The Election is Over: We Lost
Source News for Social Justice Activists
Date 08/02/04/09:22

Sam Smith

That's a headline borrowed from a piece I wrote four years ago when John Kerry locked up the Democratic nomination. The lead: "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."

It's a little different this time. None of the winning candidates will have been members of Skull & Bones and you can argue, as sadly many do, that Barack Obama's initial opposition to the war cancels his later acquiescence. In politics, the best shift is to do wrong initially and then correct it- not the other way around.

There is, to be sure, a great difference between the two remaining major Democratic candidates: Obama has integrity, the Clintons do not; only one alleged crook has showed up on the Obama big backer list; with the Clintons they litter the place like packing peanuts on the floor after opening a package.

But while that provides a choice and an important one, there is another that we also need - restoring the First American Republic and ending the second robber baron era - which is no longer on the table with departure of John Edwards. We are left with corporatized, conservative compromisers who add mightily to the argument that the Democratic Party should be forced to change its name to end the consumer fraud it purveys.

So what do we do about it? Some will stay home on election day, others will support a Nader or a Green, likely Cynthia McKinney. The Democrats will be, as usual, furious that a certain number of voters still believe we live in a democracy and choose someone other than those assigned to them by the DNC. While Ralph Nader may make what seems to some 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.

Even from a tactical standpoint, it is no worse than a Democratic Party that has known for eight years that it was unraveling and failed to do anything for progressives and Greens except to insult them. These folks deserve to be treated at least as well soccer moms or a hedge fund traders, but instead they are ridiculed and scolded and then the party wonders why they don't get their vote.

So whatever happens, don't blame Nader or McKinney. It is absolutely inconceivable that one could have a party doing as poorly as the Democrats and not have a visible and active opposition.

People, including many of my friends, will take markedly different approaches to the dilemma. Some will place priority on personal witness - i.e. the Nader or Green approach - and some will take a more pragmatic course. My own view is that politics is inherently more of a pragmatic than a moral matter and that, besides, even if you have the most righteous cause, espousing it in the middle lane of Route 95 at rush hour may not be the best way to go about it. I have long considered myself a backyard Green, believing that history clearly shows the strength of such parties is in their local organizing and not in those all too rare chances to make an impact in a national election.

Far more important, though, is an approach to the next few years no matter who wins and what part one plays in the election. One of the biggest problems for progressives has long been the lack of an easily identifiable agenda. A new movement could be launched the day after the election. 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 the Democrat could make clear their commitment ends with the closing of the polls, after which they will join in the revival of the American republic.

The only ground rule between now and then should be that no one is allowed to argue over election strategy.

The morning after the election, a news conference could be held declaring the new movement and announcing a national conference at which delegates would select a handful of issues to guide the movement.

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 these others than if we continue to walk alone. And November 4 is only nine months away.

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