Progressives in Retreat

By Zito, Salena | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 31, 2010 | Go to article overview

Progressives in Retreat


Zito, Salena, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Fair or not, voters have distaste and distrust this year for any candidate running under the "progressive" banner that was so wildly popular just last year.

"I essentially believe that 'progressive' is the wrong 'P' to be describing yourself as this cycle," says a Democrat strategist working on congressional campaigns across the country. "'Populist' is the way to go."

Candidates, he says, should appear as outsiders who will fight for Main Street, not Wall Street.

Because independents' concerns will continue to dominate, the best that progressive candidates can do is to emphasize their overlap with populist ideals, such as reining in corporate greed and influence.

In 2008, Barack Obama and Democrats won with a somewhat uneasy coalition of progressive Democrats and independents seeking populist change.

But President Obama and Democrats in Congress have not delivered for either group, which has tarnished their brand, especially the "progressive" label.

The progressive base -- along with independents and Republicans - - is angry.

Obama and the Democrats have not delivered the populist change they promised -- bipartisanship, fiscal responsibility, a government given back to the people and not beholden to special interests and corporate greed.

Independents instead have witnessed bitter partisanship, soaring deficits and legislation plagued by special and corporate interests. If they stay impatient and disenchanted, a power shift truly will occur in Congress this fall.

Any politically expedient shifts will only further frustrate progressives and make it even more difficult for liberals to succeed in the midterm elections, particularly against more pragmatic, populist candidates.

To hold onto their majority, Democrats must focus on a populist message with real appeal and appear to be concerned about voters' angst.

Successful candidates will convince voters they want to solve real issues in Washington, not be part of a broken process. Voters don't much care for either party; they want people who will address their concerns.

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