Saturday, August 27, 2005

Pick a Party, Not a Candidate

Over on Daily Kos, Hunter brings up a valid point... how do you handle candidates who aren't aligned with you on every issue?

Let's suppose I have three candidates to choose from:

* One has a solid pro-choice record, but is dismissive of gay rights.

* One is solid on gay rights, but unnervingly middling on pro-choice statements.

* One is solidly anti-war, and powerfully effective at it. But an unknown, when it comes to privacy and rights issues.

Pick which one I should support. Now.

And God help both you and me if I choose wrong, because I've just fucked a hell of a lot of my fellow citizens, much less world travelers. Big time.

Or should I stay home and not vote at all, because no one candidate meets ALL the very specific tests I have?

Or should I make the best judgment I can based on the best possible common good, and fight like hell for the rest of it once I have someone in office that at least shares the best possible common ground for those debates?

That's all this single-issue, not-single-issue argument is about. That choice, right there, and how to make it. It's not about "disrespecting" people, or "abandoning" people, or "not understanding the severity" of the issue. It's about the fundamental problem with representative democracy: if you're not your own representative, you're by definition going to have to figure out who should be. And it's a brutally imperfect process.

hese purity debates are all fine from an intellectual level, but when it comes to real-world situations I am, at some point during every single election, going to have to sit myself down on my own decidedly imperfect ass and decide on ACTUAL human candidates who will never -- and I mean, absolutely never -- match up with my own personal fifty-point litmus test of Deadly Critical Issues That I Cannot Compromise On. This isn't a damn political fantasy football game. Do we honestly think that these miraculous candidates are actually out there, that agree with you, me, him, her, grandma, grandpa, and the dog all at the same time? On economic issues? Gun control? Gay rights? Affirmative action? Women's rights? Religious freedoms and separations? Educational opportunities for my children?

Critical public health issues?

Well, first, this is why people within parties need to compromise on certain issues, but I think there are two key problems that aren't being addressed here: the point of a party, and the role of political philosophy.

Parties, for one, exist to deal with these problems. When a party has a platform and decent discipline, you can reliably assume that that platform is going to correspond with the laws that that party passes. Individual legislators aren't as important as their collective ability to pass laws, although they can contribute to said platform. The laws are connected to the platform, because the party needs to stick together in order to pass said laws.

Second, this speaks to the necessity of some sort of philosophy or belief system that underlies the party's platform, and the positions of the people who are willing to represent and be represented by that party. The Republicans aren't bad at this, for example, because their (often unstated) governing philosophy is informed by their religiosity, their general pro-business stance, and their hostility to governmental intervention that does not correspond to these two things. Most of their platforms and laws are derived from this.

The Dems, on the other hand, have pretty much eschewed any sort of unified political philosophy, because they have allowed the logical supporting philosophy (a mixture of social democracy and modern liberalism) for their party to be debased. They have responded to that debasement by encouraging it instead of combating it, so you have a hodgepodge of obviously focus-grouped and "strategized" positions, instead of real beliefs.

This is the legacy of the DLC, and the witless fear of McGovern redux.

The resolution to the conundrum placed above, therefore, is simple if you look at it through this lens. Gay rights and abortion rights are related, because both of them are about the right to do with your body whatever you deem fit, whether it's men putting their penises in other men or women controlling their own uterus. Being anti-war (or, at least, anti THIS war) is related to rights, because the kind of xenophobia and authoritarianism that characterizes the handling and genesis of the Iraq war is what provokes the erosion of privacy and other rights, because it's rooted in a fear of the Other within our society (read: Arabic Muslims) and of political positions that are "beyond the pale".

In both cases, denying the one leads to the denial of the other. Candidates that don't understand this, or won't, are dangerous, because they're indicating that their positions are not thought out or based on arguments by people who HAVE thought them out. They're inconsistent and likely to change with the political wind.

The gay/abortion and rights/war issues are also related on the issue of individual rights: the war was an assault on individual citizens' rights to know what their representative government is doing and have substantial input into that process, just as the attacks on gays/abortion is an attack on individuals' control over their own bodies. A defense of both can be (and should be) rooted in liberal democratic political philosophy.

The philosophy, in turn, should inform the party's platform, and the candidates that run under that banner should be expected to be relatively sympathetic and compatible with that platform. That will mean that some of the positions will not be the "popular" ones, but the willingness to advocate is something valued by the people in the first place: witness the success of the Republicans, despite having values that vary wildly from their voters in several key respects.

So if you want to criticize my approach to the issues, or Kos' approach, or Dean's approach, or Kerry's approach, or NARAL's approach, or GLAAD's approach, or the DLC's approach, or whoever -- knock yourself out. Have a ball. That's the whole point -- having those debates is the only way we're going to get anything approaching a workable long-term Democratic infrastructure.

But don't presume that anyone who has a different strategy than you isn't "serious" enough, or "liberal" enough, or whatever-the-hell-else suddenly rises in your throat because a certain partisan dared throw a critical paragraph or two towards your life-defining issue, as opposed to all the other life-defining issues and strategies that you were just fine in criticizing every other day of the week. A meaningful debate can't work that way.
First, the DLC is attacked for completely different reasons; let's not be disingenuous here. Second, the resolution is in rooting the debate in something other than "I like this policy and I'm going to scream at you until you agree"; there needs to be a slightly higher level of debate than you usually see among bloggers. Finally, the reason why candidates are dangerous when they are not "liberal" enough is because they have demonstrated no allegiance to any political philoosophy, and will likely gravitate to the tropes and assumptions contained in conservative political philosophy.

From there, it's only a matter of time until they're Republican-lite.

So sorry, Hunter, but you're off here. The problem here isn't single-issue voters, but a lack of consistency and thought. The former will never go away. The latter, however, can.

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