As someone who worked on Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign staff, I’ve grown tired of the question, “What are you ‘progressives’ gonna do in 2004?” Coming from party-line Democrats, it sounds more like a threat than an inquiry. And Ralph’s true believers ask the question as if it were rhetorical-because no argument could undermine Ralph’s airtight logic for another run. But now I’ve been hearing the question from a newer, more sincere quarter-from troubled fellow “Deaniacs,” who appear to honestly want to know what to do in this election cycle.
Here’s my short answer: I have no regrets about working for Ralph Nader in 2000, I supported Howard Dean in 2003/2004, and I hope you’ll join me in working as hard as you can to elect John Kerry president this November.
I know, I know, such an answer may be anathema to you. If so, I ask only that you retrace the sometimes painful steps I took on the path to get to it.
I sympathize with those who feel little enthusiasm for Kerry’s candidacy. While Kerry was casting his vote to authorize the Iraq War, Howard Dean was staunchly opposing the bipartisan march into the quagmire of our time. When Kerry and the other major candidates were reading from the Democratic Leadership Council’s timid and timeworn script, Dean was honest enough (and sometimes careless enough) to think out loud. Dean’s honesty energized the youth of America as no candidate had since Eugene McCarthy in 1968, and no contender since Jesse Jackson in 1988 had made such a bold appeal for the Democratic Party to return to its populist roots.
So why should we disaffected Dean supporters work for Kerry? I certainly like his record on the environment; elsewhere he looks good on some scales, bad on others. Like Dean, his fiscal discipline helps distinguish him from Bush. But overall, the best answer I heard came from Dean himself, soon after he dropped out of the race. I asked him what his supporters should do if they were disappointed with the remaining Democrats. He smiled and compared our predicament to the one he faced when he first took office-when he was determined to transform the state’s health care system in one fell swoop.
“Look, when I tried to fix health care in one bill, it failed. So we went at it incrementally, and that worked. And I think that kind of pragmatism will work in the general election too. If these people wanted me, but got Kerry, they should still vote for him in November-because he’s much better than Bush.”
Now, in 2000 I might have considered Dean’s pragmatism heresy. Then again, in 2000 I wouldn’t have been attracted to a candidate who was best known as a fiscally conservative Democrat with a good rating from the National Rifle Association.
When I went to work as the environmental issues outreach staffer for Nader in 2000, I was excited to start...
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