Let's just get this out of the way: As a nerd, and an overly opinionated one at that, Election Day -- not Thanksgiving -- has always been my favorite "holiday." Some kids couldn't wait to turn 16 and drive; I couldn't wait to turn 18 and vote. Simply put, I'm a maniac for democracy.
I've had a heavy heart for the last three years. And, as the clock
ticks down to Election Day 2004, I'm as nervous as I was the first
time I walked into a voting booth, fearing I might inadvertently
vote for a Republican.
In the year leading up to the 2000
presidential election, I was elated (and not only when I heard a
report in November 1999 that George W. Bush had almost been nudged
by a garbage truck while jogging): This was democracy in action.
Even though he didn't win the GOP nomination, John McCain had
electrified voters in New Hampshire. Ralph Nader was trying to
elbow his way into the presidential debates. Speaking to certain
crowds, Al Gore would even remind voters of his pro-environmental
book, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit.
My 20- and 30-something friends and I were constantly arguing over
the issues and debating the candidate's strengths and weakness.
Over cocktails, coffee or laundry, we were actively engaging in the
democratic process: Who would vote for Nader? Was Gore just a
Republican in a Democrat's sweater-vest? Who would take Bush
seriously enough to actually vote for him? The guy was not only a
bad businessman and stay-at-home soldier, he wasn't even a Texas
cowboy. He was a spoiled kid from Connecticut, whose dad ran the
CIA and then the country.
This was it, I thought. The time
was finally ripe in American politics for people to discuss the
economy, the environment, responsible foreign policy and humane
domestic policy. The time was even ripe, it seemed, for third party
Looking back, I remember Election Day 2000 so
clearly. I remember talking to a woman in a parking lot with a
"Nader/LaDuke" bumper sticker on her car. Strangers, we embraced
and yapped about the race, hoping we Greens would get our coveted 5
percent of the national vote, and be eligible for public campaign
funds. Living in New Mexico, a Green-heavy state, I was delirious.
Now, this was an election, I thought. When I fell asleep to
National Public Radio around midnight, I felt the same thrill as a
child on Christmas Eve: I couldn't wait to wake to the election
results. The next morning, there was mass media confusion, and I
found the anticipation thrilling. True democracy in action, I
Then everything fell apart. There's really no use
rehashing it all: The feeble attempts at recounts, Jeb Bush and
Katherine Harris, hanging chads, African Americans turned away from
the polls in Florida, the Supreme Court decision, then the New York
Times recount which showed Gore would have won.
to George W. Bush's inauguration and sat on my living room floor in
tears. Not because Nader didn't get 5 percent of the vote. Not
because Gore didn't fight for a recount. Not even because Bush was
being sworn in as the next president of the United States. I was in
tears because no one was talking about democracy. I had lost my
faith in voting -- the process, the machines, the fairness of one
vote for every American. I wept that morning because it felt like
democracy had been aborted from American politics.
spent the last three years, stunned by what has happened: That
Democrats have blamed Nader for Gore's lack of tenure at the White
House. That George W. Bush is not only dismantling 30 years of
environmental laws but also sacrificing American soldiers and Iraqi
civilians in the name of oil. That Paul Wellstone is dead. That
Greens are bickering. That in a post-September 11 world, most
Democrats blindly backed Bush and supported a war in Iraq.
Now, when leaders of the Democratic Party hint that support for
outspoken candidates such as Howard Dean or Dennis Kucinich will
only lead to Bush's re-election, I have little patience. If the
Democratic party hopes to be relevant again someday, they need to
stop telling Americans who to vote against, and start giving us a
reason to vote for someone.
But most of all, I'm stunned
that, for the first time ever, I'm dreading Election Day.