Case in point, and (as Rod Serling would say on "The Twilight Zone), submitted for your consideration: one Bernie Sanders, up until now an obscure socialist from Vermont, most recently the only openly socialist member of the United States Senate, and currently the Great Progressive Hope for a "totally pure" candidate to succeed Barack Obama as the President of the United States.
Funny thing, for those of us (e.g., your humble and obedient servant) with relatively decent memories. Not so long ago (2008, to be more exact), Barack Obama was the one--excuse me, I guess I should say the One--who fulfilled this role for progressives. His principal opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton? Feh, as my mythical Aunt Sadie would have said. Spouse (and First Lady) of Bill Clinton, that well-known triangulator, always willing to cut those deals with Republicans that gave away the progressive legacy inch by inch (and still getting impeached in the process). But not our Barry. He could be counted on to never retreat, and always move forward for us. He would be the one to usher in an age of undiluted progressive achievement. He was the one with untarnished, unquestionable progressive principles.
Or was he?
Let me be clear. I was not a fan of Obama's at first, preferring Hillary as a more experienced veteran of the political wars. I came around to support him after it was clear that he would be the Democratic nominee, and after he showed that he could take a Republican punch and return it without embarrassment. But I never, for a minute, doubted that Barry from Hawaii by way of Chicago was a politician of the first magnitude. For starters, I'll repeat one of those words for you: Chicago. Hello, anyone? You need a lot of things to succeed in Chicago, but purity isn't one of them.
And then, there were the words and deeds of ol' Barry himself. Anyone remember this, for example? It would be hard to imagine a more progressive principle, or set of principles, than those relating to Fourth Amendment rights. But, when it comes to FISA, and those "grave and gathering" threats to our shores (like the still-missing WMDs), there was ol' Barry, triangulating with the best of them, reaching out to the other side in the ways that make the legacy Washington media shriek with joy.
I'm not arguing against bipartisanship. Progressives need to understand that nothing good happens in our society without people from both sides of the fence being on board with it. The Supreme Court's recent decision in favor of marriage equality would almost certainly not have happened without the change in public opinion favoring marriage equality. And a big part of that change came about because of Republicans coming out of their party's closet (Dick Cheney's daughter, for example). But that is all the more reason to abandon the Diogenes-like quadrennial search for Mr. or Ms. Purity. We live, thankfully, in a political system where it is impossible for a "pure" anything to be in control of our government. That system ultimately requires cooperation--like Republican governors accepting Obamacare's expanded Medicaid money, for example.
For that matter, Obama, who is arguably the most progressive President since Franklin D. Roosevelt, should lead progressives to question whether a "pure" progressive even exists. But Bernie Sanders should lead them to question it even more. Guns? Bernie's anything but progressive. Immigration? Bernie's anything but progressive. Race, perhaps the ultimate litmus test, especially in a post-Obama world? Bernie's anything but progressive. None of this should be surprising: Bernie's a Senator from a state with lots of guns and very few immigrants or minorities (albeit one with a major immigration service center). Up until now, he's had few incentives to be progressive on these issues. But again, Bernie's a politician, responding to the way in which our system works.
Those are the facts. And, as a consequence, my challenge to progressives is this. If you want to support Bernie over Hillary because a reasoned, comprehensive consideration of their respective views and experience leads you to believe that Bernie is the best person for the job then, by all means, knock yourself out supporting him. But if you're doing it because you've convinced yourself beyond reason that Bernie is that mythical progressive unicorn you've always hoped to find, you're no better off than the average Tea Partier when it comes to looking at life--and our political system--honestly.
My 25 cents? Hillary and Bernie are politicians, and good ones at that. Hillary and Bernie both have credentials that make them fit for national leadership. Personally, I'm supporting Hillary because she combines Bernie's legislative experience with unprecedented experience as both Secretary of State and the knowledge of White House life that comes from having been First Lady for eight years. And, as that last credential implies, she would make history for the majority of our population from the moment she is elected.
But either one of them would be better than any of the current occupants of the GOP clown car. So, if Bernie slips by Hillary, I'll support him too. Not for the sake of purity. But because he'll have shown himself to be the politician we need for our future.