As anyone who has read what I write likely knows, I am not one to offer exuberant praise for lots of the current crop of Democratic politicians - especially those in Congress (is that an understatement?). But every now and again, someone steps up to the plate to risk their own political career to better the progressive movement, and it is these few heroes who our side should look to for inspiration.
Today, progressives were given one of those inspirations when Ohio Congressman Sherrod Brown (D) announced he would give up his safe House seat to run for the U.S. Senate against well-funded Republican incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine (R). While DeWine may be politically weakened, rest assured that Brown's decision is an act of courage: he is giving up his reliably Democratic seat in Congress to take on the task of finally giving Democrats a real shot of winning a major statewide race in Ohio - something the 2004 presidential race shows the party clearly needs if it expects to compete nationally in the future.
I expected my five years working on Capitol Hill to fill me with excitement about how much talent there is among Democratic politicians. Instead, those five years were like watching a depressing movie. Democrats regularly said they would stand up for convictions, and then would sell out when a bill came to a vote. Democrats would fill me full of hope with a speech or a press conference, and then capitulate as soon as someone like Tom DeLay said the word "unpatriotic."
But even in the darkest film, there are characters who offer a glimmer of hope. These were people like Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Dave Obey (D-WI), who I worked for...and people like Sherrod Brown who I never had the honor of working for, but had the privilege of watching fight the good fight, even when he had to take on his own party. As I noted in an American Prospect article, Brown is a person who has been one of the very few true progressive champions in Congress. Before it was cool to stand up and fight and before there were any think tanks or groups like Moveon to help support progressives, Sherrod Brown was there tenaciously battling on behalf of the little guy.
As you quickly learn when watching Congress, there are those lawmakers who give great speeches and then go and stab progressives in the back. And then there are those few who give great speeches, and then actually back up that rhetoric not only with votes, but with the unglorious hard work that doesn't necessarily get them headlines, but which means all the difference. Sherrod Brown is the latter through and through.
There are some who purport to be "progressive" who insist on dishonestly smearing Brown because he supposedly waited too long to announce his candidacy, and now fellow Democrat Paul Hackett is considering running. Hackett, to be sure, is a terrific guy. But as I found in writing a piece for the American Prospect on the situation, almost any way you look at it, the best thing both for Democrats looking to win elections and for progressives looking to make our government more progressive is for Brown to be the Senate nominee, and for Hackett to run the same House race he almost won just a few months ago.
These are races we can win - and races that are critically important. Having people like Sherrod Brown in the U.S. Senate would be a huge step for our side's ability to demand answers on the critical issues facing this country. Issues like "free" trade, the war, universal health care, energy industry profiteering...and the list goes on. Here's hoping that the progressive blogosphere - and Ohio voters - get behind his candidacy.