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Party over Principle?

November 18, 2010

So, in my ongoing effort to hear as many speakers as I can in college, yesterday I heard former member of the Israeli Knesset. He was a very good (VERY Israeli) speaker who mostly focused on his efforts to legislate environmentalism in Israel, to great effect. Now I thought about writing a post about how, although I support who environmentally conscious Israel is and is becoming, they probably have bigger issues (looking at you Iran) but one of the questions Pines-Paz was asked got me thinking about something else.

For those of you who don’t keep track of the Israeli parliament, Pines-Paz was a member of the Labor Party (Avodah) until he resigned when the part formed a coalition with the arch conservative Yisrael Beiteinu party after swearing to the voters they would not. He resigned and is now in the private sector (he gave the usual politician spiel on not being a career politician, although considering he resigned from power, it had some credibility) Any way, it was time for another inner-conflict of pragmatism versus principal.

On the one hand Labor would have had a much better chance of enacting parts of their agenda if they did form the coalition, even though they said they would not and would be forced to concede on some principles. Is it better to be pragmatic and sell out or stand on principle only to fail to make a difference?

This was the question of many Tea Party activists who had to chose whether to support non-party candidates at the risk of giving the race to democrats or elect republicans, the lesser of two evils.

In the end Labor, the Tea Party, and I are all on one side of the issue and Pines-Paz is on another. I say swing for the fences ideologically but take what you can get when pushed. I cannot stand Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Yisrael Beiteinu, but if I worked with him I could get some of what I wanted done. The Tea Party may hate Republicans, but look at the times when they supported non-establishment candidates only to see them go on to lose because they were not “electable” (Sharon Angle to Harry Reid, Ken Buck to Michael Bennett, Christine O’Donnell to Chris Coons). Although I am opposed to him philosophically, William F. Buckley had it right when he said you vote for the most electable conservative. Still, I can’t help but admire people like Pines-Paz who stand on principle. I just don’t know if I envy their strength or naïveté.

One Comment leave one →
  1. aptronym238 permalink
    September 25, 2011 8:20 pm

    I was scrolling through the archives and happened upon this post. Here’s a quick thought. The problem with electability is that it tends to neuter a cause if used over time. A specific analysis that decides on the more electable candidate could wring some benefit from an otherwise lost election. Repeatedly choosing the more electable candidate risks ceding the sphere of public debate to the moderates. We’ve seen this with the Republican party: over time it has become overrun with “electable” candidates who have almost nothing in common with the fiscal conservatives that make up much of its support.

    On the other side of the coin, you’re right that setting your goals too far from the mainstream can ruin your chances at achieving anything significant. The Libertarian party has long suffered from this problem. By choosing to emphasize drug legalization and other infeasible goals from the very beginning, rather than building up to them, they have alienated their potential base and achieved nothing, particularly when running against Republicans who have “electability” on their side and enough strong points that such “electability” isn’t forgoing much.

    It’s a tricky decision to make. The balance between electability and loyalty to one’s cause has made or broken more political movements than I can count. (The ones I list here are merely the ones I’m most familiar with. Your post shows that the phenomenon is global and runs across the political spectrum.) My analysis is that it’s best to aim just right or left of the accepted range of debate. Consistently choose the candidate who stretches the public debate just a little without coming off as wholly strange and foreign. Gradually you will win over the moderates as they gain exposure to your ideas, and from there you can continue to expand your base until you can achieve real goals. (As for how to apply this principle to individual elections, I have no clue.)

    One final point that makes even the unelectable worth pursuing: from time to time a large group of those who would normally choose the “electable” candidate decide to take a risk on the long-shot candidate who seems like the better, but unelectable choice. If enough people fall into this category and simultaneously make this choice, an unelectable candidate can win seemingly from nowhere. Such shifts are hard to predict, though, but they represent the cleanest way to solve the electability issue when they occur.

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