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The Democrats Have Lost Me

Bruce Mirken

Democratic Party hacks are near panic over the possibility that many progressive voters, including gays and lesbians, will support Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Big fish and small, from Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass, to Bay Area Reporter political columnist Wayne Friday, keep repeating the same mantra: A Nader vote is a wasted vote that will help elect George W. Bush. And there really are differences between Bush and Al Gore — really, we promise. They've managed to convince some usually perceptive folks.

It doesn't wash.

Lately I've been writing for another local publication about the ongoing budget crisis in San Francisco's Department of Public Health. Earlier this month San Francisco General Hospital's chief of medical services, Dr. Talmadge King, told me wearily that good medical care requires a coordinated system. But we're breaking that coordination with the budget decisions we're making. With all of the cuts we've had it's hard to keep it all together.

Those cuts are a direct result of two laws that President Clinton and Vice President Gore have ranked among their proudest achievements: Welfare reform and the Balanced Budget Act. Between them, they've knocked thousands off the MediCal rolls and decimated federal aid to hospitals serving the poor, but the party that once stood by the least fortunate no longer seems to care.

Heartlessness seems to be the centerpiece of Gore's agenda lately. This is the man who stayed eerily quiet as Texas executed a likely innocent man, Gary Graham, and has said repeatedly he considers the execution of innocents an acceptable price to pay for having the death penalty — so long as it's only occasional. Even conservative Republicans blanch at that.

But won't gay rights be safer under Gore than Bush? Maybe, but the margin is smaller than some would have us believe. True, Clinton and Gore endorsed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but made no effort to bring this already watered-down legislation to a vote while the Democrats controlled Congress. They have consistently paid lip service to gay and lesbian civil rights (though Gore couldn't bring himself to speak the G-word at his convention), then cut and run at the first sign of trouble, from gays in the military to the odious Defense of Marriage Act. If Gore has a problem with any of this, he hasn't said.

And Gore has picked as his running mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who has stood alongside arch-homophobe William Bennett to denounce alleged immorality in entertainment and voted with Jesse Helms to ban HIV-positive immigrants. Meanwhile, only one presidential candidate has said unequivocally that he supports full equality for gay and lesbian couples: Nader.

Could a vote for Nader help elect Bush? Yes, if the race proves close. That's not a prospect I take lightly, considering that the next president may get to appoint several Supreme Court justices. But Clinton's Supreme Court appointees haven't been nearly as clear and consistent defenders of human rights as the late Harry Blackmun — who was appointed by Richard Nixon.

America survived Nixon, Reagan and Bush Sr., and it can survive Dubya. But I'm not sure it can survive without one major political party standing up for ordinary working people, the poor and those who face discrimination.

The Democrats used to be that party, but have slithered so far right in search of votes that Gore's Democrats are now almost indistinguishable from Bush's Republicans, no matter what the hacks say. And progressives, by suppressing our gag reflex and voting for the slightly lesser of evils, have encouraged them. Enough is enough.

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Bruce Mirken

Bruce Mirken is a longtime writer and activist based in Hilo, Hawaii.

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