The sight of Bill Clinton and Al Gore wedged into skin-tight Levis finally put me over the top. There they were on C-SPAN last month, shaking their groove things across the stage, hoping jeans and cowboy boots would be enough to make it seem they were Everyman. Fighting for The People! Crusading against Corrupting Influences!
Nice try, but we knew the real reason for this tawdry spectacle. Prez and Prez-lite were presiding over a multimillion-dollar fund-raiser where fawning special-interest lobbyists paid up to half a million a crack. Government by the people, for the people . . . with the largest checkbooks.
It's come to this: Democrats like me suffered through 12 extremely long years of Reagan-Bush, willing to do almost anything to get back to power. It didn't matter what was done to get there, we thought, because everything would be different when the Good Guys got to the Big House.
Eight years later, what do we have? Two terms of poll-driven politics; a stage-managed miniseries whose sole intent is to stay in power. Every day there are new rumblings about Gore's questionable fund-raising from inside the White House.
So this Democrat is jumping off the Good Time Express to the 21st century, leaving behind the Clinton-Gore team that left me behind a long time ago.
I'm voting for Ralph Nader, the charisma-challenged schoolmarm of a Green Party presidential candidate who has been dryly, but honestly, singing the same tune for four decades.
To put this decision in perspective, consider an analogy that fits slightly better than Clinton's and Gore's jeans. Take grocery-store produce departments: A few years ago you couldn't get an apple in this town that wasn't loaded with artificial chemicals. People kept picking from the lesser of evils and stores never changed. Finally we had enough and started buying organic produce at co-ops. What happened next? Grocery stores got wise and started carrying organics. Competition made them better.
Carry this lesson into our electoral system, where for too long we have accepted the political equivalent of chemical-laden apples. Faced with inferior choices, we shrug our shoulders with resignation, pick the best of a bad lot and shuffle obediently off to the next aisle. Only when we storm out of the store with an empty cart will we ever see a change.
Won't a vote for Nader help throw the election to George W. Bush, whose record-shattering, morals-shattering fund-raising juggernaut makes Clinton and Gore look like Girl Scouts at a bake sale?
Maybe, maybe not, but supporting Nader may help Democrats get control of Congress. Here's how that is already playing out in Minnesota:
Rep. Bill Luther, who should be cruising to reelection in the Sixth Congressional District, and Democrat Mary Rieder, who has a chance to defeat incumbent Gil Gutknecht in the First Congressional District, are both in danger of losing.
The reason? Polls show Bush far ahead of Gore in both districts among likely voters.
The disaffected progressive Democrats that Nader brings to the polls could help tip these races to Rieder and Luther.
And who do you think Nader supporters will vote for in the U.S. Senate race: a progressive Democrat nominee or ultra-conservative Sen. Rod Grams?
Those who doubt this argument should remember Minnesota's last election: Jesse Ventura drew thousands more people to the polls who went down the ballot, voted against incumbents, and, in the process, helped Republicans take control of the State House.
In this strange political year, supporting Nader may well be the pragmatic choice for Democrats. Far more important, it is a choice we have to make if we are to preserve a party and system that are deeply discredited.
I'm sure come fall, as Nader drones on in monologue, badly in need of a Naomi Wolf makeover, I'll be nostalgic for the days when my sax-playing candidate could charm the late-night audience. But at least he won't be fleecing Buddhist monks for spare change.
R.T. Rybak, of Minneapolis, is a longtime DFL activist. He was one of the organizers of Bill Bradley's Minnesota campaign.
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