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Citations Needed

Mar 4, 2020

"Obama Warns Against ‘Purity Tests’ In Democratic Primary," Spectrum News reports. "Spare Me the Purity Racket," Maureen Dowd opines in The New York Times. "'Purity Tests' Divide Democrats," US News & World Report announces. "Political purity tests are for losers," bellows The Hill.
We hear it all the time: progressives, leftists, radicals — and even liberals — are told they must not engage in the siren song of "purity politics." Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we are told. We must be pragmatic, realistic, we must lay down our ideological arms and stop pining for Nirvana when so much is on the line in November. 
Evoking purity politics functions — more often than not — as a catch-all defense against any and all criticism of establishment Democrats. In 2016, Hillary Clinton partisans used it against Bernie Sanders supporters; in 2020, Bloomberg’s flacks use it against Sanders again, and even Sanders partisans use it against leftist skeptics of electoralism. Put simply, purity politics is a Get Out Of Jail Free card, a perennial lesser of two evils narrative of an inherent impossibility of anything other than incremental change.
At their core, charges of purity politics are ahistoric and anti-intellectual, pathologizing alternative theories of change that don’t require political compromise as youthful vanity. Indeed, how to balance compromise and ideals has been, for centuries, the central question of the Left, everyone from French revolutionaries to Russian socialists, Black American radicals and Indigenous struggles in North America to Third World liberation movements around the globe have struggled to answer: when do we compromise and when do we not?
But "purity politics" ignores this essential and rich question altogether, brushing aside morally fraught debates about political strategy and reducing anything short of the path of least resistance to unserious solipsism and juvenile stubbornness.  

On this episode, we discuss how demands that people drop "purity politics" only go in one direction; how moral urgency has historically been pathologized as youthful narcissism; and how our jaded, broken media elites routinely conflate preemptive defeatism with political savvy.
Our guest is attorney and writer Malaika Jabali.