Beyond Regime Change

Jeff Epton

The anybody but Bush” mantra that progressives are using to focus their energies this election season is working wonderfully well. 

Many of Nader’s most fervent former supporters are saying they will stick with the Democratic nominee, no matter who it may be.

George II now appears to be carrying more baggage than his father did in 1992. And even the sudden disappearance of the Dean campaign has proved to be no obstacle to anti-Bush voters, merely clearing the way for John Kerry and John Edwards to move ahead of George II in recent polls. The regime change that we all yearn for may well be in the offing.

But another interruption in the Bush dynasty, however essential it may be for human rights and democracy, does little to advance a progressive agenda.

Bill Clinton’s victory over George I was certainly regime change, coming as it did after 12 years of Reagan-Bush. That victory was the result of a smart campaign, an economic recovery that didn’t come fast enough, and an election year insurgency funded by multimillionaire independent Ross Perot.

After Clinton’s election, early disappointments (a failed healthcare initiative and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) drove progressives to the political sidelines. Their absence enabled the Democratic Leadership Council to shape the Clinton presidency (NAFTA and welfare reform) and left progressives divided on the wisdom of supporting Al Gore in 2000.

Determined that a candidate of the Democratic-Republican duopoly had suckered them for the last time, millions of progressives backed Ralph Nader. He received only 2.7 percent of the overall vote, but enough in Florida to throw the election into the Supreme Court.

Such is the power of the new progressive mantra that many of Nader’s most fervent former supporters are saying they will stick with the Democratic nominee, no matter who it may be. In fact, progressives alarmed that Nader’s candidacy means 2004 will be a repeat of 2000 have not recognized how far we’ve come. This year will be different principally because progressives have been the story so far.

Howard Dean deserves a lot of credit for his enthusiastic, technologically innovative anti-Bush campaign. But his success came from tapping into the discontent of millions who have had enough of being marginalized. Activists in the peace, justice, civil rights, feminist, gay and lesbian, environmental, and labor movements were engaged inside and outside the Dean campaign. They displayed and continue to display an awareness and respect for each others’ agendas that has few precedents in U. S. history.

Defeating George II in 2004 is a challenge that progressives share with a host of others. But our singular goal must be to remain viable as an energized coalition committed to following through with an aggressive political campaign in support of social change. This means organizing and lobbying for jobs, health care, education, peace, the long overdue peace dividend and a progressive tax system.

Perhaps more than anything, it means organizing to build power locally; campaigning to elect local and state officials; working strategically in communities to build coalitions; and educating neighbors, coworkers, friends and family about the connections among issues.

Already, myriad strategically significant grassroots initiatives are occurring around the country. Neighbor-to-Neighbor, Boston Vote and Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts are organizing and electing progressives to the state legislature. Chicagoans Against War and Injustice are enthusiastically registering voters. The reparations movement continues to confront Americans with the legacy of slavery. And the Feminist Majority Foundation is organizing for a new March on Washington. All these efforts need our support. So do the initiatives closer to home. We need to step up our volunteer efforts. Increase our financial support. Build a progressive infrastructure for change. And move forward, aware that we have allies, and they are moving, too.

Let’s make sure that the next eight years are notable for what progressives accomplished, not for what the next president didn’t do.

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Jeff Epton is the former publisher of In These Times.
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