Belding: Ideological purity unhealthy for politics

Michael Belding

The ideological purity demanded by scions of

the Democratic and Republican parties, from the far left to the Tea

Party to neo-conservatives, is dangerously


The extent to which it is demanded that

candidates and, to a lesser extent, ordinary citizens and voters

toe the party line seems to have vastly increased during the past

few years. President Obama and other candidates in 2008 made the

end of partisan politics a campaign issue.<span style=

“mso-spacerun: yes;”> 

The various caucuses in Congress, while they

may exist to increase the quality of the legislation regarding

certain issues, act on the floor of the House of Representatives

and Senate in very unpolitical ways.  Procedural rules

and motions serve important purposes, but their abuse is

increasingly prevalent. The filibuster is one; establishing a

quorum, as we have recently seen in Wisconsin, is


This trend is present in American politics

despite the reality that compromise is always necessary. That is

what politics is: a give-and-take, back-and-forth series of

negotiations centering around trade-offs. These negotiations seek

some betterment of the political entity in which we all

live. At the federal level,

that entity is the United States. In the Iowa General Assembly,

what is best for the state of Iowa is the object of


The government will literally shut down if the

members of Congress are unable to reach a budgetary compromise and

pass an adequate continuing resolution.<span style=

“mso-spacerun: yes;”> But newer members of Congress, as well

as some veterans, demand adherence to the promises they made during

their campaigns for office.<span style=

“mso-spacerun: yes;”> 

I have railed against Obama many times — for

his beliefs, for his practices, for his demeanor while giving

speeches — but I find myself agreeing with his assessment of the

situation: During his weekly address Saturday, he said, “It won’t

be easy. There will be

plenty of debates and disagreements, and neither party will get

everything it wants. Both

sides will have to compromise.” 

Opinions and discussion are essential for

politics but, political theorist Hannah Arendt writes that in the

modern two-party system, there is no opportunity for citizens to

form opinions:

“The only thing which can be represented and

delegated is interest, or the welfare of the

constituents.” Opinions and actions are held by individuals;

representatives cannot hold all the opinions of their constituents.

Political action becomes the activity of fewer and fewer


In such a case, where opinions are formed

through a process of exchange of ideas by increasingly fewer

people, there were two possible moods: “moods of the masses and

moods of individuals, the latter no less fickle and unreliable than

the former.” 

Perhaps the most widely known recent example

of uncompromising politicians comes from the budgetary situation in

Wisconsin and the unions in that state. One blogger,

Ian Murphy, posed as David Koch, owner of an energy corporation of

the same name and large donor to conservative causes nationwide. He

did so during an interview of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, elected

last November. 

During that interview, Walker said to Murphy

that he “would be willing to sit down and talk to him, the assembly

Democrat leader, plus the other two Republican leaders — talk, not

negotiate and listen to what they have to say if they will in


I wonder what talking is, if not a

conversation. And conversations are generally

understood to be spontaneous affairs where the individuals involved

react to what is said and offer new points of


That is what politics is supposed to be; not

some affair where we have decided already how to cast our votes,

before even visiting polling locations, where measures are decided

upon based on weight of numbers and not rational


Yet it is uncompromising adherence to party

rules that I see printed in the papers and hear broadcast over the

radio. It seems to be as popular as ever. Great care

is taken to either make opponents seem incompetent or unpatriotic,

or to gather as many supporting facts as possible in the hope that

the quantity of supporting evidence will be greater than that of

the opposing evidence. 

Notice is not taken of the validity of those

claims against character or the validity of the facts


Alexander Hamilton warned against political

intolerance — both because of its impracticability and its

potential effects — in the very first number of “The

Federalist Papers.” 

He did so, writing that “nothing could be more

ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has at all times

characterized political parties.<span style=

“mso-spacerun: yes;”> For in politics, as in religion, it is

equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword.”

He continued, writing that, “Heresies in

either can rarely be cured by persecution.” To cure

those heresies and to make those proselytes — that is, to make

converts — a dialogue is necessary. Each side of it must be


But maybe the conversation — maybe the

politics — isn’t what modern political parties, or caucuses or

organizations aim at. Maybe, as Arendt wrote of the

political parties of the 1917 Russian Revolution, “The need for

action itself was transitory, and they had no doubt that after the

victory of the revolution further action would simply prove

unnecessary or subversive.”

Maybe our political parties believe that the

existence of discussion is a threat to their kingmaker


Arendt continued, writing that the Soviet

parties “agreed that the end of government was the welfare of the

people, and that the substance of politics was not action but

administration.” That

sounds rather familiar.<span style=

“mso-spacerun: yes;”> 

Many people, from the Tea Party to very

liberal Democrats, assert government exists to provide for its

subjects, whether that provision be material or whether it be an

environment of liberty.<span style=

“mso-spacerun: yes;”> 

The idea that civic life exists for people to

interact in public view has been lost. Compliance killed