The cost of winning
Jackie O'Brien | Wednesday, April 10, 2019
This past week, former President Barack Obama, at a town hall in Berlin, made a statement warning Democrats to be wary of ideological rigidity in the upcoming presidential election.
“One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States — maybe it’s true here as well — is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, this is how it’s going to be.’ And then we start sometimes creating what’s called a ‘circular firing squad’ where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues.”
I may hold an unpopular opinion among the young liberals of today, but I find President Obama to be spot on. We too often sacrifice the win for the perfect candidate, which rarely does exist.
The 2016 election couldn’t be a more perfect example. All of us underestimated the power of Trump, and instead of unifying behind a very imperfect candidate, to try and protect some progressive version of America, many of us chose to take action against these interests by refusing to vote, separating ourselves completely from the Clinton camp of the Democratic party or going so far as to vote for Trump.
This mistake has had real consequences: we now have a conservative court. This conservative slant to our Supreme Court will have drastic consequences for decades to come. A woman’s right to choose, the right for immigrants to remain in this country and the right of every person to affordable healthcare — policies that affect people’s lives have been placed at risk in a very serious way.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t constantly be in pursuit of our version of progressive perfection. We have to debate. We have to pick a primary candidate. And we have to work toward our ideal for American society.
However, there is a vital difference between pointing out the downsides of a candidate, and writing them off entirely for the smallest of mistakes or minor policy differences.
I’ve seen it especially these past few months as we mobilize in anticipation of the Democratic primaries. Democrats attacking fellow Democrats as we begin to choose our sides. But at what cost? At what point do we have to reunify under a shared vision of America?
It’s tempting to believe that we can create change at once. Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal is an incredible example of ambitious progressive thought, but I struggle to see this as a feasible reality, even with the drastic consequences at stake — namely, climate change. The reality is that change is incremental: it occurs in steps.
Therefore, we have to keep proposing such progressive and incredible legislative ideas, but at some point, we have to get serious: sacrificing purity is worth the win.
For every incredible progressive and perfect candidate not yet ready to run, there is another candidate with a strong liberal foundation who could strike a chord with the general American populous.
But our lack of unification has made us a laughing stock of the GOP. We’ve loaded their verbal weaponry with example after example of liberals knocking each other down and ripping each other apart on issues of social justice and identity. Fox and Friends, rather than covering the issues that matter (and the policy areas where they lose: the economy, healthcare, the list goes on), chooses to focus on issues of culture and identity, where they can scream to the rest of America: “Look how out of touch these Democrats are!”
Make no mistake, these issues are of the utmost importance to me, as well as the vast majority of liberals in America, but they rarely win elections. We have to reorient our thinking to what appeals to the vast majority of elections. We have to start focusing on winning.
It’s important to acknowledge that my opinion comes from a place of distinct privilege. Unlike most minority communities in America, the policies of the next president don’t carry true life-and-death implications for me. There are people in this country who have a right to be angry. Angry with Republicans, but also angry with Democrats who have promised to represent them for so long.
Even still, maybe I’m cynical, but I couldn’t handle another four years of Trump, and I’m willing to sacrifice a certain level of progressive purity to prevent it.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.