Ideology vs. Strategy:
The Progressive's Dilemma
- by Steve Garone, Member, Wayland Democratic Town Committee
NOTE: Views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily those of any other WDTC members.
This blog is one of a series to be published by members of the Wayland Democratic Town Committees and guest contributors.
We all have our core beliefs and moral guides to which we adhere as best we can. The govern our actions, relationships, and, yes, our politics. We naturally tend to support candidates and policies that reflect them. At the same time, moving forward with policies that align with our views involves more than anything else getting people elected who will write and sign legislation, and appoint and ratify judges. How we go from the ideology of our ideas to actual policy is often an interesting path full of conflict. The more “extreme” our beliefs are, the greater the conflict.
Extremism exists on “both sides”, of course, but since we are Democrats, it’s fair to say that our conflict resides on the left. At its core, it is a balancing act between our ideologies and the strategies needed to win elections. Based on my observations, the more extreme one’s political views, the less likely you are willing to achieve a balance.
We have many instances in recent years that illustrate this point. As an example, we know that a number of progressives who supported a more left-leaning presidential candidate in 2016 than Hillary Clinton made the decision to either write that candidate in, not vote for Hillary, vote for a third-party candidate more closely aligned with their ideological beliefs, or note vote at all. While no one can claim with any credible level of certainty that their adherence to pure ideology resulted in a Trump win, what can be said with absolute certainly (unless, of course one wishes to rewrite the rules of arithmetic) is that if one did not vote for the one candidate who could defeat Trump, one helped Trump win. There is always the “safe state” argument (“I live in Massachusetts, which was certain to go for the Democrat, so I was safe casting a “protest vote”), but as time has gone on that argument becomes weaker. Until we have some form of ranked choice voting in place, the choice is binary.
Another example can be found in our current Senate. With 50 votes, all of our Democratic senators need to be on board. However, one senator in particular – Joe Manchin - may not align with many of the elements of Biden’s (and the party’s) progressive agenda. Should that senator be “primaried”? Ideologically, that would be a good idea. Strategically, maybe not – if a progressive candidate who beats him in a primary cannot win the general election in West Virginia. Some may see Manchin vs. a Republican as a “don’t care”, but that would be a drawing a seriously flawed false equivalency.
Finally, our party platform ideally should be a guideline for all of our candidates and officeholders to follow. Once again, though, if adhering strictly to one or more elements of the platform results in the party losing elections, is that really a good strategy? Many of us thought the Republican Party decision to not put forward a platform was a silly idea, but one wonders whether that party saw something in this argument.
The dilemma a real, but it can be managed if we as activists and voters examine each situation against the goal of winning elections for Democrats. Progressives can look to Angela Davis for guidance here. Davis, the radical Marxist and former Black Panther who backed Joe Biden’s candidacy in 2020, offered a tutorial in separating ideology from strategy. In her words: “This coming November, the election will ask us not so much to vote for the best candidate, but to vote for or against ourselves. And to vote for ourselves I think means that we will have to campaign for and vote for Biden.”