fresh voices from the front lines of change







I don’t know if it’s a “movement” but it’s good to see it anyway:

When Tammy Baldwin delivered her first floor speech on the Senate floor late last month, she did not expect to create a national stir—let alone a movement.

But Baldwin’s progressive-populist call for a refocusing of Congress on issues of wealth and poverty struck a chord that is echoing across the country, as thousands of Americans sign on daily to an “I Stand With Tammy Baldwin” petition that has become a social-media sensation.

What resonated from Baldwin’s speech was the newly elected senator from Wisconsin’s absolute rejection of the narrow Washington consensus on economic issues. Dismissing the empty rhetoric of austerity of the Republicans and of the Democrats who compromise with them, Baldwin explained that America was having a different conversation altogether.

Recalling recent travels in her home state, the senator said, “Wisconsinites have told me that the powerful and well-connected still seem to get to write their own rules, while the concerns and struggles of middle-class families go unnoticed here in Washington.”

Speaking for those Wisconsinites, Baldwin told the Senate:

• “They see Washington happy to let Wall Street write their own rules, but unable to help students pull themselves out of debt.”

• “They see Washington working to protect big tax breaks for powerful corporations, but unwilling to protect small manufacturers from getting ripped off by China’s cheating.”

• “They see Washington bouncing from one manufactured fiscal crisis to the next, but never addressing the real and ongoing crisis of our disappearing middle class.”

The senator correctly diagnosed an old disease: “The truth is, while you hear a lot about the wide distance between Democrats and Republicans, the widest and most important distance in our political system is between the content of the debate here in Washington and the concerns of working families in places like Wisconsin. That distance parallels the large and growing gaps between the rich and the poor…between rising costs and stagnant incomes…between our nation and our competitors when it comes to education and innovation. And it’s really hurting people.”

As @billmon1 pointed out on twitter, it’s still a fact that the Democratic Party strategists are afraid to embrace populist issues, believing their future coalition lies with “identity politics”. Whether it’s because they are answering to the donor class or are trying to hang on to the vestige of the white middle class that is still leery of “redistributional” policies after 30 years of right wing propaganda (or both) is the question.

But let’s just say that if anyone can transcend those cultural boundaries and possibly make a breakthrough, it’s Baldwin. She is the first openly gay Senator, a woman and a populist. Let’s see where that takes us.

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