August 10, 2001
William Rivers Pitt
"Why is it that right-wing bastards always stand shoulder
to shoulder in solidarity, while liberals fall out among themselves?"
- Yevgeny Yevtushenko
The clarion wail of Chandra-related media coverage has burst
into a frenzy as I write this. Some Internet tipster has apparently
pointed to a parking lot in Virginia and claimed, "There she
lies." The result is akin to a falcon's attack upon a nest
of partridge - a desperate explosion of feathers and squawking
as everyone crashes into everyone else in an attempt to be
first in line at the Levy driveway.
One would think matters of grave import were afoot, but this
is not the case. A woman has gone missing who was once an
intern for the Bureau of Prisons. She was intimate with a
Congressman, or so it would appear. The media, hearkening
to Mencken's observation that no one has ever gone broke pandering
to the lowest common denominator, has flooded like a tidal
surge over the breakwaters of restraint in their coverage
of this whole sordid mess.
I do not mean to suggest that the disappearance of Chandra
Levy is a story to be scorned. On the contrary, I hope she
is found alive and well. If the media focused intently upon
every person that has gone missing in America, there would
be many anguished families that would raise a cheer of relief
Unfortunately for those families, unless their lost loved
ones had at one time been sexually involved with a politician
from the Democratic party, there is scant chance the media
will pay them any mind. The moral is clear: try to sleep with
your Congressperson as soon as you can.
Such a safeguard is better than a pistol or pepper spray,
and will make your absence marketable far beyond the boundaries
of a flyer strapped in desperation to a telephone poll. Sleeping
with a Senator is apparently better than Lojack.
The single greatest casualty of the Chandra coverage has
been real news. So much has happened recently, and yet our
national discourse has been consistently, almost cravenly,
redirected towards the slow and merciless death of a California
Congressman's political career, and towards the suffering
of a family that was savvy enough to hire a publicist in the
search for their missing child.
One would think that the three branches of government had
emigrated to the front patio of the Levy household. This is
obviously not the case. Government remains where it has always
been, ensconced in marble hallways atop the landfilled swamps
of Washington, D.C. The men and women who walk those halls
for a living have been spared the gaze of the camera's eye,
for the most part. Some of us, however, still man the watchtowers.
Over the last several weeks, I have pointedly ignored the
storm of coverage regarding Levy and Condit. This has, at
times, required Rainman-esqe singlemindedness: "Don't care
about Condit. Don't care about Condit. Uh oh, Condit. Don't
care. Don't care."
The effort has paid off. I am proud to call myself politically
well-informed this evening. There are many subjects I could
focus on tonight, and none of them have anything whatsoever
to do with Gary Condit or Chandra Levy. Frankly, I probably
couldn't pick either of them out of a police lineup.
Tonight, however, I wish to discuss something I raised in
an earlier essay entitled 'Fire on the Mountain.' In that
essay, I urged the disparate factions left in disorder after
the catastrophe of November 7th to put aside their animosity
and come together in solidarity to fight our common foe.
In that essay, I attempted to forge some sort of peace treaty
between those who voted for Gore and those who voted for Nader.
There has been an intense battle waged between these camps.
Gore voters believe the Naderites to be benighted fools who
did the GOP a great service in Florida. Nader voters believe
themselves to have voted in good conscience for a better candidate,
and scorn the idea that they alone gave the White House to
George W. Bush.
It seemed to me that both sides were correct, to a degree.
There is no doubt that, without Nader, many of those 90,000
who voted Green in Florida would have gone for Gore and denied
Bush's minions the ability to thwart the democratic process.
It is equally beyond doubt that there were far more factors
than Nader in play last November that collected to hurl Gore
down to defeat.
Whether or not Nader was a better liberal candidate than
Gore has also been subject to savage debate. Gore supporters
point to all the money the GOP poured into Nader's campaign
in the final weeks before November as a sure sign of tainted
morality. They further point to the specious argument foisted
by Nader which claimed that there was no essential difference
between Gore and Bush. The events of the last six months have
proven Nader's claim to be brazenly false, to say the least.
On the other side of the argument sit the Nader voters, who
saw Gore as just another politician corrupted by corporate
money. They looked with disdain upon the Gore fortune tied
up in Occidental Petroleum Corporation stock, and believed
him to be yet another captive of corporate influence. They
shuddered at his deliberate pandering during the Elian Gonzalez
fiasco. In essence, their support of Nader was a refutation
of the centrist DLC ideology which borrowed often during the
Clinton years from the GOP's playbook.
The response I received from the publication of 'Fire on
the Mountain' was astounding. Gore supporters called me a
fool and an ass for even considering the candidacy of Nader.
Many expressed little desire to reach out to Nader's voters
in an effort to rebuild a Leftist coalition within the Democratic
party. Some even accused me personally of treason for even
speaking the name of Nader.
