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David Sirota Headshot

2006: The Year the Progressive Movement Became a Movement

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There are many reasons to be optimistic these days if you are a progressive. A look accross the 2006 campaign landscape shows that our movement is no longer theoretical - it is very real, and increasing in power every single day. But as the Denver Post today notes in a piece about our growing movement, progressives also face stiff opposition in the form of a corrupt political Establishment desperate to preserve the status quo. The confrontation brewing between this new movement and the Establishment is not to be downplayed - it is escalating, and it will have profound results that go far beyond just one election.

The Denver Post notes that those defending the status quo are, to be sure, entrenched. "Political corruption comes in two varieties," the Post notes. "There are brazen payoffs, and then there is a kind of gooey rot: the venal abandonment of principles, spurred by the favors of corporate lobbyists and the need for campaign cash." Ultimately, "All but the toughest pols and pundits get seduced, and over time, the party establishment starts to stipulate: globalization is a blessing, free trade is sacred, billionaires need tax breaks, job loss is inevitable, workers are expendable, wages will decline, the war in Iraq is necessary."

The Post is absolutely right - there is a "gooey rot." But it is being challenged everywhere you look. Though both parties' Beltway-based political operatives and consultants have tried to downplay what's going on throughout the heartland, we can see the tell-tale signs of a true progressive populist movement emerging - one that is not just a wing of the Democratic Party Establishment in Washington, but an actual movement bubbling up from outside the Beltway, based on real conviction, and serious about seizing power. We see grassroots organizations outside the Beltway like (to name just a few) Moveon.org and the Progressive States Network being built. We see huge numbers of readers purchasing books like Crashing the Gate, How Would a Patriot Act?, Lapdogs, The Motherhood Manifesto and (here comes a bit of shameless self-promotion) Hostile Takeover - readers who want to join the fight. We see millions of daily websurfers learning about the day-to-day political battles at sites like Escaton, Dailykos, MyDD, Common Dreams, Working for Change, the Huffington Post and hundreds of others. We see a crop of aggressive writers like Ari Berman, Matt Taibbi, Chris Hayes, Harold Meyerson, Molly Ivins, Matt Stoller , Chris Bowers and Thomas Frank who reject the mealy-mouthed style of liberal writers in the past, and aren't afraid to infuse their work with conviction and ideology. We see meetings like the Cleaning Up Our Statehouses conference, the YearlyKos convention and the Take Back America conference being overcrowded with attendees. And perhaps most striking, we see major candidates for major office championing the cause.

In two major Senate races, for instance, top-tier candidates Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jon Tester (D-MT) are both using their campaigns to put Corporate America's destructive "free" trade policy on trial - a policy pushed by Wall Street Democrats that has undermined Americans' wages, health care/retirement benefits and job security.

Brown recently told the Cleveland Plain Dealer this week that "People who like these trade agreements typically are very insulated. They're economists in ivory towers. They are journalists in wood-paneled editorial boards. It's senators and presidents who rely on major corporate campaign contributors and don't walk through those factories where workers are so anxious about job loss." Brown is running in arguably the most important Senate race in the most politically important state in America - and, unlike other high-profile Democrats in the Senate club, he's not running to embrace right-wing ideologues - he's instead running as an unabashed progressive. As he told the Washington Post, "This is a chance to change the direction of the state and the country [because] it can show a progressive Democrat can win in a state like Ohio. It's going to show that in 2008, there's a very different political dynamic in this country."

Similarly, Tester told the Billings Gazette that he's sick and tired of "free" trade deals being justified by those who dishonestly claim these pacts help farmers - a courageous stand in an agricultural region, and in a state where both U.S. Senators are ardent supporters of "free" trade. "As a farmer, you better believe [corporate-written trade deals] are a problem," he said. "The current market is just plain unfair. The United States has been pushing us into free trade agreements that have been hurting Montana workers and Montana farmers, and resulting in the outsourcing of jobs. We need to be engaging in fair trade so that everybody is playing on a level field. This is an issue I'll work hard on because it's important to Montana and it personally hits home with me."

