It was just a cheeky phrase on a cheap t-shirt. But it
asked an honest question. And revealed a stark truth.
I saw the t-shirt on a lazy, summer day, while I
walked among small, colourful shops in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The Granite State. Live Free or Die. The sleeveless, white t-shirt was pulled tightly over a display dummy in a clothing store window. On it - in bold, black letters - it read, Got Democracy?
I laughed. And I pictured the teenage girl who might
innocently wear it. But for some reason, as I
continued walking, the phrase kept repeating itself in
my mind. And each time it did, the question became
more pressing, more serious, more urgent.
Like so many others, I've spent four years with a
queasy feeling in my stomach, asking myself again and
again, "Can it get any worse?" And each time I asked,
there came the terrible answer. Yes, it could. And it
Like so many, I shuddered when the United States
Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount and selected
And like so many, I cringed as that president - with
no popular mandate - gutted our environmental laws,
gave enormous tax breaks to the wealthy, and ran up
And like so many, I wept when the twin towers fell.
Then stood stunned when the president took our great
national resolve, and all the world's sympathy, and
then lost it going to war against a country that had
not attacked America.
And like so many - when the lines were drawn and the
sides were chosen - I began to fight. And used what
writing skill I had to make a difference for 2004.
Friends and family disowned me after 9/11 when I
wondered in print if conservative politics had
hijacked "ground zero" for dark purposes. But I pushed
on. Others wrote me angry letters questioning my love
for America. But I learned how much I loved the ideal
of America when it was taken from me. And I wouldn't
Like so many, I wanted the country back. I wanted
sanity back. And so, with discipline rarely shown
among progressives, I chose John Kerry as our
champion. But then came that T-Shirt. And that
So finally, I confronted it. What was my democratic
choice, really? Bush vs. Kerry?
Sure, George W. Bush is a usurper. An unfeeling
ideologue. A commander-in-chief of
chief-executive-officers. A point man for the rich.
And yes, John Kerry is an honourable man. A war hero.
A true democrat.
But a real choice? Look at the record. Like George W.
Bush, John Kerry also represents corporate interests.
And right now those interests are invested in a
Yes, John Kerry wants to improve the system. To soften
its edges, perhaps. But at best - and we must be
honest with ourselves - this choice is between Bush
and Bush Light.
Too simple? Maybe.
But consider: Ralph Nader is one candidate for
president who has a democratic vision for America. An
America where citizens come first. Where justice is
applied equally to all.
How strange to think that we have moved so far from
such an ideal that, now, it almost sounds silly - an
America where citizens come first and justice is
applied to all?
This election is not about dumping a wrong-minded
incumbent. This election is not about avenging the
stolen election of 2000 and the horrible sins
committed in between. This election - more than any
election since the depression - is about the future of
As distressing as they are, the war in Iraq, the
dismal American economy, and who served how during
Vietnam are just side issues - noisy subterfuge. The
real choice facing America in November is the choice
between corporate interests and public interests.
Between the elites and the people.
This election is about choice itself. Yes, George W.
Bush must go. But we cannot swallow our commitment to
true democracy to make this happen. We cannot accept a friendly, sensitive version of Pax Americana to make this happen.
The only way to answer yes is to vote for democracy.
To choose a democratic republic over a corporate
So: Got Democracy?
We will have to wait and see.
Steven Laffoley is a school principal, an American, and a free-lance writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. E-mail address: email@example.com