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Joan Barry & two forms of political belief

This article is fascinating. It follows Joan Barry, a Missouri Democrat whose politics don’t neatly fit entirely within party lines, as she tries to make some room for pro-life Democrats within the party. I think it reveals some damaging assumptions undergirding contemporary political life. Consider why one person quoted rejects Barry’s position:

Right now it’s really important to stand for something.

Later on, someone else uses very similar language to dismiss Barry:

I don’t understand Democrats who quote Truman and F.D.R. and then act like they are terrified to run as an actual Democrat. You have to believe in something in order for somebody to believe in you. You can’t be such a watered-down thing.

In both cases, the speakers assume that Barry doesn’t “believe in” or “stand for” anything—and she’s taking action precisely because she does believe in and stand for something. Is she “terrified” or “watered down”? No, of course not. She’s just disagrees with one tenant of the party platform. She’s trying to find ways to welcome a slightly wider range of opinion into the party so that it can try to attract voters in an increasingly Republican state.

There are two very different forms of political belief here. One believes in the party first and foremost, and the political positions come because of or unquestioningly along with the party. It’s an absolutist, all-or-nothing rhetoric that treats party platforms as eternal, unchanging, and inviolable.

The other form (Barry’s position) suggests belief first of all in principles that may or may not neatly align with either party. This form of political belief might lead to new mixes of political positions that might be far more internally consistent than the parties as currently aligned, and that might make more room within either party for people who dissent from some of that party’s positions but strongly support others.

It seems like the Democrats increasingly insist on and express the former. If they want to actually win elections, I think they’ll need to be more willing to adopt—or simply, merely accommodate—the latter.