A few months ago, my perspective on the political world seemed extremely clear. The Democratic primaries were in full swing, it looked like Dean had a good chance of getting the nod, and the biggest question was of how to ensure that he would win in the general election against Bush. I didn't agree with Dean about everything and there were legitimate questions of how well his left of the DNC perspective would fare in the general election, but it felt like there was a kind of energy in mainstream electoral politics that my young eyes were unaccustomed to seeing. Despite the doubts, I was getting ready for what I thought would be an all out, us against them, political brawl for the voting public. There were even some signs that Dean could revolutionize the very space of what was considered to be legitimate electoral politics and could break from the assumptions that one has to move to the center to win in an election in the United States that have been the bread and butter of liberal activism for the last decade. I may have been slightly apprehensive, but I knew that I could support Dean's candidacy in good conscience and thought that maybe this could signal a shift from the "lesser of two evils" thought process that I've been less than fond of for several years.
Things are different now. I completely misjudged what would happen in the primaries. Dean's gone and now it looks like Kerry's going to be the Democratic option. Edwards is still in the race, but everyone knows what's going to happen.
This is where, in the past few weeks, things have gotten much less clear. A friend recently asked me who I would vote for in the general election. "Whoever gets the Democratic nomination... clearly." That sentence spoke to a broader "anybody but Bush" attitude held by many American leftists these days. I’ve certainly bought into much of the anti-Bush sentiment and, with my distaste for the administration growing unabated, daily, I was somewhat surprised when my friend questioned by unconditional allegiance to the Democratic party this election cycle. He spoke of his distaste for the two party system and argued that as long as people accept the forced choice between the "lesser of two evils," nothing dramatic will happen to change that process. He told me that my pragmatic logic was the very thought process that was forcing me into that unhappy choice in the first place.
I was kind of impressed. It sounded exactly like something that I would have said four years ago while petitioning to get Nader's name on the Wyoming ballot. I have to admit that I kind of envy that kind of idealism and probably still resent much of the political disillusionment that I experienced in the wake of the 2000 Election, in which the worst possible candidate was victorious and was pushing a disgusting agenda that included the Mexico City gag rule, my idealistic political movement was being blamed for causing it, and my candidate didn't even come close to the 5% that would be needed to declare a Green Party victory. That time was rather disastrous and I still haven't recovered from the shock of it. Part of it made me cynical and led me to renounce electoral politics for a few years. Part of it also made me feel guilty for possibly contributing to Bush's election and drove me away from political radicalism. Although I now recognize that I was probably being a little hard on myself (Wyoming's three electoral votes were going to Bush either way and certainly wouldn't have made a difference in the scheme of things), I still realize that 2000 made me give in to the two party system that I'd opposed. Maybe, in some way, it broke my spirit and made me into one of the millions of Americans who refuse to conceptualize new ways of organizing life outside of the Status Quo. I felt like I had to compromise my values if I wanted to contribute to the political in any meaningful way.
All of this brings me to why things aren't so perfect anymore. Although there are huge areas that separate Kerry and Bush (especially in regard to reproductive freedom and Civil Rights, as I argued to my friend), there are some things that trouble me. Specifically, I'm referring to Kerry’s position on gay marriage. Now, at first I could accept a small amount of political jockeying on Kerry's part, especially if he said he supported civil unions and probably wouldn't actively oppose gay marriage, but it's now being reported that Kerry is supporting an anti-gay marriage amendment in Massachusetts (US Presidential candidate favours Massachusetts amendment).
This saddens me. It looks like Kerry is taking Rove's bait by playing his game and alienating people who may vote for him, while gaining few votes from the fundies who were never going to vote for him in the first place. I honestly think that this is exactly what the Bush campaign hoped Kerry would do.
And beside the tactical ramifications, there's also an ethical issue. There's a point when people need to take an ethical stand against bigotry. Kerry described the DOMA (that he rightfully voted against) as "legislative gay bashing" and refused to support it in good conscience. *This is the same damn thing.* How can the Massachusetts amendment be seen as anything other than more gay bashing?
The reason that Dean was so refreshing was that he didn't buy into the same old game of co-optation by unethical forces in the name of getting votes. Maybe that's what cost him the nomination, but there's something to be said about standing up for what you think is right, even if it flies in the face of mainstream theories of political strategy. With anti-gay amendments jumping out, left and right, and a number of communities defying the heterosexist norms embedded in marriage laws by giving out licenses in acts of civil disobedience, now is the perfect time to stand up and say "Hell no!" to anyone who wants to set back the clock on sexual civil rights. If we let ourselves be co-opted now, how will we answer to the next few generations? I can imagine what we would think of supposedly "progressive" politicians who would have done the same thing in the 60s:
"Sorry, but we were worried about losing an election, so we decided to hold back on civil rights for minorities and women. It's not like we had a choice or anything."
Horseshit. We do have choices and they're available to us every time we talk about identity, sexual norms, and the possibilities of family configurations or endorse candidates’ political platforms. I think Zizek has a point when he says that the solution to the current deadlock is not to retreat, but to engage in antagonism and fight for what we believe in.
It's time to draw a line in the sand and live up to what we owe to each other and ourselves. "No, I won't compromise on this issue anymore. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is just *wrong* and we're going to win this battle."
That still doesn't leave me with a clear decision of what to do about the 2004 election, but it does make me realize that, even if I end up supporting Kerry, it won't be blind support. The political fight isn't going to end in November. If the fight ends there, then we've already lost in the long run. We need to keep bigger principles in mind, even if they're risky. Maybe then we can shatter some of the violent and discriminatory parameters of contemporary social life and, maybe, do something miraculous that's never been done before.
And, hell, maybe I won’t vote for Kerry. I live in Wyoming. My friend may have had a point when he pointed out that there’s pretty much no risk in *not* voting for Kerry if you live here. Maybe there’s something to gain. Maybe there isn’t. In any event, I have a lot of things to think about in the next few months.