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For More than For Al Gore -- An Agenda for Aggressive Progressives

By David Lytel, Democrats.com

On Saturday George W. Bush will become the first president in U.S. history to take office without having won the election. With the help of cronies in Florida state government and the U.S. Supreme Court, Bush successfully shut down the Gore campaign’s request for recounts in disputed counties, a right for candidates in close elections that is guaranteed under Florida law.

While Bush organizes his new government the new opposition is also organizing itself, and this is why massive, peaceful protests on Saturday are so important. If we are to successfully counteract the extremist urges that are being built into the Bush presidency we need to look beyond Al Gore in our search for effective progressive leadership. I worked for Al Gore at the White House, proudly display his picture in my home and I wish Al Gore all the best. But we have to recognize it is no longer sufficient to say we are "for Al Gore." There are vitally important progressive victories to be won in the next two years on election reform, retirement security, the minimum wage, an HMO bill of rights, defense of abortion rights and other things. If progressives are to prevail we will have to get fearlessly out in front of our leaders, including Al Gore.

Given Bush’s shocking success at declaring the election over before all the votes were counted, the most urgent issue for progressives of all kinds is election reform. There is very clear evidence of deliberate fraud, official misconduct and a conspiracy to suppress voter turnout in Florida. These include the Florida Secretary of State spending $4 million in taxpayer funds to hire a firm with ties to the far right that produced a list of 58,000 Florida citizens suspected of being felons. These citizens, who overwhelmingly were not felons but were African Americans and Democrats, were summarily denied the right to vote without any due process. In Broward and Dade counties thousands of non-citizens -- primarily Cubans looking for revenge against the Clinton administration for having sent Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba – were permitted to vote by election supervisors who failed even to ask for some form of identification. The list goes on and on.

We would not tolerate any of these crimes against democracy if they took place in some other country. Surely we must hold our own country up to democracy's simple rule -- every vote counts. America will reach its 225th birthday this year -- and long ago became the world's oldest republic -- not because we are perfect but because we fix what is broken. It is undeniable that the election system in Florida and elsewhere is broken. If we permit the Congress to move on to other business and turn a blind eye to these violations of the law we are dishonoring ourselves and inviting further lawlessness.

To make the Florida debacle even worse, Bush has nominated right wing extremists to sensitive positions who would be troubling even if he had a mandate from the American people to be a right wing president, which he most certainly does not.

If the United States is to endure as a nation and carry the torch of democracy and freedom into a new millenium, then we must again show the world democracy's greatest single strength -- its capacity for self-correction. We can not allow our children and our grandchildren to see us turn away from justice if we hope to teach them to love and honor it. As freedom is our birthright, so we must honor it by renewing it in each generation. This stolen presidential election is our generation's opportunity to rekindle the spirit and the practice of democracy. America, it has been said, is not a place. America is an idea. If we truly love the idea of America we cannot learn to tolerate widespread injustice, or we risk setting our country on the course to a future in which power is valued more than truth.