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 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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.