"Obama Warns Against ‘Purity Tests’ In Democratic
News reports. "Spare Me
the Purity Racket," Maureen Dowd opines in
The New York
Times. "'Purity Tests'
Divide Democrats," US News
& World Report announces. "Political purity tests are for losers,"
hear it all the time: progressives, leftists, radicals — and even
liberals — are told they must not engage in the siren song of
"purity politics." Don’t
let the perfect be the enemy of the
good, we are told. We must
be pragmatic, realistic, we must lay down our ideological arms and
stop pining for Nirvana when so much is on the line in
Evoking purity politics functions — more often than not
— as a catch-all defense against any and all criticism of
establishment Democrats. In 2016, Hillary Clinton partisans used it
against Bernie Sanders supporters; in 2020, Bloomberg’s flacks use
it against Sanders again, and even Sanders partisans use it against
leftist skeptics of electoralism. Put simply, purity politics is a
Get Out Of Jail Free card, a perennial lesser of two evils
narrative of an inherent impossibility of anything other than
their core, charges of purity politics are ahistoric and
anti-intellectual, pathologizing alternative theories of change
that don’t require political compromise as youthful vanity. Indeed,
how to balance compromise and ideals has been, for
central question of the Left,
everyone from French revolutionaries to Russian socialists, Black
American radicals and Indigenous struggles in North America to
Third World liberation movements around the globe have struggled to
answer: when do we
compromise and when do we not?
"purity politics" ignores this essential and rich question
altogether, brushing aside morally fraught debates about political
strategy and reducing anything short of the path of least
resistance to unserious solipsism and juvenile stubbornness.
this episode, we discuss how demands that people drop "purity
politics" only go in one direction; how moral urgency has
historically been pathologized as youthful narcissism; and how our
jaded, broken media elites routinely conflate preemptive defeatism
with political savvy.
guest is attorney and writer Malaika Jabali.