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Brent Budowsky: Bill de Blasio lifts the left

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On great matters of income inequality and social justice for what is called the 99 percent, a new star is born from the streets of New York, who has lifted the spirits of progressives everywhere. The election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City creates a powerful opportunity to turn the core vision of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as the core teachings of Pope Francis about economic justice, into the daily workings of city government in the global center of media and finance.

Already, during his short tenure at City Hall and with his rising stature on the national stage, de Blasio has applied his “tale of two cities” campaign to real-time governing initiatives to promote a higher minimum wage for workers, improved education for the young, better treatment of immigrants, more affordable housing for the homeless and the poor, and a more just contribution from the 1 percent who prospered so greatly before the financial crash, so inequitably from the financial bailouts, and so disproportionately from the so-called recovery.

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The progressive movement in America, which once mistakenly believed its great champion would be Barack Obama, has been forced to resort to what I would call an invasion of Normandy strategy as elections approach in 2014 and 2016.

For the invasion of Normandy in 1944, Dwight Eisenhower mobilized land, sea and airborne forces to storm the beaches. As the 70th anniversary of Normandy approaches, progressive populists, whose participation — or lack of — will determine the fate of Democrats in the midterm elections, and whose support will decide the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, are regrouping to storm the political beaches again.

De Blasio is now the fourth player in the progressive populist firmament that is emerging as the heir to movements that, after previous eras of financial corruption, led to historic reform presidents such as Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The list of leading champions of the 99 percent includes, besides de Blasio:

• Francis, whose advocacy for the downtrodden and dispossessed, and opposition to “trickle down economics” and unjust institutions, has begun to cause tremors in the tectonic plates of public opinion and political discourse; 

• Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, whose long-term advocacy of reducing economic inequality has come with her to the high corridor of power at the Fed; 

•Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), whose powerful voice echoes in the legislative branch and national media and has become the de facto leader of American progressives.

For those who doubt that progressive populism stands on the right side of history and politics, I ask: with the pope’s popularity approaching 90 percent, the president’s popularity approaching 40 percent, the Tea Party’s popularity approaching 20 percent and Congress’s popularity approaching 10 percent, wouldn’t successful leaders act more like the pope than the president, the Congress or the Tea Party? 

De Blasio now possesses governing authority to implement major change in real time, with a friendly city council that will support his initiatives, in the global megaphone of New York City. He is a progressive populist who has a practical political streak. Unlike phony populists, de Blasio talks the talk and walks the walk. He knows the difference between selling out and making good deals.

De Blasio faces the big challenges of governing. He will be tested. But the left is lifted by the possibility that he could evolve into a modern-day Robert Kennedy or a New York City FDR, turning city government into a laboratory for big ideas put into action. What made FDR and RFK extraordinary was their existential ability to translate great aspirations into great deeds, with the blend of idealism and realpolitik that makes good things happen.

Bill de Blasio has lifted the left and is a man to watch in 2014. I have a hunch that the next Democratic nominee for president will be watching him closely, too.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.