about her. She was very anti-abortion, a result of her strong Catholic faith. And she was Canadian and lived in Canada her entire life. Which means that she was never ostracized for her abortion position by other liberals. There was no ideological purity test that you had to vote a straight ticket on every issue of importance for liberals or socialists. That’s just the way it works in Canada.
I’m not so sure my mom would have been so accepted by liberal Democrats in America. And that’s a problem. Not just because it was my mom, but because the dangers of being ideologically pure were on full display last week. The vexed party in this case was the GOP. The major reason the GOP was unable to enact its destructive ‘Trumpcare’ version of health care was that for a group of about 30 Republicans, better known by the misleading name of “The Freedom Caucus,” being ideologically pure was more important than actually governing.
And while I’m personally very glad that the healthcare plan went down in flames, there is a cautionary tale in this failure for Democrats – beware of ideological purity for that way destruction lies.
In opposition, it’s easy to agree with each other and have everybody sing from the same political hymn book. But governing is a whole different animal. Effective governing involves compromise and bipartisanship, especially in the American political system.
The same is true of being an effective political party. If the Democrats want to be the party of women, African-Americans, Latinos, Millennials, Baby Boomers, environmentalists, AND blue-collar whites, that’s going to require some compromise. While there are a lot of issues that all these groups can agree on, there will be disagreements.
If they want to be successful, the Democrats must make room for those disagreements. The leadership, as well as ‘rank and file’ party members, need to listen and respond appropriately. If the Democrats make ideological purity a pre-condition of being a Democrat, then they will fall into the same kind of trap the GOP set for itself.
It’s an exciting time to be a Democrat. A vibrant grassroots movement has sprung up since last November 8 and the election of Donald Trump. Borrowing from the ideas of the conservative Tea Party movement, the Indivisible movement is quickly turning into a real player in American politics.
And that movement is flexing its muscles. It played a role in convincing many moderate GOP members to say they couldn’t vote for Trumpcare. (One GOP rep told a cable news network that the calls were running 1000 to 1 against the bill in his office.) And that effort needs to continue. But Indivisible also needs to be smart about its goals and objectives. It not only needs a view of what’s happening right now, but also a “view from 30,000 feet” as a friend used to say.
If Indivisible borrows too much from the Tea Party playbook, Democrats will end up in the same kind of internally divided boat as the GOP. And I’m not just talking about when they return to power, I’m talking about right now.
GOP factions forgot how to listen to each other. And a significant section of the party came to believe that ideology was more important than doing what many members thought was best for the country.
If Democrats want to be an effective party right now, they must not repeat this fatal mistake. Just because they may not agree on everything, they can still work together to find compromises and move this country forward.