“Purity” is a word you don’t hear that much, unless it’s used to describe a ring some high school couples wear so their parents won’t think they’re doing it. (Too cynical? I’m sorry. I wasn’t talking about your kid; he or she is admirably chaste, I’m sure.)
So, imagine my surprise when possibly the two most disparate words imaginable formed an illicit relationship of their own. I’m talking about “purity politics,” of course.
We heard the phrase back in the December debate when Elizabeth Warren took Pete Buttigieg to the woodshed-shed for attending a fundraiser hosted by millionaires in a crystal-chandeliered “wine cave” out in California. It should be noted this is my kind of spelunking, by the way.
Warren, who prefers a single can of Old Milwaukee wrested from the bottom of the scratch and dent bin at the Dollar General, was appalled by such flagrant excess and chastised Pete for putting himself in the position of owing his soul to the rich folk.
Purity is tough stuff, however. Warren was then asked where her money came from (not the widow’s mite of crusty pennies and dimes she gets from couch cushions across this great land but her big lawyer bucks.)
Maybe I’m jaded, but I never expect any politician to be so “pure” as to not owe somebody. That’s just not how the game works although that notion is cute as a basket of kittens. In a wine cave.
Warren kicked off “purity tests 2020.” (I add the year because don’t y’all remember how Bernie accused Hillary of the same fraternizing in 2016 until an exhausted Hillary said even Barack Obama couldn’t pass Bernie’s purity test? Whoa.)
We are now in the high purity season in which Democrats hoping to get the party’s nomination are utterly obsessed with who has lain down with billionaires and gotten up with fleas and who—OMG!—shoplifted in junior high and/or told dirty jokes at the water cooler Meanwhile, the Republicans are like: “Purity? What’s that and who cares? Y’all so stupid.”
Republicans don’t even pretend to worry about such things as moral ambiguity because, well, it’s bigly boring, but the purity tests for self-righteous Dems are growing faster than podcasts hosted by Really Boring People. I’m not sure which phenom is more dispiriting.
The word “purity” is off-putting because it’s almost always tied to something that’s decidedly impure and often outright evil. Think Hitler (not something I’d normally recommend), who was obsessed with a pure race. Or how about those creepy medieval times sheets hung out the window post wedding night when purity was literally a matter of life and death? I mean, I think that was a thing and not just something I remember from a Monty Python movie.
Saying purity and politics in the same sentence is crazy-making because of its inherent silliness. Just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no purity in politics. The difference—in my opinion—is Dems tend to use their power for good, not to subvert democracy. So there’s that.
Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times-bestselling author, columnist and event speaker. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.