By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The mood at Patti Ruben’s MoveOn house party on the third Sunday in November was cheerier than some might expect. Six years after its inception as an opposition movement to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, MoveOn.org, the vaunted Internet-based political group that, through its 527 and PAC, fought Bush’s re-election with everything from bake sales to homebrew television ads, had convened a nationwide conference of gatherings, networked via Web site, to collectively assess its future. It was not necessarily an auspicious moment: After a spring, summer and fall of energetic fund-raising, mobilizing and lavish media attention that supposedly had right-wingers quaking in their Nikes, the fearsome MoveOn, like so many newer organizations rising from the Bush-hating masses, had seemed to wither in the face of a perceived referendum on the liberal way of life. But not everyone was buying the mandate: "If a few thousand votes had gone the other way in Ohio," MoveOn executive director Eli Pariser told the house parties’ participants during the Web cast, "the media would all be talking about how brilliant our efforts were."
Make that a couple hundred thousand; at any rate, the question before the house parties was not so much about what went wrong in MoveOn’s campaign, or even how to hold up under four more years of Bush, but what to do about the Democratic Party, an organization so conformist it could not even stand firm to contest a possibly rigged election. Ruben’s was one of some 1,700 parties across the country, most of them concentrated along the coasts and the banks of the Mississippi River. And as her 40-odd guests clustered in front of a fire in an airy Los Feliz mansion, Bush, Cheney and Rove gave way to a new axis of evil: Terry McAuliffe, James Carville and the cursed Bob Shrum, loser adviser to Mondale, Dukakis and Kerry.
"The Democratic Party is hopeless," said the woman sitting next to me on the floor before the tiny iBook from which our leaders beamed their remarks. "We’ve got to take over, get behind that guy from Sierra Club who posted a note on the door of the Democratic headquarters, just like Martin Luther did on the door of the church."
Patti Nicklaus, a writer for the Church of Scientology’s Freedommagazine, which she defined as the place where Oliver Stone got his ideas about JFK, had another hypothesis. "The reason we’re here is because the Republicans rigged the vote," she insisted. "We can’t talk about anything unless we talk about that."
Nicklaus held in her hand a stack of printouts detailing voting anomalies in bar graphs and tables, which Ruben asked her to put away until later in the discussion. "I want people to come in here and feel free to air the issues that have been on their minds," she said. "I don’t want them to be influenced yet." Nicklaus graciously complied, but she didn’t give up. By the time in the afternoon when each participant chose a single most-pressing issue to expound on, Nicklaus, invoking Bev Harris of Black Box Voting as her patron saint, had her pitch down cold. "Think of it this way," she said. "You’re a farmer, and you’re doing everything right — watering, fertilizing, using the right pesticides — but you keep losing. Your crops are disappearing. And until you find the band of thieves stealing from your fields, you’re not going to get your farm back."
It was not, as it turned out, an unpopular argument. At the end of the afternoon’s 50-minute house-party discussion, Pariser came back online to poll the partygoers on their opinions. Of all the issues offered in the discussion — the environment, federal judicial appointees, third-party politics — none came close to rivaling election reform as the matter most on people’s minds. Whatever anyone thought of Nicklaus’ single-minded fervor, the final tally was on her side. Election reform won the vote at Ruben’s house, and prevailed across the country, said Pariser, "by a landslide."
THINGS SOUNDED MUCH THE SAME a few weeks ago when, in the days after the election, I called around to the various groups borne as much of Bushphobia as Kerryphilia and found everyone from ReDefeat Bush founder David Lytel in Washington, D.C., to the local Kerry grassroots club preoccupied with exit-poll numbers. Only Democracy for America (DFA), Governor Howard Dean’s alternative to the Democratic Party machine, had even considered moving on. "We got many, many people elected this year," boasted Laura Gross, the fast-talking, upbeat communications director of the Dean PAC. "Half of them were first-time candidates, and they won at all levels, from the state Legislature in Hawaii to the water-conservation board in Florida." Gross made no mention of Election Day irregularities; she focused on the Dean team’s victories.
"We had people elected in the so-called red states everywhere from Utah to Idaho," Gross said. "The mayor of Salt Lake County, Peter Corroon, is a Democrat. We supported 13 men and 19 women, seven African-Americans, one Latino, one Asian, two gay and lesbian. Ten of them defeated incumbent Republicans." Northeast Philadelphia sent a "Dean Dozen" Democrat, Allyson Schwartz, to the U.S. House of Representatives, and Julia Boseman won the state senate race in North Carolina’s 9th District. Montana elected a Democratic governor; Portland, a liberal mayor.