The winner is a supporter of three of the worst government decisions of our time: the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and the Bush education law.
He is a Yale graduate and a member of a secret society of dubious values and influence. He is arrogant with the sense of self-entitlement of the fully privileged yet has done little in life to justify this self esteem. And he is a tenured and servile member of an establishment that has trashed the Constitution, badly weakened the economy, made us hated around the world, and effectively brought to the end of the First American Republic.
To be sure there will be a consolation runoff in which we get to decide who we would rather do battle against for the next four years. This choice of battleground is not an insignificant matter but neither is it what a democratic election is supposed to be about. It is more like a cancer patient choosing between surgery and chemotherapy. We don’t have to wait for Katherine Harris; this election has already been fixed.
How people of democratic inclination react to this dismal fact will vary considerably. Some will go forth with the cry of “Anybody But Bush,” some will stay home on election day, others will support Nader or a Green. There may even be a portion of this constituency that will argue for Kerry’s virtues beyond the gossamer assumption of ‘electability’ but this argument — usually central to any vigorous campaign — has so far been strangely muted.
The proponents of each of these positions will become increasingly insistent as the campaign progresses. Already the Anybody But Bush crowd has attacked Ralph Nader with vituperation usually reserved for the extreme right. You can expect more of such things because the story of the American left for the past three decades has been one of subdivision, fragmentation, and splitting into smaller and weaker cells of action and opinion with, of course, no diminution of certainty in the righteousness concerning each shard of what was once a movement.
The left has become somewhat similar to the three major factions of the Episcopal church: the high and crazy, the low and lazy, and the broad and hazy. You can no more define what it means to be a Democrat than it does to be an Episcopalian. And, as with that church, it is the last group — the broad and hazy — that predominates. These are people who energize themselves only at election time or during debates over judicial nominations, just like people who only go to church on Christmas and Easter.
I am certain that over the next few months I will be strenuously lectured by persons who have not been involved in any issue since they started blaming Nader for Gore’s defeat in 2000. If even a fraction of their energy had been devoted over the past four years to real issues such as national health care or a fair economy, we might not only have progress but a better choice at the ballot box.
As for the rest — those progressives who do believe in, and act upon, something — there is little to be gained by either arguing with the mushy middlers or with each other. I can’t recall the last time I ever observed anyone win one of these arguments. We are all going to do what we are going to do, some wisely and some foolishly, and to the extent that these actions are taken honestly, we should respect them in the best tradition of ecumenism.
This is not an artifice. For example, while Ralph Nader may have made the wrong political decision, it is a sign of the corrupt, cynical nature of our times to look into the face of moral integrity and dismiss it as an act of ego.
While it is too much to ask that we not speak ill of others of our ilk, we can at least aspire to the order given to his troops by a 19th century general: “Elevate your guns a little lower.”
Once having established a more generous and forgiving atmosphere on the left, we might then respond to our choice of chemotherapy or surgery in the manner of many normal mortals – by declaring that, having made such a difficult decision, we deserve a treat. And the best present progressives could give each other would be to find something they agreed about, better yet five or ten things. In other words, for the first time since the 1960s, treat themselves to a movement.
The movement could be launched the day after the election. On November 3 a broad coalition of groups and individuals could declare itself the real opposition to whoever ends up in the White House. Even those who work hard for Kerry could make clear their commitment ends with the closing of the polls, after which they will be with the November 3 Movement and the revival of the American republic.
Threre are many who might vote for Kerry but who would never include themselves among his ‘supporters.’ If those preaching so loudly about getting rid of Bush would quiet down for a minute, they might discover that the best way to achieve their end might be to hand out airplane barf bags with the inscription, “Vote for Kerry.”
The November 3 Movement would not have to conflict with any of the election strategies of those on the left. It could, however, soften some of the anger and some of the potential damage progressives and liberals might otherwise do to each other.
Deanies, Kucinichistas, Greeners, Sharptonoids, and Naderites as well as folks from public interest groups could meet at the local and state level in the coming months to begin planning such a movement, thus easing present tension with future visions. Every state could name a member or two to the national steering committee as could national progressive and liberal organizations.
The only ground rule would be that no one is allowed to argue over election strategy. The morning after the election a news conference would be held declaring the November 3 Movement the official opposition of the newly elected president. A national conference would also be announced, at which delegates would select the issues to guide the movement. This is what should have happened at the beginning of the Clinton administration, which is one reason we face someone as bad as Bush today.
Two unusual rules could prevent this from turning into the sort of internecine blood bath that progressives seem to love. The first would be that the only issues discussed would be those about which there was a reasonable opportunity of agreement. The second would be that agreement would not be expressed by majority vote but by some form of census.
This is not a fantasy. One of the steps taken that led to the creation of the national Green Party – out of state groups and factions that had plenty of differences with each other – was a national conference attended by 125 members of over 20 third parties ranging from the socialists and one of the last members of the American Labor Party to Greens, Libertarians and members of Perot’s Reform party. At the end of the weekend we had full consensus on 17 issues and a high degree of agreement on others. Even some of us who had organized the conference were stunned.
Great movements are not created by arguing over Roberts Rules of Order, by winning narrow parliamentary victories by dubious means against natural allies, by publicly scolding those who don’t agree with you, and by excoriating those whose view of virtue diverges from your own. They are created by the realization that there is something far greater that we all dream about and that we can only turn the dream into reality by compromising, sharing, and talking honestly with others — recognizing that that each of us will be more powerful by marching with others than if we continue to walk alone.
And November 3 is only eight months away.
SAM SMITH is the editor of Progressive Review.