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The Lesson of Scott Brown's Mass Victory? Progressives Need to Go Populist

Obama's biggest mistake was to let his base stagnate after being elected.
 
 
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Election results rarely have a single explanation.

Yet it's pretty clear that Scott Brown's special election win in a state that last sent a Republican to the Senate in 1978 is an indicator of the turbulent national political mood a year after Obama took office.

There is a generalized anti-establishment anger at loose in this country, reinforced by a White House team that has delivered for Wall Street but not enough for hurting communities. It is an anger also fueled by often savage right-wing anti-government attacks.

This special election is a wake up call and should lead to a course correction. The Democratic party can no longer run as a managerial and technocratic party. Going populist is now smart politics and good policy.

The Obama White House needs to show, quickly and forcefully, with concrete, bold and visible action, that it stands with the working people of America. Here's a symbolic but smart start: jettison those on the White House economic team whose slow, timid response to the crisis of unemployment and to Wall Street's obscene excesses helped create the conditions for the Tea Party's inchoate right-wing populism.

Leadership on pro-democracy reforms are also desperately needed to end the corruption of our politics and to stanch the corporate money flooding and deforming our democracy. Connect the dots for people: explain how needed reforms are gutted when both parties succumb to the pervasive corruption of our money politics. If the GOP's obstructionism has a silver lining, it is in exposing how an anti-democratic, super-majority filibuster has essentially made our system dysfunctional. There is fertile ground on which to rally people in a transpartisan political reform movement.

Massachusetts offers another lesson: Obama's decision to demobilize his base in 2009 in favor of an insider approach to governing was a big mistake. I'm not a political strategist, but I don't know how you win elections by failing to rouse people who've worked hardest at the grassroots to get you elected? It is time to re-mobilize the base.

And here's a no-brainer: Isn't it time to give up on that faith in genteel post-partisanship when the GOP knifes you at every turn? Nice isn't going create more jobs or get health care reform.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel is the publisher of The Nation

 
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