It was 1999.
Fast forward a few months. Once it became clear that Governor George W. Bush of Texas was going to be the nominee, with the confirmation coming after the summer of 2000, I saw two other things happen. That dissatisfaction among progressives in 1999 became a movement to vote Nader. I saw a lot of my friends assume that Bush was too stupid to win the Presidency. Voting Nader was a way to say, "There's no difference between Democrats and Republicans, it's all too corporate!" It was a very Generation X kind of political statement. Snarky, meaningful, but also much too clever. Nader's campaign thought he would win (at least publicly), though many of his supporters doubted it. Gore's campaign that he would win, but that it would be a tough fight.
The big progressive issues of the day were things like Gay Rights, labor, the divide between the rich and poor, and even electoral law. I remember a summer of driving around to construction sites, listening to NPR debates about things like, "first past the post voting," and other matters of state. We were post Cold War, and finally ready to get on with the business of making the US a better place to live, or so it felt.
Because, really, what difference was there between Democrats and Republicans? Why vote Democrat if you never got the policies you wanted? Why vote for guys like Bill Clinton, who would just sell out your causes? And Gore, what good was he? Did he really invent the internet?*
We were young and disappointed. We weren't the only ones. There were a lot of people, older, who were enthusiastic about Clinton. But we didn't trust Gore, and we were young and disappointed. Some of us didn't vote. And the ones that did, well, they voted Nader. Because what was the worst that could happen?
The worst turned out to be an indecisive election, that led to a Supreme Court decision, that gave us George W. Bush. I understand the vote count, the dirty dealing in Florida, but had the election been more decisive, there would've been no need or reason for a Supreme Court challenge.
Replace Bush with Gore, and make every decision the same as Bush's (right down to the Patriot Act, invading Iraq, everything) butimagine Gore nominating progressive Supreme Court nominees. Without those conservative justices, we don't get Citizens United, and we don't watch the Voting Rights Act get gutted. Who knows, maybe we would've gotten a woman as Chief Justice? No way to know.
Fast forward to 2013. Our government seems to be getting more conservative. Our nation is becoming browner. Our nation is, on the whole, becoming more progressive. Perhaps one of the main reasons that Congress has such a low score (aside from their inability to pass legislation) is the growing feeling of disconnect from the majority of Americans. Today, Texas just enacted even harsher redistricting, and also more laws to restrict voting.
When you bring up Nader, and the 2000 election, to most people who voted Nader, they don't take responsibility for what followed. Most won't say, "Had I known, I would've voted Gore." Most will say, "Gore lost, it was his responsibility to run a better campaign, and maybe if he would've I would've voted for him. And besides, it was the Supreme Court who put Bush in anyway. I wouldn't change a thing." All of those things are true.
But I'm an American. The government we Americans get comes partly from what we put into our civic activities and our actions.
Had I known what was coming, there's no way I would've voted for Nader. My state went for Gore, but all of the energy into Nader, it took focus away from Gore. Had we not voted that way, maybe that would've been the tipping point.
The Bush years aren't over. Do you remember, in 2009, that the big progressive arguments were about things like Obama's failure to demand single payer health care. That was the big issue that we fought about. We took our eyes off of the 2010 election, and those same disappointments rang out. Conservative statehouses and executive offices in states around the country redistricted, billionaire astroturf political movements flourished, and now we have a real corporate party, The Tea Party, effectively running Congress into the dirt.
The Demoractic Party is not as progressive as I would like it to be. I will, until I am an old man, keep demanding that it (or something that someday replaces it) be more progressive. But it is not the lesser of two evils. It is a group of people with which progressives can and should caucus and, yes, sometimes compromise with in order to effect meaningful change.
Compromise is not a bad word. If you're under 25, and you think compromise is awful, you've probably got George W. Bush on the mind. His world was black and white. "You're either for the terrorists, or against them." Consensus and compromise don't mean agreement. It means enough acceptance to move things forward.
Our job is to keep pushing things to the left. We won't get there by fracturing, and by losing elections. We won't get there with an armed revolution. We won't get there with a page 1 rewrite of the constitution.
We'll get there by forging a progressive agenda, by pushing the Democratic party to the left, by pulling the government to the left, by using every tool and ounce of sweat we have to make the world a better place.
The stakes in 2000 were so high, and we didn't even know it then. The stakes, the world we can see in front of us now, are higher than they've ever been.
This is all from the heart, and from memory, so my history may be off. It's not intentional.
All I know is, this is a time to come together. We have to save the Democratic Party from itself. We have to build that coherent progressive agenda.
And we have to start now.