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Cart and the horse.

In 1991 and 1992, I squandered much of my time in a quixotic effort to draft Ralph Nader for President. I thought it was crucial to use the Presidential contest - the one time when most Americans tune in to politics - to articulate a vision and spell out a program of fundamental progressive change. I had already despaired of Bill Clinton and the traditional Democratic candidates, and Jesse Jackson was not in the running, so I thought Nader was as good a candidate as any: He had the track record and the national reputation to command attention and support, or so I argued. Since a friend of mine and I had worked for Ralph in the early 1980s, we tried to use what little entree we had to goose him into running.

Alas, he wouldn't be goosed, but I haven't abandoned hope in the possibility of an independent Presidential challenge. I had to laugh recently, however, when Paul Tsongas, perhaps the whiniest former politician in the country (a contest, to be sure), floated the idea of forming a third party with Colin Powell at the head of the ticket. Tsongas wants to split the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, and that's cutting the baloney pretty thin.

The Democrats under Clinton have moved so close to the Republicans on so many issues that it'd be like building a party on the gap in MacNeil/Lehrer.

There is room, though, and plenty of it, on the left. As the Republicans wage all-out war on the welfare state, Clinton is barely putting up any defense. And on economic issues, he's been indistinguishable from Republicans; corporations couldn't have found a President more willing and able to carry their water.

So where does that leave us? As Adolph Reed suggests in this issue, we could try to prevail on the old horses of liberalism, like Ted Kennedy or Tom Harkin, to challenge Clinton from within the Democratic Party. But we've done this already, and not only with Ted Kennedy in 1980 but with Tom Harkin in 1992. What good did it do us? To shake hands after the primaries and work for the re-election of Clinton - who has been such a disaster, who in fact has paved the road for Newt Gingrich - does not make much sense to me.

I'm chastened, however, by Reed's admonishment that we not succumb to the "politics of wish-fulfillment." I'm prone to wishes, and I'm impatient. (Erwin Knoll bet me $50 and gave me 100-to-1 odds that Nader would not win the Presidency, and I was foolish enough to take him up on it.) And Reed has a point when he says a third-party or independent Presidential challenge from the left in 1996 is "putting the cart before the horse." Certainly, we don't have the popular base right now to win - or even come close to winning - the Presidency.

But that's not the only reason for making an insurgent run for the Presidency. The chief reason, as I see it, is simply to stand up and offer a vision of a better America, for if no one does it, millions of Americans will believe that Clinton represents the only alternative to Gingrich and Dole, that there are no other visions available for what our country can be. If no one takes up our banner, if no one offers hope and humanity, then politics will continue its downward slide, and we'll never gain adherents to our own progressive viewpoints.

I think running an insurgent campaign for the Presidency can help put the horse and cart in proper order. It's not an either-or proposition: Running a left-wing presidential race could galvanize the mythical mass movement we all talk about and wait for.

And it could give us some limited power. If an insurgent left-wing candidate received even 5 percent or 10 percent of the vote, that person - and that constituency - would have voice and muscle.

There are few subversive moments on television, but one of those came on December 28, with the broadcast of the annual Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts. Among the honorees was Pete Seeger, which enraged the right wing - John McLaughlin and Pat Buchanan got to have one more Cold War paroxysm for old-time's sake.

At first, I was worried that the event would be a condescension, a pat on the head now that Seeger's no longer considered dangerous. Garrison Keillor's treacly tone made me nervous. Arlo Guthrie nasaled out "This Land Is Your Land," and even Alan Simpson sang along. But then Guthrie, in the great folk tradition, interrupted the lullaby comfort by improvising a verse. He sang, "I saw a sign there, and on one side, the sign said Proposition 187, and on the other side, the sign didn't say nothing. This land is made for you and me."

Maybe I'm a sap, but for that brief moment, I had a taste of hope and a breath of satisfaction.
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Title Annotation:a progressive third-party presidential bid in 1996
Author:Rothschild, Matthew
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Feb 1, 1995
Words:827
Previous Article:Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare.
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