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As we go to press, the election continues to hinge on what happens in Florida. Waiting for a definitive result, we initially held off sending the magazine to the printer, hence this double issue.

What does this confusing election mean to the left and the causes it holds dear?

To no one's surprise, Al Gore ran a weak campaign, given the state of the economy and the remarkable popularity of Bill Clinton. Ralph Nader made a real difference, but he garnered less than 3 percent of the popular vote, suggesting that the Green Party will not be a significant factor in the next election.

The lesson here? As a start, progressive Democrats need to rebuild the progressive, populist side of the party and organize around candidates we can be enthusiastic about for the 2002 midterm congressional elections. At the same time, we should look toward 2004 with an eye on backing a presidential candidate who has a commitment to rebuilding "the movement."

All of us, whether we voted for Gore or Nader, have a role in rebuilding the progressive movement, in re-energizing the left. Where should we start?

We need a vision. But Gore didn't have one. He never told us what his grand plan for the future was. Sure, he gave us bits and pieces. ("They're for the powerful, and we're for the people--big tobacco, big oil, the big polluters, the pharmaceutical companies, the HMOs--sometimes you have to be willing to stand up and say no.") But he never wove populism into more than a quilt of policy positions and slogans. This failure of the Gore campaign is a legacy of a Clinton administration that came to office promising a "new covenant" and a "bridge to the 21st century," but then lost that vision, becoming all consumed with looking good and boosting poll numbers.

Nader energized the campaign because he began to formulate a progressive vision: "The two major parties have abdicated their responsibility to lead, to advocate solutions and to promote true democracy from the city halls to Congress and the White House. We can do better." Where will this vision go? Will it remain outside the Democratic Party or can it be used to rebuild the progressive wing? Since 1990, the Democratic Party has been dominated by the centrist ideology of the Democratic Leadership Council. Can the locus of power change?

Developing a positive progressive vision is a vital first step. Those of us on the left are very good about identifying what we are against, but strangely ineffective articulating what we are for. We have carried the day convincing the American public that we face an environmental crisis--80 percent share this belief. But when we talk about steps to take to avert the crisis, such as switching to ecologically sustainable manufacturing practices, the eyes of the American public glaze over.

The way to begin is by better incorporating key elements from the Nader campaign with the tried-and-true issues of the progressive Democratic agenda. To the economic justice components of the Nader proposals (like raising the national minimum wage to a living wage) add the traditional Democratic support of a woman's right to choose. To the Nader proposals that address inequities of corporate compensation (top executive salaries that are 400 times those of the rank and file) add the traditional civil rights agenda of the Democrats.

The cornerstone should be federal campaign finance reform. John McCain garnered enormous support with this issue. It was a key plank of the Nader campaign. Polls indicate that a strong majority of Americans want fundamental campaign finance reform. Why not lead with this?

Given the mixed results of the election, there will be a tendency to point fingers. We need to move beyond blame, to put this election behind us, and start working together to build a revitalized progressive movement.

In the next issue, I'll say more about what the key elements of this movement should be. In the meantime, I'd like to hear from you. Write to me at bburnett@inthesetimes.com.

 

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