More on That Ideological Purity

Ace of Spades makes some very cogent points on ideological purity in political struggles:

TMK [Commenter over at Ace’s] is permitted to pursue his Fantasy League Politics as he likes. In his Fantasy League Politics, there simply is no “left” which needs to be countered, and no “center” which needs to be courted. And, actually, there’s not even a “center-right” he needs to ally with.

In his Fantasy League Politics, only the harder, more frothy right exists, the same as in many Fantasy Baseball Leagues where either the AL or NL doesn’t exist. So he only drafts politicians from that particular division in that particular league.

There’s a common thread running through nearly every political movement that suggest setbacks have to do with a lack of ideological purity. The commonly heard refrain “If we just ran true conservatives, the Republican Party would never lose.”  That’s not always false, and it’s probably more true than many party operatives would care to realize. But it’s not always true. A true conservative isn’t going to win in Massachusetts, New Jersey or California. I’m not even sure what a true conservative is, or should be, and over the years I’ve followed politics, I’ve become convinced those kinds of conversations don’t mean a whole lot.

Winning elections is about assembling a coalition of interests that can put you over 50%, or at least a plurality, of voters in a multi-way race. That coalition is going to necessarily be composed of interests who may not like each other’s goals and objectives a whole lot. But it is also necessarily composed of people who really hate the other side’s goals and objectives.

Even within interests, you have coalitions. NRA itself is really a coalition of Second Amendment defenders, sport shooters, hunters, carry folks, training oriented folks, law enforcement, club and associations, gun collectors, and just about any other firearms related interest you an think of. Even keeping our coalition within a coalition together is frighteningly difficult, even on the easiest of days. There’s very little room for ideological purity in the coalition game, because you have to accommodate interests that are just too diverse.

Threat great difficulty in coalition building is creating one that can stay together. If your coalition is group consists of A, B, C, D, E, and F interests, and F gets uppity, and can no longer abide by A through E, or A-E just can’t abide by the goals or methods of F, it might make sense to tell F to take a hike. That’s largely what NRA did in the 1970s when it ousted the “old guard” who wanted nothing to do with politics in the Cincinnati Revolt. It also happened again when NRA rid itself of more hard line elements that did not understand coalition politics, and that shouting louder was not an effective lobbying tool. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that was the point in time NRA started to become remarkably more effective.

It’s because of that I’m not a believer in purity, and not too interested in talking about what it means to be “pro-gun” or “pro-2A” I’m willing to take a wide variety of ideas in that space. I think we can argue about what is and what isn’t effective, but I think too often we’re not even speaking from the same frame of reference when doing so. That’s a problem that’s a bit harder to solve.

11 thoughts on “More on That Ideological Purity”

  1. The thing about politics that frustrates me more than anything else is that it seems like few of the politicians that I could actually get excited about either don’t grasp that the number of voters is not a fixed number, so you can gain votes without taking them away from your opponent, or they don’t really want the position enough to try to draw those voters.

  2. It’s a pretty fundamental problem. I’d like to think the Republican Party has more to gain than lose by becoming more libertarian, and focusing on economic issues rather than social issues, but religious conservatives turn out to vote, in large numbers. They are also far better organized and involved in the process than libertarians. If you’re an ideological libertarian, you’re pretty much bound to be disappointed.

    The only solution is to offer the coalition the same thing as the religious right, but that’s difficult. Most people who want government to leave them alone, surprise, don’t want much to do with government. That’s why our ideas lose.

  3. If they ran true conservatives, it would be something other than the Republican party!

    California Republicans as a breed exist on the endangered species list — or they re-shape themselves to appear alike as Democrats, thinking that’s how best to compete with Democrats, on a popularity-basis rather than an ideological one. When that happens and if they’re lucky, they get to join the trough-feeders in Sacatomato – Country Club Democrats and Republicans alike.

    Out here religious Liberals turn out to vote in large numbers, for Illegal Amnesty, Gay Marriage, Gun Control and other Liberal causes. The “Religious Right” is inflated as a cautionary Demon by them and the Media in order to get out the vote.

  4. I think the CA GOP needs to run libertarians. Running as Dem Lite isn’t going to win them anything. They can’t be nuts about their libertarianism, but an appeal to sensible, achievable, libertarian reforms I think would sell in California.

  5. Sebastian, I think you’re right, but in the bigger picture, I believe that the GOP nation-wide needs to get back to the fundamentals of liberty.

    It’s also my opinion that if the economic house is in order, the social house takes care of itself.

  6. Sebastian,

    You bring up some good points. Any more, most Americans view bi-partisan as being “our” version of coalition. Too many people try to plug “conservative” and “liberal” into little neatly shaped boxes. The book “The Identity of Violence: The Illusion of Destiny” by Amartya Sen discusses this narrow view of identity quite well (not only politically but in every which way).

    American politics are about “either/or” rather than “both/and,” which is sad. Politically, nothing happens at the polar extremes. Effective policy gets made in the center. Nothing would make me happier than to see a coalition of Blue Dog Democrats and libertarian Republicans (not to mention representatives from some of the smaller parties). Could you imagine if they had the guts to buck the party leadership and work together?

    I think some good things would come of it.

  7. The Democrats are running into trouble now because they’re trying to govern a center-left coalition from the far left. I expect they’ll be punished for it in 2010. The only question is to what extent.

  8. When I think “true conservative,” I think “Religious conservative” and I just can’t bring myself to vote for a religious conservative.

  9. The most successful politicians are those that have no belief in anything beyond their own ego and career (Bill Clinton and FDR come to mind). Back-stabs and “compromise” are just tools of the trade.

    I recently read “Imperium: A Novel of Ancient Rome” which was about Cicero’s early career. Two Thousand years ago professional politicians in Rome casually destroyed their Constitution and Republic for personal power. Many of the power grabs back then were pulled off by appealing to the mob. Class warfare and handouts were a smashing success. The lower class Romans sold their freedom for bread and circuses. Not much has changed.

    Our Republic was also built on the concept of limited government. Many limitations (including the 1st. 2nd, and 10th Amendments) were built into the system to keep a Caesar or a party of Ciceros from accumulating too much power. Unfortunately, most of those initiations have been breached by ambitious politicians.

    Compromise with politicians, who will always want more power, is a game of slow loss.

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