The Progressive Populist Moment Has Arrived


| February 2004

It's been a remarkable shift after the past decade of Democratic catering to corporate interests and conservative voters, Only one year ago, candidates John Kerry, John Edwards and Richard Gephardt had voted for the Iraq war resolution, and Gephardt alone, among the leading contenders, opposed pro-corporate trade agreements like NAFTA.

When Howard Dean's populist candidacy demonstrated the strength of Democratic anti-war sentiment, Kerry and Edwards changed course and opposed the Bush Administration's $87 billion war authorization. With Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton and Carol Mosely-Braun already anti-war, that isolated Gephardt as the last hawk until his defeat in Iowa.

But Gephardt's once-lonely advocacy of 'fair trade, not free trade' -- the position of the AFL-CIO and the Citizens Trade Campaign -- caught fire in the Iowa primaries where activists like former Congress member Jim Jontz of national Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) were generating daily pressure at the caucus level.

Not only Iowans but voters across multiple primary states were outraged by millions of manufacturing job losses which they blamed on trade agreements which the Democrats had promoted just a decade before. On the 10th anniversary of NAFTA, the proponents were embarrassingly silent. No one wanted to admit that eccentric billionaire Ross Perot was more right than wrong in 1994. Now Democratic voters in states like South Carolina, Missouri, Arizona and Wisconsin overwhelmingly preferred candidates critical of the Democrats' own trade agreements. Even key Democratic insiders, like Mickey Kantor who wrote the Clinton Administration's pro-investor rules of trade, were admitting that it was now 'correct to challenge some of the rules.' (NYT, Jan. 31, 2004)



The climactic moment in the re-birth of a populist Democratic Party came on the eve of the Wisconsin primary. John Kerry reversed his previous course to declare that 'I will not sign a trade agreement like the Central American Trade Agreement or the Free Trade of the Americas Act that does not now embrace enforceable labor and environment standards.'

Howard Dean said 'We've globalized the rights of big corporations to do business anywhere in the world. We did not globalize human rights, labor rights and environmental rights, and we need to do that.'