Looking For Lefty

Progressives Could Choose the Next President—For Better or Worse

"What, then, is a vote for Gore?" asks Ehrenreich. "It is a vote for the plutocracy that has supplanted American democracy. A vote for Gore sends a message to the powerful that, hey, we have no fundamental objections to what's going on: We're down with the plan." To which Joel Bleifuss, editor of In These Times, counters: "One must conclude that candidate Nader fulfills [the role] of confessor. Citizens disgusted with the status quo can leave the voting booth with their integrity reaffirmed. Their message is clear: We are not serious about political change."

If this election were being held in Europe, where a parliamentary system prevails, it would be easy for progressives to vote Green, since that party could negotiate with the rest of the left for power in a coalition government. But in America, the system mandates a clear choice—and the winner takes all. The closest we can come to voting strategically is to watch the polls in each state, and that's what a growing chorus of progressives is urging. If you live in New York, where Gore is comfortably ahead, voting for Nader means helping the Greens to grow. But if you live in a battleground state and the race is neck and neck, that same vote will probably benefit Bush.

It may well be that Nader's best shot is a strong Gore lead on Election Day, since that might make wavering progs feel more comfortable about voting Green. On the other hand, never underestimate the sentiment among radicals to kick out the jams.

Progressives have always been torn between two impulses: to smash or to sustain. The former has given us revolution and rock 'n' roll. But the latter has enabled crusaders like Susan B. Anthony and Dorothy Day to build a new world on the ground; it's allowed Quaker activists to stand vigil against war; it's kept teachers, preachers, and organizers fixed on making the future, person by person, act by act. This, too, is a radical choice.

Perhaps the left should always be riven between political necessity and what sociologist Max Weber called "the flame of pure intention." But this election requires acting on ambivalence. Leftists could actually choose the next president of the United States. Their decision will affect the course of the country, but it will also shape the soul of radical politics for years to come.

The old labor slogan still pertains: Which side are you on?

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