On Wendy Davis and Political Purity

Wendy Davis has been in the news a fair few times in recent week reflecting on her campaign and Texas and otherwise — all of which is her prerogative. This evening I read an article on Politico where Wendy discusses the position she took on Open Carry, how it was a calculation she should not have made, and what it means in the context of mass shootings in America.

I’m not going to fully articulate this properly, but this is my blog, so that in turn is my prerogative. I can appreciate someone saying they were wrong and should have done better. I can appreciate them explaining what they were thinking and why as well as the present day implications of that mistake. Maybe it’s merely politically expedient to have changed one’s mind post fact, but maybe it’d be nice to be a little less cynical. There isn’t enough of that mea culpa in politics, or at least not in a more vulnerable and genuine way that allows folks to connect with the what and why versus the every word combed over boilerplate that doesn’t quite admit any more fault than required.

Yet, then again, often times when this change or evolution has happened seemingly the person who has changed their mind is criticized for not having been originally right etc. — be it a politician, a pundit, or the average person just trying to make it through the day. There is in my mind a dangerous vein of thinking that those who were originally right are inherently better people etc., and anyone who isn’t there yet or what have you is a fool, a bad person to be treated with scorn and derision (not to say at all that I have not fallen into this trap myself, and many times over at that).

In spending a minor amount of time the past few weeks reflecting on political rhetoric and the fact that there is seemingly an aversion to engagement that exceeds mere attribution to barriers to participation, gerrymandering, the media perpetuating a cycle of cynicism, etc., I can’t help but wonder if the toxicity of it all, the hyper polarization, or more importantly, the perception thereof of both, is playing an increasingly larger role. Perhaps what we are seeing is active and conscious disengagement due at least in part to a transition toward political purity. The question I find myself coming back to is does this purity allow for the types of values conversations and otherwise we spend hours on end talking about in messaging trainings? Does this emphasis on purity lead to a sort of dogmatism that is incompatible with with the honest and earnest engagement necessary to have a dialog with anyone who isn’t already on board with what you’re talking about — that is to meet them where they are? And does that not fly in the very face of the nature of human development?

I won’t pretend to have the answers to any of those questions today.

The more I reflect, the more this sort of circumstance bothers me as someone who has switched political parties and continues to develop positions on any of a myriad of issues I would not have considered taking in the past. My parents raised me to be thoughtful and compassionate, to treat those different from me with respect, to be generous with all I have, that there was nothing more important than my word, and many other such things. For my parents that stemmed from their worldview, from their faith tradition, from their desire to give back to their community through charity and volunteerism, and otherwise.

In truth, my ethics and my worldview did not really evolve for me to reconsider my political allegiances, nor do I believe would any external badgering or criticism or lecturing would have led 17-year-old me to do so. For the most part those axioms have not changed other than to develop more nuance and real-world application. Indeed, the defining moment of my political awakening was the Affordable Care Act and the blowback and the racism directed at the President — and it sort of evolved from there. That being said it was not a sudden change. I was not immediately drawn into partisan politics, and instead found myself getting involved with non-partisan, issue advocacy. I was not ready to make the leap into the partisan fire, and I don’t think I actually felt fully comfortable in those spaces — let alone considered myself a Democrat — until a few years into college.

In admitting that I think back to what a good friend of mine wrote RE Kim Davis and frustration she felt as a progressive from small town Texas:

“Our world is changing (and I welcome these changes!) but it’s changing too fast for some people, especially considering their environment and lack of access to experiences that could potentially broaden their worldview. It isn’t quite fair- it’s borderline classist, I think- to ignore people from less-advantaged backgrounds, and then to mock them when they’re bewildered by a progressive bandwagon.

Growing up, my parents taught me that being progressive meant trying to create a better world for everyone. This includes Kim Davis. And, rather than building one-liners around a woman from one of the poorest regions of the country, I think our time would be better spent if we could figure out how to explain the importance of progressive social change in language that speaks to Kim Davis’s background and experiences. I think it would make society a little more harmonious for everyone.”

I come back to her words often, and not just the excerpt above. They linger in my mind as I write all of this and as I have attempted and perhaps failed to discuss this privately with others in previous days. In truth, I think they are some of the most important reminders I’ve ever read.



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