I am going to post some excerpts from an interview with "playwright and radical gadfly" Tony Kushner that was published in the Jewish Magazine Heeb and excerpted in the Utne Reader in the summer of 2004.
As you may know, Tony Kushner wrote the Angels in America (Part One: Millennium Approaches and Part Two: Perestroika) in 1993 and 1994. I am sure you have all heard about that Pulitzer Prize-winning play about AIDS and Reaganism that won two Tony awards and was remade into a HBO miniseries in 2003. Following that success, Tony Kushner became America's leading left-wing gay pundit, tapped by Newsweek, The Nation, The New York Times, and The Advocate to speak on issues ranging from homophobia to socialism.
In this interview, Kushner speaks of criticism from the left that he has received, and speaks of his admiration for the student-led antiglobalization movement. But he offers a suggestion as to where said activists can achieve more progess:
What would you recommend that they do instead?
I would recommend that they work for the Democratic Party. That's the hard thing to say right now. To me, the antithesis of throwing paint at a Starbucks -- which is not to say that the Starbucks [stores] don't deserve to have paint thrown at them, that what these people are pointing out and what they're accomplishing is not valuable, because it absolutely is -- but the fact of the matter is, all of us Americans are caught up in a system of luxury and privilege that's immensely difficult to move beyond, and little gestures of ridding your own life of impurities and sins may be refreshing on some level or interesting as a way of experimenting with your life, but these little gestures of personal refusal don't actually alter the structures of power. The question is, if you believe in the absolute moral necessity of resisting something that you see as profoundly evil, and you're not just playing a game, then what is our best bet for making an alteration?
And what do you think the answer is?
I think it's realpolitik. The principle of realpolitik is that politics isn't an expression of your personal purity. Politics is about compromise. People need to understand that politics is very much a matter of the lesser of two evils, or three -- however many evils, but you choose the least evil one. Al Gore was a horror and the most untalented politician on the national scene in many a year, but if anybody actually thinks that Al Gore would not be an infinite improvement over what we have now . . .
People say, "Well, Bill Clinton didn't do this, and Bill Clinton didn't do that, and the first Bush passed more money for AIDS research than Bill Clinton," and all this stuff. These are incredibly easy and oversimplified factoids that we use to remind ourselves that political structures are without meaning. It's a complete rejection of the possibility of working within democratic structures -- which still exist, even though they're in great danger right now -- and opting for some refusalism that leads somewhere, but nobody knows where.
I think our chances of surviving the 21st century are extremely slim. And if you believe that, I don't know why we all sort of giggle about the idea that the Democratic Party matters. Of course that's what's going to win the election and take the White House away from George W. Bush. It isn't going to be the Green Party. It isn't going to be people with black bandannas over their faces marching down the street next September blowing up Gaps and Starbucks to show George W. Bush whatever we're trying to show him.
Now, I am going to assume anyone reading this is doing so because he or she has accepted Kushner's notion that the Democratic Party is the vehicle you want to use to pursue your political ideas, ideals, principles and goals. You don't necessarily have like all Democrats everywhere. I surely don't. You don't have to agree with every single idea or position in the general Democratic Party platform. We criticize Democrats who we think are wrong all the time (just look at the level of support Hillary Clinton has here if you need any proof of that). Indeed, you don't even have to be a Democrat to be here. We have many liberal independents and even a few stubborn Greens that support Democrats and the Democratic Party.
We all gather here to discuss our views on the latest political events and happenings, and to organize events supportive of Democratic candidates and Democratic ideals, because this is a Democratic blog, as has been stated by Markos Moulitsas and others ad infinitum.
Inevitably, however, when the previously unpolitical yet passionate choose the Democratic Party as the vehicle of choice to pursue their hopes and dreams in the real world, a certain friction develops. They come here and elsewhere, ready to engage in the process for probably the first times in their lives. But they have brought something with them that is incompatible with politics.
They brought their purity.
I describe purity as someone holding certain political beliefs and opinions and believing those to be superior to all others to such an extent that no compromise or minor deviation from those political belief and opinions can be tolerated. And I am not talking about the big issues either, as minor details can invite the same inflexible intolerance.
Now Purity is not a bad thing, if we are talking about having a unlimited passion in persuing or protecting an issue or goal. Purists have a passion that makes change possible. The mistake Purists make is immediate condemnation of those disagree with them at the first sign of disagreement, instead working harder and longer to change the minds of those who disagree. The inflexible intolerance for those that disagree is where purists go wrong.
A fellow Kossack, Major Danby, published a diary the other day that recognizes that Purists and Pragmatists are symbiants. Initially appearing to be complete opposite notions, Purity and Pragmatism save each other from themselves.
