Coincidentally, the week Howard Dean drops from the Democratic presidential race is the week the gay marriage issue bursts into view, courtesy of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and the mayor of San Francisco. Dean, remember, was originally dismissed as unelectable by the Democratic establishment because he’d signed the civil unions law in Vermont. Too gay. Then Dean called out George W. Bush for starting an unnecessary war in Iraq, and the Washington Democrats for caving in to Bush on the war, tax cuts, etcetera, and he was in the lead for the nomination. Or so it seemed.

Dean met the fate of all prophets, which is to be honored “save in his own country and in his own house.” For a time, Democrats wanted a prophet–an issues candidate–to head their ticket. But in America, issues candidates are chosen only when a party thinks this election is unwinnable and wants to steel itself for the next one. (In countries with systems of proportional representation, including all the actual democracies, parties stand for something in the first place.)

But now that Bush’s war is a mess, he’s lost 3 million jobs and civil unions are the compromise, guess what? The Democrats don’t want a prophet. They want to win. One by one, primary voters have sent the issues candidates to the showers. Gephardt, the trade guy? Too serious. Clark, the defense guy? Too complicated. Dean? Too offensive. Left standing: John Kerry, who hasn’t offended anybody since he sat next to Jane Fonda 30 years ago, and John Edwards, who’s never offended anybody, period.

Now comes Ralph Nader to say, same old Democrats, half of the two-party duopoly that’s given us wars, outsourced jobs and shrunken social-insurance programs for 30 years, regardless of elections. Is he right?

From North Carolina, we’re well-positioned to see the big picture in the same way the Earth is best seen from outer space. Nader was not on the N.C. ballot in 2000, and he won’t be again this year, courtesy of the insane and unconstitutional ballot-access laws enacted by our Democratic “leaders.” Nor are we any factor in the primaries, again because our “leaders” protect us from the contaminating influences of candidates from Missouri, Vermont, or–can you feel the vapors comin’ on?–Massachusetts. In short, there’s nothing happening right in front of us to mess up the view.

Nader is wrong. The primary season has educated Democrats about trade, health care and war. It’s schooled the party on how to raise money in small amounts from millions of contributors, easing the grip of corporations and the rich. Most of all, it’s fired up younger cadres. Besides, Kerry, a year ago, was considered the most liberal of the leading candidates. (Dean, as Vermont governor, was a centrist.) And Edwards has moved steadily to the left, channeling the party’s middle as is his wont.

Nader’s wrong, too, because Bush’s Republican Party is out of the duopoly and spinning around like a lunar moon, freeing the Democrats’ souls. Ralph, look up: From Boston to San Francisco, it’s spring, and love is in the air.