I just made my first-ever political campaign contribution: $50 to Howard Dean. I'm the first to admit that I am politically pretty apathetic. I vote regularly (which puts me in a minority of Americans), and I have deeply-seated political beliefs, but I'm no activist, and in fact, I feel pretty uncomfortable at any form of rally or demonstration, even when I believe in the cause. I think I find the political process to be, at best, a necessary evil, and at worst, hopelessly corrupt and out-of-touch with the real concerns of real people.
Dean, at least, has me a little excited. I like the "grass roots" approach of his campaign, although truth be told, that's just a gimmick (like Clinton appearing on MTV) -- come 2008 (if not earlier), every presidential candidate will have a blog and they will all look the same. What I really like are the positions (pro-education, anti-corporate welfare, anti-war, etc.). Even more importantly, Dean is not afraid to take unabashedly liberal positions, which stands in marked contrast to the rest of the Democratic party, which has been trying to make itself look more and more like Republicans ever since the Reagan administration.
In 2000, I voted for Ralph Nader (although not in a state where it made any difference), partly out of a sense of frustration that the Dems were holding me hostage, abandoning or compromising liberal ideals to win over "centrist" voters and expecting their traditional supporters to keep voting for them because they had no other options: a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. (I did, also, find myself agreeing with everything Nader said.) Given that Gore lost a couple states by less than the total Nader vote, I guess in a sense they were right and Nader's campaign is responsible for the current debacle(s). But it wasn't Nader or the Greens that rolled over for Bush as he squandered the budget surplus, alienated the rest of the international community, marched us into an unnecessary and ill-planned war, and began stripping Americans of the freedoms we are supposedly fighting to defend. If it were up to me, I'd throw out every elected official in Washington, because they've all been complicit in getting us where we are today (which was, in fact, Nader's point).
If any good comes out of the current mess, and the Bush administration certainly been disastrous on any number of levels, it will be the galvanization and revitalization of the liberal movement. After decades of allowing conservatives to use "liberal" like a scarlet letter of humiliation, and of slinking around pretending to be a "nice" version of the Republican party, it's time for the Democrats to set forth their ideals and fight for them. Nominating Dean would be a good start in that direction.