OPINION: Ideological purity unattainable in American politics

“Don’t vote for someone because of what they’ve said in the past. Because what they said then and what they are saying now are both concessions to public opinion that have been processed through countless speech writers and public relations professionals,” writes Opinion Editor Jeremiah Taylor.


Social media is a conflagration of pro-candidate odes and anti-candidate diatribes.

“Bernie Bros” and “Warren Surrogates” bathe in the virtual blood of their online enemies as the media establishment weighs the platforms and perceived electability of the candidates in the democratic primary.

Perhaps more than ever, a talking point largely unique to the left, one that haunts Warren and bolsters Sanders, is largely prevalent amidst the cacophony of discourse –– the track record, or as I call it, ideological purity.

Voters want to know that their progressive candidate was always progressive, or that their democratic candidate was always a democrat. Sanders supporters make much of Warren’s former conservative affiliation, while almost all Democrats observe that Sanders has only ran as a Democrat in presidential elections.

Virtually everyone can agree that Bloomberg’s campaign was a transparently illegitimate cash grab as evidenced by the dog pile at the second to last democratic debate.

But in an America of “fake news,” super delegates, and super PACS, what should we expect from our candidates and their sometimes murky pasts?

Stringent standards of ideological purity belie a naive confidence in American electoral politics. No politician has failed to at the very least evolve platforms, distance themselves from issues, or make political choices to preserve their office. If anything it speaks well of a candidate that they adapt to public opinion as forward looking adaptability is at the heart of progressivism. The general public, for now, still has the power to push candidates and parties into our desired direction via discourse, public opinion, and of course, the ballot box.

Worry not about what a candidate said 20 years ago, but rather about what they are saying now. What they are saying now reveals where they are aligning themselves in the present, and from a more cynical point of view, what platform they’re willing to bet their presidential bid on, and are subsequently more likely to honor as opposed to a now unpopular platform that won them a lesser office in the distant past.

Electoral politics as they have existed require opaque branding, ethically pragmatic (to put it politely) fundraising and calculated public relations. All electoral politics rely on manipulation of public opinion, meaning we cannot entirely trust any candidate. Expecting anything different reveals an uncritical perception of your preferred candidate’s brand as authentic, unchanging, and objective when in reality it is contrived, temporary, and subjectively experienced. If you want buy in fully to a candidate or platform, worry less about individual candidates and more about campaign finance reform and the abolition of the electoral college. Yet we still have the power, we are shooting the bullets of public opinion at the feet of dancing candidates. If we are discerning, careful, media literate and diligent in our research, we just might come out of this with a good President.

I am not advocating that voters accept at face value a candidate’s positioning with no regard for their track record. Nor am I saying that voters should disregard the very real consequences of said track records. My first time voting was in the 2016 presidential election. I knew about Hillary Clinton’s track record. I knew it didn’t jive with her platform. I knew that her “super predator” rhetoric, her foreign policy as Secretary of State, and her husband’s criminal justice policy as president had catastrophically affected lives in the United States and across the globe, most of them black and brown. Needless to say I wasn’t fooled by the Beyoncé endorsement or the Broad City cameo. So I caucused for Sanders.

But Sanders didn’t win the nomination. In the general election I had to make a choice –– vote for Clinton or abstain from voting as many of my fellow leftist had chosen to do. I didn’t vote for Hillary because I believed in her or her platform. I didn’t vote for Hillary because I wanted her to be president. I didn’t vote for Hillary because I thought that she was intrinsically any different than Trump.  I voted for Hillary because she had campaigned on a platform that I knew public opinion would hold her to, a platform that could have carried the country forward and slightly to the left, as opposed as backwards and into the clutches of proto-fascism. I made a pragmatic choice, a choice motivated by survival, perhaps a utilitarian choice that I was only able to make because of my privilege. But it was the choice I made.

In 2020, I really think we have a shot at making a much easier choice.

Not because of the candidates themselves but because public opinion has veered drastically to the left since 2016 in response to the Trump administration.

We have some candidates who despite their pasts, are positing talking points and policies about wealth inequality, capitalism, health care, and foreign policy that were unimaginable just four years ago.

Don’t vote for someone because of what they’ve said in the past. Because what they said then and what they are saying now are both concessions to public opinion that have been processed through countless speech writers and public relations professionals.  Pick the candidate who is positioning themselves closest to the segment of public opinion that you subscribe to. And if they win, hold them accountable to that platform.