Nader voters, by comparison, thanked me for the flag of truce
I attempted to wave. Several expressed the desire to vote
for any Democratic candidate who has even the remotest chance
of defeating Bush in 2004, but several had become hardened
by the blistering vitriol from Gore supporters, and refused
to even consider the Democratic party as a viable option.
Thus, my attempt at détente collapsed into ignominious failure.
Thus, we on the Left slice off our nose to spite our face.
Thus, old Yevgeny's question, posted at the beginning of this
essay, becomes all the more pressing.
The reason for the Right's continued success at the polls,
despite their status as political minorities in America, is
simplicity itself. The typical conservative voter places the
success of the GOP candidate above the consideration of their
own ideology. They pull the lever and hoped for the best,
choosing to avoid becoming one-issue voters. Their faith has
been well rewarded since November.
For example, Bush was described as being soft on the abortion
question during the 2000 campaign, a fact that stirred great
consternation within the ranks of the anti-abortion wing of
the GOP. There is no faction in any party more ardent in their
beliefs than the anti-abortion wing of the GOP. Despite their
concerns, they swarmed to the polls in support of Bush.
Within hours of his inauguration, Bush ended a Federal program
that offered abortions and birth control advice to women living
in Third World poverty, thus proving that Bush's campaign
silence regarding abortion had more to do with tactics than
ideology. Those anti-abortion voters had taken a leap of faith
for the sake of solidarity, and had been rewarded.
Many liberal voters who had concerns about Gore's view on
certain subjects did not do the same. They saw a candidate
who offended certain aspects of their liberal sensibilities,
and refused to support him in November. Instead, they chose
to support Nader, and wrapped themselves in a cloak of righteousness.
They had voted their principles, and had spurned the taint
that had invaded the Democratic party.
They believed they could do so safely; how could a few votes
for Nader change the course of American history? I urge them
to seek out a conservative who voted for Ross Rerot in 1992
to find an answer to that question.
William Jefferson Clinton would have been soundly defeated
in 1992 without the presence of Perot in the race, and without
those conservative voters who placed their own ideology above
the success of the GOP. Liberals who voted for Nader must
observe this closely, and take the lesson to heart.
Those conservatives who went for Perot in 1992 singlehandedly
sent Bush Sr. down to defeat. They have since decided that
solidarity counts more than anything else. They have placed
the success of the main conservative party, the GOP, above
all considerations. In 2000, with assistance from the Supreme
Court, their ideological selflessness finally gained them
the prize they sought.
The time has come for the Left to learn this lesson.
The essence of liberal ideology is founded upon concepts
of personal freedom. A liberal believes that he/she should
be allowed to love and marry whomever they wish, be that person
of the same sex or not. A liberal believes that women deserves
the right to exert control over the reproductive functions
of their bodies.
A liberal believes that government can be used as a tool
to help every American reach for their best selves, regardless
of racism or disability. A liberal believes that God has many
faces and many names, each deserving profound respect. A liberal
believes that those who believe in no God are as excellent
and moral a citizen as the most devout believer.
Many liberals also believe that the influence of corporations
upon our politics is insidious and evil. Many liberals have
chosen to avoid supporting a candidate from the most popular
liberal party, the Democrats, because of the influence corporate
America has had upon them. They are not wrongheaded in their
concerns, to be sure.
Unfortunately for the republic, too many liberals believe
that their consideration of these concepts are the most profound
and important ever to be contemplated. Many liberals, ensconced
in the strength of their ideology, are islands unto themselves.
They are today beyond cries of solidarity. They have not learned
the lesson learned most painfully by the GOP after the candidacy
I am forced to challenge this ideological isolationism. I
ask any liberal who reads this to describe for me how their
ideological purity is more important than defeating Bush and
his ilk in 2004. I request a detailed analysis that describes
how a second Bush term will further the cause of liberalism
If the Left does not come together in time for 2004 in a
strong showing of support for the Democratic party, the only
liberal party with any hope of putting forth a candidate to
defeat Bush, I promise you we will have another Bush administration.
Unless history repeats itself, we will not be given the luxury
of claiming that his victory was illegitimate. If we are divided,
Bush will win, and he will do so legitimately.
We are past the point where rifts in our political alliances
can be tolerated. The removal of George W. Bush is far more
important than whatever aspect of the Democratic party offends
you. If you come back to the party, your voice will be heard.
I will be your voice, because I agree with you. The party
cannot afford to ignore you after Nader, and I vow to make
your viewpoint heard loud and clear in the coming months and
When a Democratic candidate steps forward to challenge Bush
in 2004, you must support that candidate. You must place the
same faith in that candidate that the anti-abortion conservatives
placed in Bush. We must have solidarity, and we must have
I give you my word that your faith will be rewarded, because
solidarity on the left will render Bush a footnote in our
history. At this point, with all that is at stake, no better
conclusion can be hoped for. Together, we will work out the
ideological differences between us at the victory party. I'll
be tending bar. Let me buy you a drink.
Chandra Levy is still among the missing. So is unity on the
Left. These absences are a distraction from what is needed
to heal our country. I pray this changes sooner rather than