Jon Tester: A New Kind of Populist


Richard Moore

        pop·u·list n.
        1. A supporter of the rights and power of the people.

        It ain¹t left or right. It¹s up and down.
        Here we all are own here struggling
        while the Corporate Elite are all up
        there having a nice day!
        ‹ Carolyn Chute, author of 'The Beans of Egypt Maine' and
        anti-corporate activist

Now here's a politician who makes sense. He's rightfully abandoned the rhetoric 
of both the left and right. I wonder how many Volvo Liberals will reject him 
because he doesn't cater to their fundamentalist prejudices?


Original source URL:

Jon Tester: A New Kind of Populist
By Joshua Frank, AlterNet
Posted on December 15, 2006, Printed on December 21, 2006

He's not exactly the type of Democrat you'd be likely to see backslapping New 
York City fat cats on their way into an elaborate fund raiser for Hillary 
Clinton. In fact, Jon Tester, the senator-elect from Montana, isn't your typical
Democrat. He's almost not a Democrat at all, or at least not the kind we're used
to seeing run around Washington these days. In fact Tester ran his campaign 
against Senator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) on just that platform. He was tired of 
the scandals and dishonesty that engulf our national politics and professed that
the polluted Beltway could use a little Montana house cleanin'. Voters agreed, 
and Burns, who had ties to the now incarcerated power broker Jack Abramoff, was 
defeated in one of the tightest races in state history.

A State Senator and organic farmer by trade, Jon operates his family's homestead
just outside Big Sandy in northern Montana where the winter chills can chatter 
your teeth as early as mid-September. When I say he's not really even a 
Democrat, that may be a bit of an understatement. Tester is essentially an NRA 
approved neo-populist with libertarian tendencies who wants to immediately 
redeploy troops from Iraq as well as repeal the PATRIOT Act. And although nobody
would consider Tester an anti-globalization activist, his position on 
international trade is more in line with the protesters who shut down Seattle in
1999 than with the Democratic Leadership Council.

On a recent Meet the Press broadcast Tester even addressed the most evaded issue
in national politics: Poverty. "There's no more middle class," he confessed to 
Tim Russert, "the working poor aren't even being addressed. Those are the people
who brought us here [to Congress] and they need to be empowered. It's time to 
show them attention ... We have to use policy to help that situation."

In a debate last September, Sen. Conrad Burns attempted to paint Tester as weak 
on terror. "We cannot afford another 9/11," Burns chided. "I can tell you that 
right now, he [Tester] wants to weaken the PATRIOT Act." To which Tester 
countered, "Let me be clear. I don't want to weaken the PATRIOT Act. I want to 
get rid of it."

Tester built his campaign from the ground up, shunning support from nationally 
known Democrats like John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, as he knew they'd rub 
Montanans the wrong way. Instead, the nearly 300 pound farmer who lost three 
fingers in a meat grinding accident as a child, drove around the state so he 
could chat face-to-face with his potential constituents.

Fortunately for Tester, he's used to bucking the system. His first foray with 
the Washington Consensus came in 1998 when he ran for the Montana legislature 
because he was outraged over the huge energy hikes that had resulted from the 
state's deregulation of the power industry. And he's been speaking out against 
policies that pit working folks against the corporate class ever since. That's 
why he supports renewable energies and a livable minimum wage.

Still, Tester isn't the perfect politician. While he may remain strong on many 
issues, he is a bit wishy-washy on a few social justice concerns, such as the 
death penalty and gay rights. Nevertheless, Tester's campaign and personal 
appeal may serve as a winning blueprint for left-leaning populists out here in 
the Interior West. Indeed Brian Schweitzer used the exact formula to become 
Governor of Montana two years ago.

We should keep an eye on the senator-to-be when he takes office next month. If 
Jon Tester shuns the corporate wing of the Democratic Party, and truly speaks 
for the people of Montana, he could have a profound effect on our national 
discourse. Not to mention the way business is done in Washington.

Joshua Frank is the author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. 
Bush and edits

© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

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