FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Purity Tests Can be a Good Thing

The Democratic primaries are heating up. One notable feature of the race is the strong presence of progressive candidates — which has many in the establishment wing of the party worried.

Former president Barack Obama, whose moderate vice president Joe Biden is now in the race, recently decried the alleged “purity tests” he saw on the left. Obama worried that an “obsessive” ideological fanaticism was setting the party up for failure.

Indeed, in the political world, the term “purity test” is largely used by the establishment to chastise and attack the left.

For instance, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have refused to accept corporate donations for their presidential campaigns. Many outletsThe Atlantic, Politico, The Hill described these pledges as a new Democratic “purity test” to establish progressive credentials.

Hillary Clinton scorned the idea, claiming that “under [Sanders’] “definition, President Obama is not a progressive because he took donations from Wall Street!” (Some might argue that’s accurate, as Obama has described himself as a 1980s-style “moderate Republican.”)

Another key issue in the primaries is health care. A lack of health coverage kills around 45,000 Americans yearly, and hospital bills drive the large majority of bankruptcies in America. Many Democratic candidates, including Warren and Sanders, support a Medicare for All system in response.

Yet New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has cautioned Democrats not to “make health care a purity test,” warning that Democrats who don’t support a single-payer system could be characterized as industry “shills.”

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell was more scathing, attacking leftist “cranks” for supposedly embracing “empty slogans instead of evidence-based policy” on health care. (Nevermind the evidence that Medicare for All would cover more Americans for less money.)

In contrast, attacks directed toward the left are seldom framed this way.

For example, Sanders appointed Briahna Joy Gray as his press secretary, who had previously declared she voted for the Green Party’s Jill Stein in 2016. Instead of this being seen as the party expanding its appeal to third-party voters, many party loyalists said it was proof that Bernie was not a “real Democrat”.

In other words, they tried to excommunicate an ally for being insufficiently orthodox — but no pundits called it a “purity test.”

Nor did they say that about the anger generated by the decision of candidates like Sanders, Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Beto O’Rourke not to attend the AIPAC conference. Nor about demands that the candidates embrace Trump’s regime change strategy in Venezuela lest they be accused of supporting a “dictator.”

Meanwhile, the left is told their preferred policies are either unrealistic or unpopular. “If Democrats want to destroy any chances of winning national office,” The Hill warns, “establishing purity tests is the quickest way to do it.”

But this is demonstrably not the case.

Seventy-five percent of Americans (and nearly two-thirds of Republicans) support Medicare for All. Three-quarters of Americans support higher taxes on the wealthy, while tuition-free public college is popular even among Tea Party supporters. One can make a strong case that these policies would attract rather than repel Trump voters.

This purity test trope is so blatantly used to defend anyone in power it sometimes stretches credulity to the breaking point.

In a Washington Post op-ed, Carolyn Dupont bemoaned the “rigid, self-righteous, and blind” progressives who criticized Virginia governor Ralph Northam for wearing blackface. The column unbelievably compared this censure to the guillotines of the French Revolution.

When you hear the phrase “purity test,” be on the alert. The phrase is code for powerful people being pressured in ways they don’t like — and is often a shield against legitimate criticism.

Alan MacLeod is a member of the Glasgow University Media Group.

A longer version of this commentary appeared at FAIR.org.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
November 14, 2019
Laura Carlsen
Mexico’s LeBaron Massacre and the War That Will Not Cease
Joe Emersberger
Oppose the Military Coup in Bolivia. Spare Us Your “Critiques”
Ron Jacobs
Trump’s Drug Deal Goes to Congress: Impeachment, Day One
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail