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HOW NADER WON

by skatesnskis Sunday, Aug. 20, 2000 at 3:36 PM

Here is a great piece that appeared in The Progressive

It was just another morning.

I drifted into the purgatory between sleep and

NPR, my bifurcated mind struggling towards

daylight as Cokie Roberts explained with

patronizing certainty to a gratingly cheerful

host why the system was still under control and

why Ralph Nader would prove to be no more than a

mild case of political heartburn.

I slipped back into a dream. Things were

happening of the sort that don't hold news

conferences. The sophisticated corruption of one candidate

and the frat boy corruption of the

other were deeply eroding voter interest in

either. Supporters and news commentators didn't

help with their implications that the pair

enjoyed sovereign moral immunity -- telling

voters that "everybody does it" when really only

a small handful could get away with it.

There had also developed what a psychologist

might describe as the obverse of mass psychosis,

a biologist might call a virus of virtue, or a

physicist might call a phase transition of the

soul. If you were in none of these professions,

however, maybe it felt most like those moments

when you turn the car around in a driveway,

finally admitting you have taken the wrong road.

More and more Americans had that feeling.

Where it began, nobody knows; there were too many

bubbles when the pot started to boil.

There was, for example, the bar where a voter first said the words that would become an

election year fad -- a beer glass lifted to the

toast, "This one's for us" and everyone at the

table responding in kind, first with their beer

and later at the election booth.

There were the union leaders who publicly toyed

with the idea of endorsing Nader as a way of

putting pressure on Gore, but whose temporary

political tactic had become a lasting political

principle in the minds of many members.

There was the farmer looking at the box of cereal

in the supermarket and realizing how little some

other farmer had received for what went into that

box.

There was the teenager who would say later: "I

told my friends, like let's start a revolution and they were

like 'nah, we've got too much

homework' and then one day someone was like

'how?' and so we started."

There were the posters cropping up at colleges

around the country announcing post-election

parties with popular bands, the admission to

which would be a ballot stub or a "I Voted"

sticker.

There was the Christian fundamentalist who

realized that it was sometimes better to disagree

with an honest politician and than agree with a

dishonest one.

There was the black mother who had voted

Democratic all her life realizing that it was

Democrats who had taken away her income support

and sent her son 200 miles away to a privatized

gulag for a minor drug infraction.

There was the liberal who had listened to

Democrats tell him for eight years that Clinton

was the best president their political party

could ever hope for. And so he left the party.

There was the man who told a reporter, "I guess

my apathy just ran out."

There was the couple who wrote the Green Party,

"Our families have been union organizers, civil

rights activists, peaceniks, all our lives. . .

and we voted the Democratic ticket. We agreed

with Mr. Nader, but believed 'he can't win.' . .

. It needs to change and the change begins with

us, so after all these years, we will vote the

Green Party ticket. Every journey begins with

that first step."

There were the voters tired of being called

Clinton-haters simply for expecting their

president to play the game straight.

There were elections elsewhere that weren't meant

to happen, leading to a leftist-led united front

in London and a rightist-led united front in

Mexico. In Mexico, the campaign appealed to the

jodidos, which is to say, those who have been screwed.

The phrase made its way north into the

Nader campaign. In London, the new coalition

included a woman who used to chain herself to

buses and a man who once went to court dressed as

a gorilla after refusing to pay a bus fare.

It also included a former Tory candidate for

mayor and another former opponent who warned the

new mayor that if he did not put London first,

"we will, I promise, kick your ass."

Things weren't meant to

happen quite like this in the

Third Way about which the media wrote

incessantly, but as the Nader campaign was

learning, perhaps there was a Fourth Way as well.

Or maybe it was really just the First Way back

again. A way with real if uncomfortable

coalitions of mutual interest rather than with a

false consensus created by the pornography of

propaganda.

Nader and the Green Party somewhat belatedly

noticed that the crowd running ahead of them was

their own campaign. They came to realize that it

wasn't so much a better platform they had to

offer, but a better way of thinking about and

dealing with such things, a way that had once

been a natural part of American democracy but

which had been systematically destroyed by a

politics maniacally devoted to creating anger,

division, and demons.

Americans didn't want just the right answers but

a better way to discover them. Alone among the

candidates, Nader had the courage, decency,

honesty and imagination to help it happen. Alone

he was trusted. He found himself becoming less

and less the didactic instructor and more and

more the dependable relative helping to put the

family together again.

It wasn't that issues weren't important, rather

that they could not be resolved in a country in

which there were only winners and losers, pariahs

and power-mongers, the badly defeated and the

totally unrestrained. Nader repeatedly promised

not to trim his arguments, but he also promised

not to use divisive, manipulative and corrupt

means to accomplish what his arguments could not.

He started turning up in all the wrong places,

sometimes quoting the Brazilian Archbishop Helder

Pessoa Camara: "Let no one be scandalized if I

frequent those who are considered unworthy or

sinful. Who is not a sinner? Let no one be

alarmed if I am seen with compromised and

dangerous people, on the left or the right . . .

My door, my heart, must open to everyone,

absolutely everyone." He also quoted Thomas

Jefferson: "The care of human life and happiness,

and not their destruction, is the first and only

object of good government."

When a reporter asked him whether he wasn't too

radical for America, Nader described himself as a

moderate of a time that America had been long

promised but which had not yet come.

As the campaign went on, America slowly began

rediscovering itself, feeling better about

itself, and being less angry with others. It was

no longer obsessed with hidden dangers but began

thinking about long-concealed possibilities. It

could even think of the future and smile.

The voters didn't agree with Nader on many things

but he was the one in the race who had kept the

country's faith throughout his life and even,

when in the wrong, hadn't used lies to get there.

To more and more, Nader was only a first step but

an absolutely necessary one.

And so on election day America gave itself

another chance, using nothing more revolutionary

or sophisticated than a change of heart, and a

trust in instinct over propaganda, self-interest

over spin, decency over power, and a vision that

now saw the future as a frontier rather than as a

mandatory sentence . . .

It was just another morning.

Cokie Roberts was gone now and the gratingly

cheerful host was interviewing a sports writer

about baseball and I lay there wondering whether

anyone would go to the stadium if ball games were

as predictable as politics, if Cokie Roberts

could explain to us just exactly how they would

turn out, if the system always won.

I reached back and tried to retrieve my dream

from the purgatory between sleep and sound. As I

picked up the pieces, I noticed something

different about them -- different, say, from the

time when, in my morning mind, I had blended a

traffic update and Silvia Paggioli's report and

saw Serbians advancing down Connecticut Avenue.

This time, my fantasy was totally without

fantasy. All it required to be true was for

people to think something they had not thought

for a long time, to decide that the past was

over, to refuse to be hustled and cheated

anymore, to try a new road, to think and dream

for themselves -- just as was supposed to happen

in a democracy -- and then to tell others what

they had thought and dreamt, giving the others

courage to try the same thing . . .

It was just another morning.

I got up and wrote it down so I could pass it on.

The news said the weather would be variable.

Maybe politics still could be as well.

* * * * * * * * * *

THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW

1312 18th St NW (5th Floor)

Washington DC 20036

202-835-0770 Fax: 202-835-0779

news@prorev.com

Editor: Sam Smith

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