I have never experienced so much fear as I have this election period. Four years ago many of my friends were so confident that Al Gore would defeat George Bush by a convincing margin that many progressives opted to send a message to the Democrats by supporting and voting for Greens candidate Ralph Nader. It seemed safe to vote Nader, but not this year.
This time, Nader is not running as a Green. In truth, it remains unclear why he is running. While no one expected Nader to win in 2000, many were determined to help the Green Party gain strength. In other words, there was a rational reason to support his candidacy. But who knew that Jeb Bush, Katharine Harris, Jim Baker and Antonin Scalia would deliver Florida and the presidency to Bush?
This year, it is hard to find Nader supporters, and many who publicly endorsed him in 2000 are solidly behind the Kerry-Edwards Democratic ticket or this year's Green candidate, David Cobb.
This year, I have met only one Nader supporter and I'm not kidding. Yes, indeed, one could say that neither political party is ideal and John Kerry's position on Iraq is disappointing. But we can do what Jim Hightower suggested when he spoke in Madison a few weeks ago. "We will get Kerry across the finish line and then continue the progressive movement on Nov. 3."
I couldn't agree more and I suspect that most attending Fighting Bob Fest in Baraboo on Saturday will cheer Hightower and Bobby Kennedy when they make the case for Kerry.But the fear of a George Bush-Dick Cheney victory has almost paralyzed many supporters of Kerry and John Edwards. Instead of going door-to-door, many play the political parlor game of criticizing Kerry for not being as vicious as Bush and his attack dog Cheney. I hear comments like, "Kerry is too nice," or "Kerry must slug it out with them or lose."
The problem with getting into the gutter with Karl Rove, Cheney and the phony Swift boaters, is that turned-off voters won't go to the polls in the numbers needed for Kerry to win. Kerry must retain the high ground.
There are more Democrats out there than Republicans so Kerry will win if the base votes. But the dirtier the political campaign, the more turned off the voters become. I would argue that Rove has two goals. Place doubt in the minds of the voters about Kerry and invite Kerry into the back alley so voters will, in the end, say "a pox on both your houses." You know, "I won't vote for the lesser of two evils."
Yes, the Swift boat lies did some damage but not because of Kerry, war hero. It was the mainstream media giving credence to these nut cases.
If Kerry were to repeat author Kitty Kelly's charge that Bush used cocaine at Camp David, it would be summarily dismissed by Fox, NBC, ABC and the radio talk folks or not mentioned at all.
Check the coverage of the evidence that Bush did not fulfill his military duty. The uproar from the mainstreamers was furious. Why, they asked, would we go back 30 years? No such argument was made to put down the Swift boaters but "that is different." Why don't editorial writers demand a session with president Bush asking him to answer questions about his "service" record?
Kerry and Edwards must talk about health care, the cost of Medicare, the record deficit, the jobless "recovery" and the trade imbalance.
They must talk about the inability of the Bush administration to stop the 9/11 attack, the assault on our environment, the challenge to our civil liberties, the proven lies used to justify the invasion of Iraq and the fact that we have lost that war. So far it has cost 1,000 American soldiers, 30,000 Iraqi citizens and left 9,000 U.S. soldiers seriously wounded.
Kerry has a lot on his plate. It is hard to campaign every day and be on message. It is time for other Democrats to speak up. Where are the congressional Democrats? Where are the Democratic officeholders? It is not enough to cross fingers and furrow the brow. It is time to get involved in the most important election since the Depression.
I don't know about you but I'm not prepared to watch our precious democracy float down River Ashcroft. Kerry can't do it all. It is time for the hand-wringers and finger-pointers to get off the sofa.
Politics is not a game show on television, it is real life. And we must be participants in the process, not consumers, of politics.
Ed Garvey, the Democratic nominee for governor in 1998, is a Madison lawyer and the editor of the fightingbob.com Web site.
Copyright 2004 The Capital Times