Tammy Baldwin. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
When Tammy Baldwin delivered her first floor speech on the Senate floor late last month, she did not expect to create a national stir—let alone a movement.
But Baldwin’s progressive-populist call for a refocusing of Congress on issues of wealth and poverty struck a chord that is echoing across the country, as thousands of Americans sign on daily to an “I Stand With Tammy Baldwin” petition that has become a social media sensation.
What resonated from Baldwin’s speech was the newly elected senator from Wisconsin’s absolute rejection of the narrow Washington consensus on economic issues. Dismissing the empty rhetoric of austerity of the Republicans and of the Democrats who compromise with them, Baldwin explained that America was having a different conversation altogether.
Recalling recent travels in her home state, the senator said, “Wisconsinites have told me that the powerful and well-connected still seem to get to write their own rules, while the concerns and struggles of middle-class families go unnoticed here in Washington.”
Speaking for those Wisconsinites, Baldwin told the Senate:
• “They see Washington happy to let Wall Street write their own rules, but unable to help students pull themselves out of debt.”
• “They see Washington working to protect big tax breaks for powerful corporations, but unwilling to protect small manufacturers from getting ripped off by China’s cheating.”
• “They see Washington bouncing from one manufactured fiscal crisis to the next, but never addressing the real and ongoing crisis of our disappearing middle class.”
The senator correctly diagnosed an old disease: “The truth is, while you hear a lot about the wide distance between Democrats and Republicans, the widest and most important distance in our political system is between the content of the debate here in Washington and the concerns of working families in places like Wisconsin. That distance parallels the large and growing gaps between the rich and the poor…between rising costs and stagnant incomes…between our nation and our competitors when it comes to education and innovation. And it’s really hurting people.”
Baldwin’s message made perfect sense to Maine State Representative Diane Russell, a progressive populist Democrat who learned about the speech when the senator posted an article about it on Facebook. A fan since the days when Baldwin—then a congresswoman—flew back from Washington to join the 2011 protests at the state capitol against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-labor agenda, Russell thought Baldwin’s first statement to the Senate made more sense than anything else she was hearing from DC.
“I loved it so I blew it up a bit,” she said of Baldwin’s statement. “She deserves to be as much of a hero as Senator [Elizabeth] Warren.”
Russell, who identifies herself as a “Social Media Maven,” started the “I Stand With Tammy Baldwin” petition with the words, “In the US Senate last week, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (WI) spoke some serious truth to power…”
Within hours, she had thousands of signatures. Soon, she says, she had close to 15,000.
Russell doesn’t know quite where her online organizing is headed. But, at the least, she says she is proving that Americans are more interested in “courage and smarts” than the standard recitation of talking points by politicians who are too busy listening to the buzz in Washington to recognize that “it’s really hurting people.”
John Nichols is the author (with Robert W. McChesney) of the upcoming book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America. Center for Media and Democracy executive director Lisa Graves says: "The billionaires are buying our media and our elections. They're spinning our democracy into a dollarocracy. John Nichols and Bob McChesney expose the culprits who steered America into the quagmire of big money and provide us with the tools to free ourselves and our republic from the corporate kleptocrats."