I decided to start party-hopping last night in true progressive fashion: at a “Progressive Election pre-Funk Party” hosted by Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and City Councilmember Nick Licata at the Warwick Hotel. Yeah, I know, pre-funking merely means getting an early buzz on before the main festivities, but the phrase was accidentally apt in another way. Only progressives approach a big showdown expecting to be in a funk afterward — even when the odds are in their ticket’s favor.
Left-leaning types, especially those of us of a certain age, have imbibed the lessons of losing only too well. The trail of tears, of short terms and botched campaigns, is long: two Kennedys, Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, Gene McCarthy and George McGovern, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and that tank, Al Gore and John Kerry and his Swift Boat. In between, Bill Clinton showed that a Democratic president could win two terms — but only by triangulating to the right, pushing welfare rather than health care reform, and beating the Republicans at their own game.
Obama’s 2008 victory seemed to break the spell — for about a month. Then four years of disappointment, and not just at the unemployment rate. The losing feeling was back. What, us win?
Ever since the first debate, when the president checked out early, I’ve been telling anxious Obamites not to worry: He’s going to take Ohio, and that’s all she’ll write. But even one of the smartest people I know argued the election would be tied up for weeks in after-hours wrangling, just as in 2000.
Nursing their funk, the progressive partiers at the Warwick seem to be talking about everything except American politics. I run into two old pals I haven’t seen in years. Larry Dohrs is a long-time campaigner for democracy and human rights in Burma/Myanmar, Rajaa Gharbi an artist and writer from Tunisia who’s been spending most of her time back there, trying to help protect the gains from last year’s Arab Spring revolution. We talk about the heady changes in those countries. Such talk only seems to point up the difficulty of deep, rejuvenating change in this one.
Hardly anyone is watching the early national returns. What, us excited?
We head down the street to see if another party’s lighting up — the one for State Initiative 502, to legalize and regulate marijuana sales. What’s it say about our times, that the pro-pot party was held in the chic-est hotel (the Andra) and offered the best food (from Tom Douglas’s Lola downstairs) and the only free booze I’ll see all night? “There was a lot of money for this party,” one I-502 volunteer confides, and no, it didn’t come from “medical” marijuana vendors, who will likely lose their gray-area market post-legalization. “A representative for [billionaire, Progressive Insurance chairman, and drug-law reform crusader] Peter Lewis is here.” Glad to eat on his nickel.
In case you wondered: No, no one tokes at the pro-pot party, not even on the sidewalk. But that begs another question: Will Washington’s ban on smoking in public establishments extend to legal pot smoking?
And what does it say that I run into even more long-lost friends at the pro-pot party? Not to mention prominent supporters basking in the glow of imminent victory; Holmes and Licata have come here from their own party. Doug Honig, the state ACLU’s communications director, marvels at how fast the legalization cause has gone from outré to mainstream: “In 2008 we did a campaign with Rick Steves called ‘Marijuana: It’s Time for a Conversation.’ An infomercial. We tried to pay the local TV stations to run it. They wouldn’t take it, or they ran it at 1 a.m.”
At 7:58 a voice thunders from the floor below: “Colorado just got called!” A similar initiative is passing there. So, by a few minutes, Washington won’t be the first state ever to just say yes, period. Still, Steve DeAngelo, a prominent California cannabis booster and star of the Discovery Channel’s Weed Wars, is here to salute his Washington counterparts’ triumph. “The real significance,” he explains, “is that people who don’t smoke, who may not particularly like marijuana, realized it’s time to take it out of the hands of the cartels.”
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