Lessons on the stakes in election 2000: The Record goes to the Democratic Convention

This August, I managed to get a press pass for the 2000 Democratic National Convention, which was being held in my hometown, Los Angeles. Over the summer holiday, I had become dispirited politically – a partisan, active Democrat, I found myself flirting with the idea of Ralph Nader’s fruitless (yet admirable) Green Party candidacy. I was discouraged by George W. Bush’s success in the polls, and I began to question my interest in politics, which was under fire by cynical pundits and an equally skeptical business-oriented family.

I had become disillusioned with America, pondering emigration; I was asking myself if I even wanted to live in such a conservative, dangerously ignorant and misguided society. Still, politics is what I loved and the Democratic Party was the one with which I identified, and so, dressed to impress and armed with Gore-Lieberman paraphernalia, I made my way to the Staples Center looking for a recovery of my political purpose.

The convention, needless to say, was successful. Gore is now slightly ahead in the polls, Bush’s inadequacies have been exposed, the Nader insurgency has subsided, and much of the Democratic core has come back home to the party. Most importantly, though, the clear and present differences between the two major parties and their candidates were made clear – I realized again that politics does matter and that there are obvious, stark differences between the two parties and their presidential tickets.

Sure, I wish that Al Gore were more liberal and that he vociferously supported policies such as universal health care and abolition of the death penalty – but he is a far better alternative (not just the lesser of two evils) to Bush and the Republicans. Those on the politically disenchanted fringes who claim the two parties are one and the same are wrong.

The truth is, the possibility of a Bush-Cheney administration unchecked by a GOP Congress is chilling. Under Republican leadership, the nation would see:

1. The appointments of pro-life, anti-affirmative-action, homophobic zealots with no respect for separation of church and state to an already regressive Federal Bench.

2. A radical departure from the economic policies that have ensured us the robust prosperity of the past eight years in the form of a sweeping, hazardous tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and the return of deficit spending and Reaganomics.

3. An uncontrollable whittling away at America’s social and cultural infrastructure with the elimination of federal support for the arts and the humanities, the diversion of funds away from public schools, cuts in government grants for academic research and no effort at all to alleviate the ills of social injustice.

4. Environmental policy made by loggers, oilmen and big polluters, further delaying action needed on the impending dangers of global warming (Add this to Dick Cheney’s promise to right-wing ranchers that the Federal government will hand them hundreds of thousands of acres in federally protected national monuments.)

5. No hope at all for reform of the current campaign finance regime that dilutes our votes and poisons our democracy by making political leaders prisoners of corporate special interests.

Many argue that the GOP would never have the audacity to actually implement such thoughtless policies. Well, I am not willing to take that risk. The current Congress is dominated by extreme rightist elements that have a painfully provincial worldview and a shortsighted vision for the United States. Fortunately, the Clinton-Gore administration has kept them at bay, protecting government programs that Republican leaders have been desperate to dismantle, from the National Endowment of the Arts to the Public Broadcasting Service and the National Park System. Clinton and Gore have counterbalanced the simplistic fairy-tale-world laissez-faire politics of conservatives. A GOP White House, however, (especially one led by a clueless lightweight) would gladly sign anti-urban, socially unjust and environmentally dangerous legislation, while presiding over unwise rollbacks in the federal social contract.

Excuse me for being cliché, but this election is going to be one of the most important in years. Really, it’s true, because of the uniqueness of our current unbridled prosperity and global power coupled with the psychological impact of a millennial vote; it will set the tone and direction of American politics for years to come. As we close the door on the politically tasteless Clinton era, Americans will decide between two potential directions for American political discourse: Will we continue to mindlessly attack “big government” as an excuse to ignore the gross inadequacies and flaws that victimize American society (from health care to the gun epidemic), or realize our full potential as the world’s wealthiest nation by finally ending socioeconomic and cultural exclusion and becoming a genuinely tolerant society?

Electing Bush and reelecting Republicans to Congress will simply affirm the former – that the suburban hinterland is comfortable with a system that fails to provide basic necessities like health care, quality education, housing and safe streets for the millions of marginalized Americans. However, a Gore-Lieberman victory coupled with a Democratic Congress is the only realistic possibility that in our lifetimes we can eventually have universal health care, get guns off our streets and have an education system that produces a tolerant enlightened people.

I emerged from the Democratic Convention more determined than ever to see my country fulfill its promise to create a more equitable and just society without harming its historically creative and enterprising spirit. Working within our political system, through elections and civic activism is the only way to achieve this kind of progress. Politics do matter: everything around us – from the water we drink to the hospitals that treat us to the schools we attend – is affected by political decision-making. Don’t tune out this election; pay attention to what the candidates and the parties are proposing. I’ve been listening and one side consistently scares me, and if you listen to what they really want to do if in power, I’m sure you’d be worried too.

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