Pragmatism is good sometimes. Absolutism is good sometimes.
Major Danby wrote concerning impeachment, a fine example on which Purists and Pragmatists disagree. Purists feel impeachment is a moral imperative and the fact that it is not currently being pursued in Congress a sin. Pragmatists, while agreeing that Bush is evil and deserves impeachment, realize the political reality of the moment, that a process has to be undertaken, that we will need 18 Senators of the Republican Party to vote with us to remove Bush from office, and that the evidence we currently have that is publicly known is not sufficient to sway those 18 votes to our side.
Again, instead of continuing the fight to convince others that they are right, instead of pushing for further investigation to discover that which will convince 18 Republican Senators to remove Bush from office; some Purists condemn Democrats in Congress and here at Daily Kos as being enablers of Bush. That is the mistake that purity makes.
Another longtime Kossack, Hunter, has had his fill of the Purist attacks, and has implied, if not outright said, that he is leaving Daily Kos as a result. (See comments here and here). That is why I am writing this diary tonight, because enough is enough. I will quote from Hunter as follows:
I am tired of months of fights in which every diarist tries to out-top the purity of the last, and where every fight is dominated by clownish, overpainted rhetoric that cannot distinguish between the most vile of neocons and some guy three diaries up or down that might have a procedural objection, strategic disagreement or, terror of terrors, different phrasing of the points of an issue.
It is the method of argumentation here that I find so unforgivabe. Strawmanism is rewarded; false information, encouraged; false polarizations, celebrated as indistinguishable from wisdom. Black and white are the only allowed colors: anyone engaging anywhere between is, in the blunt and informative words of the diarist, "on the same side as Cheney".
That's it. You are allowed to be on the extreme left, or you are the enemy. No nuance need apply, because just as in Orwell's world, we are becoming ever more proud of losing the meanings of words. You are either a Pacifist, or Cheney. All the words inbetween have been removed by stupid people, stupid, shallow, hollow people whose need for ego outweighs whatever situation they may find themselves in.
All you have to do to have a recommended diary on this site these days is think of the farthest left position you can manage, burp it up with the bare minimum of language and with nothing resembling a consistent argument, and you will have two hundred or more readers flock to it, eager to bask in their own superiority and avoid the harsher requests of whatever poor issue-addressing sap had the audacity to wander in with some concrete and acheivable idea.
What set me off, at long last, is watching person after person on these various threads being asked "well, how would you have responded to 9/11", and in seeing them declare with all possible bluster that well, we should not have been in a position where 9/11 ever happened. Well, la-te-freaking-da. That, then, is only common and resolute leftist position on the responses to terrorism: that we should pour our resources into inventing a goddamn time machine so that we can go back and time and alter history itself so that they never have to be asked such a difficult and probing question. Got it. Understood. Argument by pony.
There's no point in arguing these battles, and I apologize in advance for not reading the rest of the comments below. There's no point. Arguing will only demonstrate the purity of the assuredly pure, and the ignorance of the assuredly ignorant, and everyone will go back in their corners at the end of the day and praise themselves at the nobility of their mock battles. Same as every other day. The Bill O'Reilly show, now available in european and tie-died and twenty other versions for people too goddamn empty-headed to go to any position in an argument but where the strongest wind blows them.
I appreciate the words of support from those that have given them, but in the end, I am embarrassed at the mudslide that has buried this place. I will gladly stand side by side with any pacifist, but I will not stand side by side with those that seem to take every available opportunity to clean their teeth on the hides of the rest of us, merely to prove something to themselves. If they wish to have a place where only the most brute and crassly shallow arguments survive -- like in the comments above and in countless other diaries, lately -- then it is not my place, not even as site administrator, to presume otherwise.
Do you see the mistake purity makes?
Do you realize why Purity has no place in politics?
I quote again from Tony Kushner:
The principle of realpolitik is that politics isn't an expression of your personal purity. Politics is about compromise. People need to understand that politics is very much a matter of the lesser of two evils, or three -- however many evils, but you choose the least evil one.
Daily Kos is about politics, not purity. If you are engaged in politics, you have to leave your purity at the door. Don't get me wrong, your purity of thought and mind have their uses. Your principles and ideals give you strength and passion. They give you the motivation to keep fight going on whatever issue or goal that you are most passionate about.
But politics is compromise. The art of the possible. Politics is about debate. How do you expect to debate someone if you, at the outset of the conversation, call them a Bush-enabling neocon theocrat Republican?
Purists are welcome here at Daily Kos.
Their purity is not.
Be a part of the debate, a part of the process...
or don't. And if you don't, why are you here?