I’d like to begin with a confession: I didn’t vote in 2000. It’s the only presidential election since I turned 18 that I’ve sat out, and I’m more than embarrassed about it. It remains one of the biggest mistakes of my political life, and that’s saying something. The fact that my participation wouldn’t have made any difference (I lived in Massachusetts at the time) affords no solace, nor should it. I was stupid. I fucked up. Period.
See, I talked myself into some profound silliness. I wasn’t a Gore fan, for all kinds of reasons, and I was going through one of those periods of intense frustration at how the Democrats and Republicans were more alike than they were different (a dynamic that’s even worse now than it was then, by the way). So I convinced myself that there wasn’t any meaningful difference and parked my butt on the bench. I knew Bush was a joke, but I had no idea just how bad he’d turn out to be. I figured he was an inept bumbler who wasn’t really smart enough to get anything done, and four years of the government getting nothing done would hardly be the worst thing the Republic had endured.
From the vantage we enjoy here in 2008 my decision in 2000 seems blindingly, pathologically moronic. From 2000, though, from inside the context of that particular moment, there were ways for an otherwise intelligent guy to rationalize it.
I still don’t believe that Gore would have been a great president by any standard other than “compared to Bush.” But let’s take a hard look at my premise, that it made no difference. True or false? Well, ask yourself if the following things would likely have occurred in a Gore administration.
- Blatantly falsified data leading to an unjust invasion of Iraq.
- FISA and telecom immunity.
- An AG running amok, firing federal attorneys over political differences.
- Another attorney general who thinks waterboarding isn’t torture.
- Speaking of waterboarding, would Gore have vetoed a bill outlawing it?
- Abu Ghraib.
- No Child Left Untested.
- The treasonous outing of a CIA operative because her husband criticized the administration.
- The Patriot Act.
- Walter Reed.
- “You’re doing a heckuva job, Brownie.”
- Justice Alito.
- Chief Justice Roberts.
- There’s more here, including e-mail gate, memograte, Wolfiegate, No-bid-no-problemgate, Abramoffgate, Iraniburtongate, Homeland Insecurity, Jessica Lynch and Armstrong Williams.
- And this.
- About a million more here.
No doubt a Gore administration would have produced some corruption and stupidity, but is there any reason at all to think he could have matched The Dubya Follies? I mean, no president in recent memory has, including Nixon.
I’m ‘fessing up to my grand 2000 mistake now because I’m hoping we can find a way to step back and get a little broader persepctive on our current situation. Step back, take a breath and step away from the brink.
In the last week or two, I have personally seen and heard reports of all manner of self-defeating shortsightedness around the progressive sphere. Editorial boards at each other’s throats. Cynical bullying tactics of the sort that we’ve spent seven years associating with Bushevik thugs. Talented people saying “fuck it” and walking away.
The only thing that probably matches the volume of the screeching on “our side” of the fence is the cackling from the other side. Seriously, has anything made Karl Rove laugh this hard since the swiftboating of John Kerry?
I get that politics is a hardball business. I don’t think anybody in either the Clinton or Obama camps expected a whole lot of rainbows and unicorns and four-part renditions of “Kumbaya” at this point. People have opinions – some of them are even informed ones – and they have every right to voice them. I’ve done so, as have my colleagues here at S&R, and we aren’t likely to stop. I’m not a Hillary fan, and I have plenty of reservations about Barack, too. Neither ranks in my top three Democratic preferences, even. And since I’m by nature something of an outsider, innately suited to the role of outraged opposition no matter who’s in charge, you can probably expect me to continue bitching indefinitely, regardless of how things progress.
But as I look around at how this battle is being waged, in some cases by the candidates and in others by their supporters, I’m disgusted by how thoroughly we’re all failing to get the big picture. If you think your candidate is better than the other one, I applaud you. I think the candidate I’m behind is better than the other one, too. If you think America is going to be a lot worse off if the other guy/gal gets the Democratic nomination, hey, I’m still with you.
