Moving on a Progressive Agenda

Candidates who won on Nov. 4 were unified around a common set of bold progressive initiatives, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said. He was elected in the 2006 Democratic wave that marked the end of the conservative era that started in 1980.

In both 2006 and 2008, he said, voters said “no” to the betrayal of the middle class and the undermining of long-held American values. “They said no to the drug companies writing the Medicare law, they said no to the oil industry dictating energy policy, they said no to the insurance companies writing health care law, they said no to Wall Street pushing through these trade agreements that cost us millions of manufacturing jobs in my state and across the country,” he said. He hopes 2008 marks the beginning of a progressive era. “I think you’re going to see it in the way we approach the stimulus package, you’re going to see it in the way we approach health care and the way we approach energy as we accomplish a real alternative energy move in this country instead of just talk about it.”

Democrats won by promising to put government on the side of the middle class, he said in a news conference arranged by Campaign for America’s Future. “There were a significant number of Republicans and independents who voted for these progressive candidates because they agree with us on issues like trade and they agree with us on issues like alternative energy and they agree with us on the need for a more progressive tax system, they oppose Social Security privatization ... I’m hopeful that the more centrist Republicans and open-minded Republicans in both houses will vote with us on this progressive agenda because it serves their constituents like it serves my constituents.”

Chellie Pingree, former head of Common Cause and previously a state senator in Maine for eight years, was elected to the House Nov. 4 in Maine’s 1st District. She noted the atmosphere was entirely different from when she ran for the Senate in 2002. “We’re in an entirely different country, the way the voters approach the issues and the level of anger, fear and apprehension they’re feeling right now as well as their anxious feeling of doing something about it was striking as I was out there campaigning,” she said.

This year she ran in a six-way Democratic primary campaign that featured 40 debates and she found that the public were pushing them further to the left. “We’d say universal health care and hands would go up in the audience and they’d say ‘We want single-payer.’ And we’d say we want to get rid of the Bush administration and hands would go up and they’d say ‘Well, when are you going to impeach him?’ And it was phenomenal to see people, [such as one] who I would profile as a bank president coming up to me afterwards who would say ‘When you get to Washington are you going to be spineless or are you going to really take these people on?’

After she won the Democratic nomination, her general election opponent tried to brand her as a “tax and spend liberal.” She replied that he wanted to privatize Social Security. In the end, she won by 10 points as voters seemed less concerned with the prospect of higher taxes than the bailout of corporations, trade agreements that have contributed to the loss of manufacturing in the state and the precarious nature of health coverage.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), a progressive activist who unseated a conservative Democrat this past spring, won a special election this summer and easily won a full term on Nov. 4, campaigned for several progressive candidates in close races across the country. She said one of the lessons of 2008 should be that Democrats have to be bolder, “because I think the American public is far less forgiving than it may have been in the past.”

After Democrats won in Republican districts in 2006, the party leadership thought they should take a moderate course, but Edwards said, “I think we got that part wrong. They won on a progressive message. They won on ending the war and being open and honest and accountable in government and yet we took away from that that we would be a lot more moderate in our approach to public policy. I’d say let’s not make that same mistake again as we come on this, what I would say began in 2006, a tidal wave cresting across the nation.

“Senator Obama—President-elect Obama—was unabashed in his confidence in governing on a progressive agenda and he may have characterized that in a much more pragmatic kind of way but I think it’s clearly a progressive agenda.”

Edwards added that progressives “need to be thoughtful and measured but disciplined “and we need to get some of those wins early to develop the long-term confidence of the American people that governing as a progressive doesn’t mean throwing away the future of this country.”

She added, “We ran on a progressive agenda and we won on a progressive agenda. Now our challenge is to govern on the progressive agenda—including smart investment in jobs, in infrastructure, in health care and energy, and bringing a safe and responsible end to the war in Iraq. It’s an exciting time and I am confident that we will be able to set priorities to deliver the bold solutions Americans expect.” — Jim Cullen

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2008

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