The same thing is happening on Iraq. In Connecticut, first-time statewide candidate Ned Lamont (D) exceeded steep expectations and dramatically vaulted onto the primary ballot to challenge Sen. Joe Lieberman - the guy who has spent the last three years making headlines as the chief Senate advocate for the Iraq War, and chief attacker of those who have opposed it. Lieberman and his corporate-funded sponsors at the Democratic Leadership Council in Washington are now in an apoplectic frenzy, frothing like rabid dogs to national reporters, complaining about their plight, fearing that the ordinary citizens they so despise have broken down the palace gates. They should be afraid - we have broken in, and come primary day in August, we're headed for the throne room to depose Lieberman.

Even some courageous leaders in the Establishment are taking notice of our new movement, and are reacting favorably. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D), for instance, "has informed colleagues that she intends to force Rep. Jane Harman (D) to step down" from the intelligence committee, according to the Los Angeles Times. Pelosi made the announcement after many Democrats expressed concern "that Harman is too moderate and inclined to accommodate the Republican agenda." And remember - Pelosi's move has not come in a vacuum. It comes as Harman faces a primary challenge in her Los Angeles-area district from Marcy Winograd (D), who is hammering Harman for her aggressive support of the Iraq War.

Not surprisingly, much of this movement building has been met with disdain from the pundit class's most brazen Establishment mouthpieces. Time Magazine's Joe Klein, for instance, used a recent column to call senior progressive African American Members of Congress "embarrassments," and then proceeded to hurl racially charged insults at them on behalf of the GOP. His column was a disgusting and not-so-subtly veiled effort to scare the public about who will be in control of Congress if the progressive movement continues to build power.

Top New York Times columnists have (albeit, without the racial component) ably backed up Klein's attacks on the progressive movement. For example, Thomas Friedman appeared on television again this week trying to extend the Iraq War and American troops' deployment there. Thankfully, watchdog groups nailed him for his dishonesty. Friedman also this week penned another in a long line of public service announcements trumpeting the benefits of eliminating American jobs and shipping them overseas. It's Tom Friedman as Corporate America's paid public relations flack.

The Times' David Brooks chimed in with Friedman. In a recent screed, Brooks was shocked - shocked! - that ordinary people are unhappy about the economy. Brooks, a conservative Bobo in Paradise, just cannot understand why when the stock market is doing well and overall GDP growth is steady the vast majority of citizens outside his comfortable, country-club-Republican life on the New York-DC cocktail party circuit are not as thrilled as he is. "Forget about wage, benefit and job cuts ordinary folks are suffering through," Brooks seems to be saying, "Let them all eat cake while I slurp down another glass of scotch, puff on my cigar, and marvel at my new silk ascot." And, of course, he says we must look down on those movement builders who want real change. "The pseudopopulist renegades who rail against the establishment are being eclipsed by the canny establishmentarians," Brooks breathlessly claimed. "They're the ones who know how to use the levers of government to get things done." If only he had said "get things done exclusively for rich elitists like me" he might have actually displayed a bit of honesty.

Thankfully, our movement is sturdy. It flourishes without approval of the powers that be - which is why it is so frightening to the Establishment. Ours is a movement that has seized the year 2006, and finally declared that it is time to put core conviction ahead partisanship, and time to ignore the insulated, arrogant know-it-alls who populate the cushy confines of Washington's think tanks, Capitol Hill offices and pundit circles - the know-it-alls who either have never worked on winning campaigns or who have consistently worked on losing campaigns yet spout off as if they were campaign gurus; the know-it-alls who pocket corporate cash and then tell Democrats to bow down to the corporate forces that are waging a war on our country's middle class; the know-it-alls who told Democrats to embrace the Iraq War, because neither they nor their families have to personally bear the blood-and-guts consequences of the policies they advocate; the know-it-alls who, in short, are trying to sell out America.

To be sure, this is a long battle against powerful forces. But as I note in the conclusion of my new book Hostile Takeover, the new movement we are building is on the side of history. "In one way or another, every great American social movement has been about people taking back their government," the book concludes. "Once again, America must find its voice, and act on its justifiable outrage – an outrage that comes with being abused by politicians and cheated by the establishment, insulted with lies, and denied honest answers. It is that outrage which has fueled our past battles. And it is that outrage that will always lead this country to a better future."