But if you think that John “Bush III” McCain represents a brighter future for our nation than the other Dem nominee, I fear you’re buried in counterproductive thinking, as I was in 2000. Clinton and Obama are separated, on policy issues, by a few microns at most. There are differences between them, of course. Obama is more capable of inspiring the exuberance of younger voters, and pro-social youthful passion is something that we can all benefit from. Clinton is probably more tactically gifted, and there’s every reason to think she would be effective at getting her agenda enacted. But when it comes to what they could be expected to pursue policy-wise, there’s just not much to choose from.
What about McCain, though? He voted in favor of waterboarding – after repeatedly calling it torture?! He not only supported the invasion of Iraq, he supports staying there for a thousand more years. He also promises that there will be more wars. He supports repealing Roe v. Wade. He voted no on a $100M initiative to reduce teen pregnancy by education & contraceptives. He’s rated 0% by NARAL, indicating a pro-life voting record. He’s rated 83% by the Christian Coalition, indicating a strongly (euphemism alert) “pro-family” voting record. Then there’s this morsel:
But I think the number one issue people should make [in the] selection of the President of the United States is, â€œWill this person carry on in the Judeo Christian principled tradition that has made this nation the greatest experiment in the history of mankind?â€
There’s more – lots more.
Looking at the record, ask yourself a question. Who do you think President McCain will appoint to the Supreme Court? Next, do you honestly believe that the Democratic candidate you’re not supporting would appoint those kinds of people, or do you think that, for all your differences, that candidate would appoint people a bit more in keeping with the sort of respect for our civil liberties that your candidate stands for?
Yes, that was a rhetorical question. So is this: what’s America going to look like after a generation under a Supreme Court where McCain has had the chance to pad the Alito/Roberts/Thomas/Scalia Axis?
All of which goes to explain why I’ve been pretty clear on one thing: I’ll vote for the Democratic nominee in November, period. I might not be happy about who that nominee is, but I won’t spend the next eight years kicking myself over a stupid decision, either.
The question is: are you talking yourself into some silliness like I did eight years ago?
I’m not sure all my fellow progressives are thinking three months ahead, let alone eight years. The increasingly vitriolic primary campaign is bringing out the worst in us, not the best, and it’s leading to the sorts of divisive, scorched-Earth tactics that are bound to benefit nobody but the Republicans. Why is this happening in a population that’s educated, principled and allegedly committed to ridding the nation of the ills of elitist conservatism?
- Do we think that once “we” win the nomination all those people we insulted, abused and bullied will fall magically in line precisely the way we wouldn’t?
- Do we believe it’s okay to treat people – most of who agree with us on 99.9% of the issues, by the way – the way we’d treat mortal enemies?
- Are we so all-or-nothing idealistic that we don’t believe halfway to the goal is better than none of the way?
- Do we believe that GOP is in such disarray that they won’t be able to exploit the things we’re saying about each other in the general election campaign?
- Do we really believe that positive governance emerges logically and organically from toxic campaigning?
- Do we not understand the rarefied place we occupy outside the mainstream of American life, and that people not intimately involved in the process will react badly to internecine throat-slitting?
- Are we just so bad at basic math that we think we can beat McCain with only half the team on board?
I’m not here to assign blame and make angels out of devils. I’m not going to get into who did what, because this is one of those rare cases where specifics and details take our eyes off the ball. If I log a string of particulars, it allows people to defend their actions (by explaining how the other side did something wrong) and around we go again.
Suffice it to say that there’s plenty of blame to go around, and I’m writing you today to ask that everyone cut it out. Now. Today. It’s okay to make your case, but it’s not okay to do so in a way that provides aid and comfort to McCain should you lose. You need to get your priorities straight right this minute. If you support Hillary, then your order of preference needs to look like this:
- Somebody else
If you support Obama, simply flip those top two. And understand that we’re all judging you not by what you say, but by what you do. Professing that you think your Dem opponent is better than McCain is of no value if your actions help the GOP in their efforts to defeat the eventual Democratic nominee.
Let the record show, down the road, that we resolved this very day to act on our best instincts instead of our worst and that we succeeded by matching the negativism of our less enlightened fellow progressives with an explosion of intellect, postivism and goodwill. May we be judged better because we were better.
Then, come November, let’s watch together as McCain and his band of cynical Bushevik holdovers drown in their own bile.
This isn’t hard, people. All we have to do is master ourselves and be, everyday, precisely what we wish the “other” side would be.