Needed: Fresh Contenders

By Nichols, John | The Nation, September 17, 2001 | Go to article overview

Needed: Fresh Contenders


Nichols, John, The Nation


As the crowded podium at the conservative Democratic Leadership Council's summer conference in Indianapolis illustrated, plenty of Democrats are prepared to steer the party even further right than Al Gore did in 2000. Among Democrats who are thinking presidential, there are too many buyers for the DLC's line that Gore's "people-versus-the-powerful" rhetoric was too populist. But as David Corn argues on page 11, the great mass of Americans, Democrats or Disenchanteds, buy the notion that the opposition to Bush must not just talk the people-versus-the-powerful talk but also walk the progressive populist walk.

At a moment when George W. Bush is doing everything in his power to illustrate the inability of conservatives to manage the affairs of state, there is a dramatic opening for progressives. This is a rare circumstance--following a contested election, with a bizarrely divided government--and it calls for bold approaches.

The point is not to pick a particular candidate. The point is to recognize that progressives must have a candidate in 2004, if only to free us from the constraints of a choice so narrowly defined as the 2000 Democratic primary pickings of Gore and Bill Bradley. That's the point Senator Russ Feingold, whose environmental advocacy and consistent critique of corporate free-trade policies have earned him a reputation as the Senate's "greenest" member, will try to make in coming months as he explores the prospects of a progressive presidential bid. "I'm worried sick about what's going to happen with Supreme Court nominations, trade policy, the environment, if we get eight years of Bush," says the Wisconsin Democrat. "But I'm also worried about the prospect that we could have four years of Bush and then four years of a DLC Democrat." Feingold knows his maverick style--he backed Attorney General John Ashcroft's nomination, he says, to defend the principle that a President, particularly a future progressive President, has a right to his appointees--could make the selling job difficult. …

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