I opened an e-mail this morning from the Yellow Dog Greens, "a coalition of dissatisfied Democrats, staunch independents and rebellious Republicans." Obviously aimed at us ditzy, undecided chick voters, the subject line is "what al gore has done for women's rights." It provides a link to a petition calling on Gore to withdraw from the presidential race immediately. "Mr. Gore, we believe that your candidacy will spoil the election nationally for Ralph Nader and the army of citizen activists fighting to end two-party, corporate control of our democracy," it says.

Do you Yellow Dog Greens think this election is a juvenile joke? You seem to think it's perfectly OK to play with people's lives in a pivotal election. To make a ballsy political statement, you smirk at all us fogies who worry about trivial issues like the Supreme Court and abortion rights and affirmative action. You spoilers apparently want to pack Bush off to the White House so that it gets so bad in this country -- stock-market crashes, the assault on children's rights (another Reagan-Bush judicial legacy), maybe a small race war -- that Democrats will sprint to the left and the Greens will become a viable party. It'll be a revolution pitting the superior, progressive us against the ignorant conservative them. Greens will prevail, oust the Bush dynasty and all Confederate flags, the South and Midwest will secede, and we'll all be one big, liberal-nutball family.

So we lose a few martyrs along the way. We expect a certain number of botched clothes-hanger abortions when Uncle Clarence is chief justice. We forfeit educational opportunities for a generation of minority kids. The Arctic becomes a Texas outpost. Trent Lott and Dick Armey will be de-muzzled, once again spewing their thinly covered racist propaganda; with any luck, the majority leaders' rhetoric won't inspire more lone wolves to sacrifice another James Byrd or Matthew Shepard.

I cannot join the Green Party -- yet. I must play the hand I'm dealt. I am passionately concerned about abortion rights and minority discrimination (including gay rights and hate crimes). In my lifetime, I have watched battles, scrapes and compromises that have expanded women's rights, affirmative action and civil rights. I do not want the environment offered as a ritual sacrifice to oil companies in three months. And I do not believe for one minute that any third party will be viable in this country until we have campaign-finance reform.

My Green e-mail sounds like a GOP rant: Gore did it, too! "[B]y claiming he is for campaign finance reform, Gore has tried to cover up the massive corporate corruption and control of the Democratic Party," writes Labor for Nader coordinator Fran Shor. This argument ignores an obvious Catch-22: In today's big-money races, the only way to get elected -- and thus try to reform the system -- is with huge amounts of money. It takes corporate money to compete with corporate money. But Gore and John McCain are poised to bust the system; Bush loves it. If Gore reneges, nail him in four years, but this is too good an opportunity to ignore.

The Greens' most naïve cliché is that Gore is beating himself: That may be slightly true, but not in the way Nader means it. If anything, what is likely costing him in those undecided Midwestern states is his willingness to stand up and say loudly that he is pro-choice, supports affirmative action and will take on corporate interests. This election is about a clash in philosophies, and only a "centrist" Democrat can (so far) beat the Republicans with their sorry, disingenuous co-optation of "moral" issues. This is our sick reality.

It's also clear that popular President Clinton, through his puerile intern chasing, forced Gore-the-faithful-square to bear the handicap of his Oval Office philandering. And, worse, the voters are fickle simpletons when it comes to Gore's "personality": They don't want another charmer in the White House to bring national scandal to the country, but they resist Gore's "wooden" focus on policy. Gore is running with serious handicaps -- and that's even before Nader starts loading on self-serving rhetoric.

Most spurious is Nader's insistence that Bush and Gore are the same man -- "Gush and Bore," he calls them on his Web site. This is a direct slap at every woman in this country -- and every other citizen whose lives will be marred by Bush's Supreme Court appointments. (Remember: activist Justices Scalia and Thomas are Dubya's favorites). Only the most rash ideologues try to say Bush and Gore's policies do not differ. Gore's environmental agenda may not be green enough for Nader (or me), but it is light years ahead of Bush's wholesale sell-out to corporate interests. The Greens can spew all they want about their future campaign funds, but it's a cruel tragedy to enable Bush to cause inordinate, irreversible environmental damage in the next four years. Even we righteous progressives can't wiggle our noses and replace open space or ancient trees or clean water or dead wildlife in four or eight years once it's gone.

Yes, the vice president has faults (death penalty and free-trade devotion, to name two), but so does Nader. If any other so-called progressive candidate outright ignored an immediate threat to Roe v. Wade, lefties would skewer the traitor, and rightfully so. But this election isn't just about abortion, and it's certainly not about silly Green jokes. Next week, we can choose to continue down a more progressive path, politically holding Gore's feet to the fire for the next four years. Or we can vote to tear down many layers of progress that men and women, white and minority, have toiled to build for the last several decades.

It is your right to vote for Nader. But, especially if you live in a pivotal battleground state, please do not help sacrifice the Supreme Court to the right-wing wolves. We can oust Gore later; a Scalia or Thomas clone will haunt us for years to come. The Green Party should be a positive force, not a pawn -- unwitting or not -- of the GOP.

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