A Colorado Senate Race Tests The Appeal Of Progressive Populism

by | Nov 5, 2022 | Politics

PUEBLO, Colo. ― It took only a minute for Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) to say the magic words: “trickle-down economics.”“You remember that trickle-down economics, that supply-side economics, that privileging everybody in our in our economy and in our society that wanted to export stuff and make it as cheaply as possible in China and Southeast Asia?” he asked a few dozen loyal Democrats assembled to hear him speak at a historic railroad station on Sunday. “The result has been that for more than 40 years, the economy, when it’s grown, has worked really well for the top 10% of Americans, but hasn’t really worked for anybody else.”AdvertisementThe speech was a hit with the crowd in Pueblo, a blue-collar steel town where the geopolitical landscape resembles the industrial Midwest perhaps more than anywhere else in Colorado. At one point, an attendee interjected to ask what Bennet was doing to raise corporate taxes. Bennet proudly replied that he had fought to insert the “alternative minimum tax” provision into the Inflation Reduction Act, ensuring that corporations pay at least 15% of their income in taxes.But Bennet, who is seeking a third full term in Congress, doesn’t change his message based on the audience. He deployed a similar narrative before a statewide audience in his televised debate with Joe O’Dea, his Republican challenger, the Friday night before. And in an interview with HuffPost after his speech in Pueblo, Bennet used “neoliberalism” ― an academic term for post-1970s market fundamentalism ― interchangeably with “trickle-down economics,” blaming the phenomenon for creating fertile ground for former President Donald Trump’s rise.Advertisement“It’s almost inevitable in human history that if people lose their sense of economic mobility, that’s when somebody shows up and says, ‘I alone can fix it,’” he said, quoting Trump’s infamous line.Colorado is an increasingly Democratic state. President Joe Biden won it by 13.5 percentage points in 2020, compared with Democrat Hillary Clinton’s victory by just under 5 points four years earlier.Still, Bennet is something of a break with recent tradition in Centennial State politics.Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) and Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), himself a former governor, come from a long line of centrist, business-friendly Colorado Democrats embodied by former Sen. Gary Hart (D), a leader of what was known in the 1980s as the “Atari Democrats.” They are about as likely to denounce “trickle-down economics” or offshoring in their stump speeches as the Colorado Rockies are to win a World Series.A commitment to confronting economic inequality “sets [Bennet] apart” from some other Colorado Democrats, said Scott Wasserman, president of the Bell Policy Center, a Denver-based think tank that advocates for progressive economic policies …

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