The people have spoken,” said James A. Baker the Third, after George Bush’s dubious Florida victory (of .009 percent) was certified (by his campaign co-chair there). Not mentioned: Al Gore’s 325,000 national plurality. Can one express more contempt of democratic citizenship? Well, yes. When Florida’s Supreme Court backed recounts, Congressman Tom Delay assailed it for violating “the trust of the people of Florida in an attempt to manipulate the results of a fair and free election.” Not mentioned: Florida’s uncounted votes. The raw pursuit of power by the Republicans compares only to their pursuit of Bill Clinton. Dissent magazine, a quarterly, cannot keep up with events. We try to reflect on them; so expect some serious scrutiny of America’s political state in our next issue. (Had the elections ended “normally” we would have run a small symposium in this issue.) Still, one can hazard a few comments. Facile “authorities” will soon tell us that “in the end the system worked.” We should pose hard questions instead—about the political culture, about how elections work, about the roles of money and the media in them, about the nonvoting half of the electorate. Do the elections represent convergence on the “center” or deep division within? “New Democratic” centrism dominated the last eight years. The left was troubled, rightly, by the Clinton-Gore welfare reform and a trade policy that was indistinguishable from the policies of Bush the First. Where does the third way lead? Out of the woods or from Bush to . . . Bush? Given New Democratic claims, Gore should have won easily. What were left options in 2000? One was a “left wing of the possible,” as Michael Harrington used to call it—a coalition of labor, minorities, feminists and environmentalists within the Democratic Party. A Gore presidency could be tugged left if indebted to this coalition. (He carried Michigan thanks to 63 percent of union and 92 percent of African-American voters.) This strategy assumed that another attempt at a third party would fail. It assumed Gore and Bush were not interchangeable. A growing conservative majority on the Supreme Court augers bad things for abortion and civil rights. And what of Bush appointees to the National Labor Relations Board? Ralph Nader’s alternative candidacy miscarried. The Greens hoped to win 5 percent. They failed, split the center-left and delivered electoral votes to Bush. Nader insisted that “there is no difference between Gore and Bush.” Don’t blame us if Bush wins, echoed supporters. In short, the left should make no distinctions and not be accountable for its choices. Gore’s the spoiler, not me, Nader said after the elections. Sure—if the voice of “the people” was certified in Florida. To be an “alternative,” especially a left alternative, your starting point must be “a decent respect to the opinions” of American citizens.
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $29.95 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.