The year 2010 will not be remembered as a halcyon year for progressives. But in such years the truest believers and battlers stand out all the more clearly, and patterns are set for the victories of the years to come. Here, then, are the Most Valuable Progressives of 2010:
MOST VALUABLE SENATOR: Bernie Sanders
When Vermont’s Bernie Sanders waged a nearly nine-hour December filibuster against extending tax breaks for the rich, he capped a year of not just taking the right stands but acting in a bolder—and invariably more effective—manner than any other senator. Sanders is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, but this year the emphasis was on independence. He parted with the White House and Congressional leaders to push harder and smarter on issues ranging from media consolidation and the defense of small farmers to healthcare reform and financial regulation. During the healthcare debate Sanders argued mightily for single-payer and a public option. He got neither, but he did secure a provision doubling the number of Federally Qualified Health Centers, which should increase the number of patients receiving primary care at these centers by at least 18 million during the coming decade. Later in the year he amended the final financial services reform bill to require the Federal Reserve to disclose its secret arrangements to aid the nation’s largest banks. This "lifting the veil of secrecy at the Fed," as Sanders referred to it, revealed that big banks and multinational corporations collected an estimated $3.3 trillion in "emergency" loans and other assistance even as they refused to restructure mortgages or make loans to small businesses in Vermont and other states.
Principled and populist, yet practical enough to get things done, Sanders points the way for progressives in the next Congress by reminding them they can win if they address the stark reality that "there is a war going on in this country…a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful…against the working families of the United States of America, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class."
MOST VALUABLE REPRESENTATIVE: Keith Ellison
Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, a former civil rights lawyer and state legislator, is still identified as "the first Muslim elected to Congress." But the Congressman is making a name for himself as a progressive leader with global reach. Frequently called into action by the State Department (not just by Hillary Clinton but also by Condoleezza Rice), Ellison has a higher international profile than all but a few House members; he uses it to remind the global community—and Americans—that "religious tolerance has a much longer pedigree in America than some of the intolerance we’ve seen lately." His unprecedented visit to Gaza was followed this year by a call on President Obama to do more to ease the blockade of the Palestinian territory. Evenhanded and diplomatic in his approach, Ellison argued that "fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals."
Despite his unique role when it comes to foreign policy, Ellison pulls no punches. In July he was one of thirty-eight House members who voted to direct the president to remove US armed forces from Pakistan; he also opposed Obama’s Afghanistan surge, arguing that Congress should "reject the idea that our country can continue to spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars on a decade of war, rather than investing in jobs, education and infrastructure for America’s working families." That savvy balancing of international and domestic concerns will be one of many strengths Ellison brings to his new role as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.