The remarkable rise of Mandela Barnes

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The Hill recently shared an interesting piece on the senate race in Wisconsin. On one side, you have Ron Johnson who should have been gone a while ago and who certainly needs to go now, and Mandela Barnes, the 35-year-old lieutenant governor of Wisconsin. The Hill refers to Barnes as a “populist” Democrat, but what exactly is a “populist?” That depends on who you ask.

The Atlantic published a piece on populism several years ago. According to that piece: “No definition of populism will fully describe all populists.” Well, that’s certainly not helpful and is somewhat confusing. According to Cas Mudde, a professor at the University of Georgia who has studied it, populists want to “kick out the political establishment,” though they have no concrete ideas for replacing that establishment. Populists generally stand for those who are left out of society and view them as “the only people that matter.” An interesting take. They see the “elites” as keeping everyone else down and further see our modern-day political system as assisting in the endeavor.

In their words: “If the people’s politician doesn’t win, there must be something wrong with the system.” While that might make sense on one level, it doesn’t account for the neglected who continue to vote against their own interests. Look at Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell. They lead one of the poorest states in the nation. Obviously, they’ve done nothing to support the people who elect them, yet they continue to elect them even though they are no better off under that “leadership.”

Mandela Barnes is a young, Black man. He can certainly be considered one of the “neglected” because of his race, but he has managed to rise in the political ranks in Wisconsin. What does he stand for and why should people support him? Barnes’ main pitch is restoring the middle class. If you visit his site, you will read in big bold letters: “It’s time everyone had a fair shot at the American dream.” That doesn’t sound so outlandish, and many Democrats make that same point. According to the Hill, state Senator Kelda Roys (D), believes: “He [Barnes] is really the embodiment of Wisconsin values. That’s one of the reasons that he connects across the state, regardless of geography, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of income.” Barnes sounds like he could be a great foil to Democrats who are either far to the left or right, but he also embraces progressive ideals. According to the Hill, he is against corporate PAC money and supports Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. He has the support of some of the more hgh-profile progressives, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warrant, but he also has secured the endorsement of James Clyburn. Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, sees Barnes as “a top priority.”


It is interesting that Barnes does embrace progressive ideas while not being bound by them, and he is attracting the attention of members of the old guard like Clyburn. He may well be just what the Democrats need to oust Johnson and to perhaps bring the party into a more cohesive group. He will certainly be one to watch.

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