I remember the year 2000. I remember thinking that things were pretty good with Clinton, and Gore promised more of the same. I was a fairly raging moderate. I remember when Gore won, and how much it seemed like an injustice to stop the vote counting. (This was before I learned about the overvote situation.) Still, when Bush won, I remember thinking he can’t be as big a caricature of a conservative as the liberals would have us think. And then Bush let the arsenic back into the drinking water as a favor to mining companies. And, of course, the Iraq war. History, I think, has already shown us exactly how close the caricature of Bush the Tool came to being reality.
Then I remembered something else. The very people who were furthest-left, the ones who were the best predictors of how Bush would behave once in office were also claiming that Gore was too right-wing. Ralph Nader, for instance, would go on to write a book about how two parties are basically the same. So in 2000, the liberals didn’t show up to vote, and Bush won.
And in 2004, the liberals didn’t show up to vote, so Bush won. And in early 2005, Bush tried to destroy Social Security.
And I remember the anger in 2006. That anger caused liberals to turn out in droves. It was a red-hot palpable thing that burned away Republican majorities. And Nancy Pelosi– bless her San Francisco heart– passed some major progressive legislation. Granted, much of it was vetoed by Bush, or Filibustered in the Senate, but it did pass.
And so in 2008, we liberals were still upset. And we showed up yet again. We put a liberal in the White House! For a few days we had a filibuster-proof Senate! Huge majorities in the house! We passed a universal healthcare bill! We ended the Iraq war! We got pissed that we didn’t pass enough good stuff and didn’t bother showing up to the polls in 2010. Republicans took the House, and many governorships and state legislatures.
Are you pissed at what’s happening in Wisconsin? Are you whipped up in a furry about cuts to Planned Parenthood, NPR, and your local school district? Guess what: we knew this would happen. This is exactly what we said would happen if you didn’t show up to vote. When you don’t show up to vote, Republicans win elections and fulfill their campaign promises to be giant flaming douche bags.
So: there’s tremendous energy in Wisconsin to recall a bunch of Republicans. Fantastic! Where the fuck was that energy in 2010 when it could have put a union-friendly Democrat in the governor’s mansion?
No matter how much you may want Democrats to be further to the left than they are, no matter how little you think they do for the working person, no matter how corporate-owned you think they are: understand that institutionally, their hearts are in the right place.
How I know that Democrats wouldn’t do this? When the time came to uphold their sacred principles, the Democrats left the state, faced arrest, and dared the governor to send in the troops. We get mealy mouthed sometimes. Compromise is in our nature. When the existential threat comes, though, we recognize it, and fight with every tool in our arsenal. Remember: we got universal healthcare while the Republicans were busy patting themselves on the back for making it impossible. We lost the South– possibly forever– in order to restore the franchise to black folks.
We don’t have to like the mathematical necessity of the two party system. I personally detest it. I’m trying to get into a position where I can help smash it. But in the mean time, the math absolutely dictates that we are stuck with two parties. And given the choice between the party of cartoon evil, and the party of occasional competence, I know where I’m putting my energy. Every fucking time.