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Political purity? What a contradiction in terms!

By 11.12.13

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As vince lombardi, among others, has delicately phrased it, winning isn't everything; it's the only thing. 

That's what happens with absolute declarations: They get absolute real fast, to the point that, in political terms, it becomes challenging to discuss the prospect of Christopher James Christie as likely candidate for the Republican nomination for president. Christie duly walloped his Democratic opponent in last week's gubernatorial race, drawing majority support from women and minorities. Does that validate his possible candidacy for president? Would conservatives be happier if nobody liked him but those despicable Republicans-in-name-only?

An obvious truth lies at the surface of affairs. It is that nobody can say with the slightest accuracy how Christie will develop as a presidential candidate, if indeed he sets his mind on the quest. Political prophecies, delivered too far ahead of time, have a way of recoiling on the prophet. The prophecies of Inauguration Day, 2009, come to mind in this respect. What ever happened to St. Barack, healer and visionary?

A less obvious truth deserves equal consideration. It is that victory requires votes. He with the most votes wins. How do you get the most? The fun begins just there, as Republicans war with each other over the merits, or as it may be, demerits of political purity, the Ted Cruz-Mike Lee way over the John Boehner-Mitch McConnell way.

Political purity is a phrase that demands to be held up to the light for more than passing examination. Political purity? What a contradiction in terms! Politics is a trade geared not to purity but to the satisfaction, especially in a large and varied nation, of competing needs and desires. Politics is marked more often than not by giving and taking: seeking the maximum number of feathers from the goose by means of the least and lightest plucking.

A good example of non-political practice in the conventional sense happens to be the Obama administration's fixation on ideological purity. The administration doesn't just want some; it wants everything. Obamacare came into being in this way. Oh, my, the process was pure! Not a single Republican member of Congress bought into it; not one. The president got the whole ball of wax. We might well imagine he wishes he hadn't. He lacks means now to implicate the GOP in the disaster of the health care system bearing his name. He can't even request GOP help in fixing a problem he owns exclusively -- which doesn't work right because of his ideological crotchets. Welcome to the real world, Mr. President.

Various Republicans with whose philosophies I agree in every detail seem to have purist yearnings of their own. They don't want to win at the price of surrendering territory, even if the territory they wind up with should be bigger than that of their adversaries. They want a president after their own hearts, not any Chris Christie, with his supposed compromises in the name of adding women and minorities to the big coalition.

No one can say, in the charged circumstances of 2013, who ought in 2016 to be elected president or how pure he ought to be. Why not acknowledge in the meantime that even if winning isn't "the only thing," it beats the sort of thing America has right now.

True confessions time: I proudly cast my first presidential ballot in 1964 for Barry Goldwater, my second and third for Richard Nixon. I voted in '76 for Ford, in '80 and '84 for the great Reagan; in '88 and '92 for Bush 41; for Dole the next go-round, then twice for Bush 43; in 2008 for McCain and in 2012 for Romney.

Truehearted conservatives, all? Goldwater, Reagan -- certainly. The others, not so bad and not so world-beating either. Do you know what? Nevertheless, the youngest Goldwater voter still living has enough experience under the belt to understand that in political choice-making, you do the best you can, even while pinching your nostrils together -- hard. You do the best you can with what's available.

Christie for president? A good starting question would be: compared with whom, and to what?

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About the Author

William Murchison is a Dallas-based columnist for Creators Syndicate. His latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.