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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 64.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Wisconsin loves Obama after all
Progressives are responding to the president's campaign themes
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The day I returned from the Republican convention in Tampa, I bumped into a friend at the grocery store. She had been out canvassing for Obama, she told me, and was just about ready to quit. People were so hostile, she said, it was too discouraging - she'd had enough.

Since I'd been hanging around with Paul Ryan, Scott Walker and Reince Priebus for a week, I immediately assumed she was talking about Republican hostility to the president. But then I came to my senses. We were standing in the produce aisle of the Willy Street Co-op, after all. East-siders in Madison were the ones slamming the door on my friend when she asked them to vote to reelect the president.

Obama didn't help us during the Walker recall effort - except for literally phoning in his support in an election-eve tweet. How on Earth could the president expect people who stood out in the cold for months, went door to door, put their lives on hold, and suffered a heartbreaking defeat in a battle over the core values of the Democratic Party to get up and do it all over again after feeling so stiffed?

I'd been away from Wisconsin and had temporarily forgotten this fundamental truth. At least it seemed fundamental at the beginning of September.

In the last few weeks, everything has changed again.

After the Democratic convention, the mood around the country - and especially here in Wisconsin - was suddenly, profoundly more upbeat about the president. (Except in Chicago, where teachers were going through the same sort of agony they suffered here in Wisconsin, and with similar lack of support from Obama.)

There was the post-convention bounce that showed Obama and Democrats everywhere surging in the polls. And, especially for progressives, there was the surprising and inspiring fact that the whole theme of the national election, it turns out, is the same set of core values so many people were eager to defend here.

The auto industry rescue, the defense of the social safety net, economic inequality, the assault on the middle class, and runaway Wall Street greed are what the Dems are running on - the idea that, as the president put it, "We're all in this together."

Sure, Bill Clinton, who gave a brilliant, progressive speech at the convention, also gave us NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagall, accelerating the decline of middle-class jobs and permitting the banks to go on the binge that sank the economy.

But it's hard to resist a great pitch aimed right at your heart, especially when it looks like that pitch may win the election.

Our own Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin was the Democrats' answer to the Wisconsin Republicans who were so prominently featured in Tampa. And not only is Baldwin up in the polls in her Senate race against Tommy Thompson, she is helping out Obama here in her home state. In Milwaukee last week, she opened for the president at the Summerfest grounds with a strong defense of trade policies that would protect American manufacturing and end tax breaks for corporations that ship jobs overseas. The crowd ate it up.

Obama - who has not been with Baldwin on her opposition to CAFTA and Most Favored Nation status for China - picked up on the same themes and told the crowd, "What we did for the auto industry, we want to do for all of American manufacturing."

And why not? The auto industry rescue was a major success. Imagine if Romney had been president. When you look at it from a comfortable distance (especially if you're not a teacher), there is a lot to be said for the ways in which the president has stuck up for the people who need and deserve it.

Putting undocumented immigrants on stage, reaching out to the Dreamers, mentioning marriage equality in speech after speech - these gestures have highlighted the cultural canyon between the parties. So did the makeup of the convention crowd. Obama's crowd looked like America. And after the hate-fest on the right, it's a relief to feel part of that.

As with his "evolution" on gay marriage - completed just in time to make it a major campaign theme, mentioned by speaker after speaker at the DNC - Obama has a way of connecting with progressives when he needs us, and making us feel great.

Romney, of course, is doing his best to help out, looking more and more like Scrooge McDuck.

With the recall fight behind us, it feels great to move on to the prospect of a big win. But beware the next roller-coaster dip. Obama may win the election on the issue of defending Medicare and protecting the middle class - and then sign off on a bipartisan deal on deficit reduction that undermines Medicare and Social Security, makes deep cuts in other programs, and steers clear of the so-called fiscal cliff by pushing lower-income Americans right off the edge. Win or lose, we are going to have just as much work to do to defend those core values the Republicans ignore and the Democrats only seem to remember now and then.


Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.

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