How will we describe the election of 2000 to future generations -- the Night America Committed Suicide? That's as close to an objective viewpoint as I can get for right now; only the coming months will tell of its accuracy. But with all indicators pointing to a Bush family restoration to the White House in January 2001, now is as good a time as any to look at the mechanics behind this impending national disaster, as well as look forward to the ways we will all have to cope with it.
As the reality of the situation began to crystallize in my mind over the past few days, I started trying to think of things to look forward to as our national fabric has its seams ripped out. Surprisingly, the ironic benefits of such a calamity came to me almost immediately: George W. Bush will preside over the revival of the American left.
Coming of age as an artist and political activist under the former Bush administration, I miss the hard-edged radicalism of ideals unpolluted by political realities or expediency. Those were days when the left was free to be the left; being out of power and out of favor, the only thing left was to be in-your-face and defiant. But for eight years the left has been marginalized and its leadership co-opted in favor of ambiguous promises of access to power. Instead of manning the front lines, progressives and radicals have settled in as back-benchers in policy debates, while mild-mannered mainstreamers whittle our issues down to nothing.
Defiance has been deferred. Radicals intent on rocking the boat have been bound and gagged by their liberal/moderate brethren who don't want their own martinis spilled. The lost opportunities have been many.
While the nation clamored for national healthcare in 1993, during a golden moment when Democrats controlled both the Congress and White House, the collective cry for radical transformation was stifled by the establishment incrementalists afraid of losing special-interest money. The same was true of campaign-finance reform, blocked by the same congressional leadership intent on maintaining the status quo.
President-elect Clinton's earlier bungle, of promising the integration of openly gay soldiers into the military as one of his first acts as president, likewise also had to pay for itself. First came a tactica1 retreat, then a declaration of victory with the ridiculous "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. Finally came a complete sell-out of gay and lesbian constituents with the signing of the Defense of Marriage Act, strangling the most personal of religious freedoms -- the blessing and recognition of the love of two people.
Yet gays and lesbians have continued to support both Clinton and the Democratic establishment.
The same has been true of African-Americans. The President's gifts for Sunday-morning oratory and Monday-morning empathy have kept the black vote energized and relatively solid. His defense of affirmative action allowed his cave-in on welfare reform, with no one really bothering about what cracks these unfortunates might fall through, as long as they don't show up on a government tracking sheet.
Of course, all of this is made possible by a robust economy with its illusion of inclusion. The fact is the poverty gap has only grown over the past eight years, in a continuation of the capitalist necessity for the poor to get poorer and the rich to get richer. "Growth," as defined by economists, demands more unskilled workers, more low-paying jobs, more foreign labor to exploit, more natural resources to rape, more markets to corner, more consumer products for a more wasteful middle class and more profits to keep it all going.
But that's about to come to an abrupt halt as well. The way the markets have been going, and knowing we Americans have an unfailing gift for destroying that which we have built up, none of us should be surprised if March should find us in recession.
And these are precisely the ingredients necessary for the progressive/radical left to shake off its malaise and gear up for the next great push forward. Promised tax cuts, increased military spending, senior poverty, vanished surpluses, educational schism and collapse, racial and social upheaval -- the next four years will present the greatest opportunity in a generation to debunk the myths of globalized corporate capitalism. The question remains, are we up to the challenge?
Some of the same liberal incrementalists who wasted the opportunities of the past eight years are now wailing that Ralph Nader's Green Party candidacy will cost them the election, and they are mostly correct. If Nader fails to get the necessary five percent to receive matching funds next time around, his campaign will have to be considered a massive waste of time and effort. But if he does succeed in meeting that threshold, we could see a return to an identification of parties with core principles, as the American left becomes a force to be reckoned with.
For eight years, progressives and radicals have had to choose between the lesser of two evils, and have their choice taken for granted. The change ahead will either reinvigorate American democracy, or set it back a generation. Either way it'll be tough on the Democrats, who will be forced to embrace progressive philosophies or abandon themselves to irrelevance as wannabe Republicans.
And with Democrats such as John Cranley opting for the latter (anti-choice, anti-mass transit), the future doesn't look good.
CONTACT MICHAEL BLANKENSHIP: firstname.lastname@example.org