The electoral votes were hovering in the low 240s for what seemed like hours. Returns were coming in from the West and it was becoming clear, according to the TV motormouths, that Ralph Nader was getting enough votes to swing some states for George W. Bush.
The Salon staff, huddled around the official 19-inch Panasonic, groaned. (You'll remember that Salon is a White House mouthpiece, and solidly in Al Gore's pocket.) Now those Nader voters are sorry they didn't vote for Gore, someone said.
"I voted for Nader," I said, "and I'm not sorry."
Yeah, but it doesn't matter in California, they reassured me. My co-workers love me and look out for my feelings.
"I'd have still voted for Nader if it 'mattered,'" I said, and I think I made those quote marks in the air when I said "mattered."
"You mean you don't care if Bush wins?" someone asked, astonished. (You have to understand what it's like in this part of the country: I am not aware of knowing a single person who wanted Bush to win.)
"If it were Gore vs. Ghadafi," I said to my co-workers as they stared at me the way you stare at a crazy person, or at least the way they stare at a crazy person, "I'd have still voted for Nader."
And they said: Let's fire him.
The thing is, I'm still mad about the PMRC. Way back in the '80s I promised myself I would never vote for Al Gore because of his support for Tipper Gore's work as head of the Parents' Music Resource Center, which I considered -- and still consider -- a jackbooted attempt to limit speech. The PMRC is responsible for those "parental advisory" stickers on CDs, which the record industry agreed to start using to stave off governmental action against violent or overly sexual lyrics.
Most people seem to think that little voluntary warning label is benign enough -- what's wrong with letting parents know what's on an album? -- but I say it's a form of de facto censorship. There are stores, after all, that won't stock records that carry the sticker. It's a baby-step away from de jure censorship and I don't like it, and I won't vote for anyone who doesn't stand up, given the opportunity (and Al Gore has certainly had ample opportunity), and speak out against it.
I'm a First Amendment extremist. Call me a one-issue guy if you want. I'm not, but if I had to pick one issue, it would be the First Amendment.
"Let me just get this straight," one of my co-workers said as the evening wore on and Gore's candidacy appeared to sink slowly in the West. "It really won't bother you if Bush beats Gore."
Well, I had to think about it. I think Bush is a moron, a shining example of the tyranny of privilege, a man whose every supposed accomplishment has been something handed to him -- the baseball team, the oil business, the governorship.
But no. I have no illusions about Gore. I was thrilled when President Clinton was elected after 12 years of Republican rule, but eight years later all I can see is a disgraceful record of selling out the people who voted him into office. I'm no politician, so I'll let Tom Tomorrow's Sparky the penguin, much smarter than I am, spell it out: "NAFTA, GATT, the WTO, the continuation of the drug war, the Defense of Marriage Act, the erosion of civil liberties, the dismantling of the social safety net, the unprecedented concentration of corporate power -- not to mention the bombing of Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan."
And Gore's not half the man Clinton is.
I know that voting for a third party, which is really what I was doing when I cast my vote for Nader, is probably pointless in our winner-take-all system. I don't care. The two-party system has reached a point where it produces nothing better than George W. Bush and Al Gore. Not good enough. The fact that what I'm voting for probably won't happen won't keep me from voting for it. If that doesn't fit the agenda of my more practical co-workers here in liberal media land, too bad.
Think they'll really fire me?