The progress represented by electing an out candidate to the U.S. Senate is tremendous. But there are many other important reasons to support openly gay Democrat Tammy Baldwin over Republican Tommy Thompson in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl – reasons that benefit both Wisconsin and the nation.
Baldwin is unimpeachably one of the most genuine, intelligent and committed lawmakers serving in the U.S. Capitol today. Every day of her career as a public servant – and that is quite literally how she views herself – Baldwin has demonstrated her support for the middle class and for such traditional values as social justice, economic opportunity, access to education and health care, individual liberty and tolerance.
Early in her congressional career, Baldwin was one of the few members of Congress to oppose lifting the Glass-Steagall Act, which since the Great Depression had kept banks from engaging in the kinds of risky practices that led to the worldwide 2008 economic collapse. She stood up for Wisconsin homeowners by stopping the Justice Department from granting immunity to big banks guilty of mortgage fraud. Ultimately, the banks were forced to pay billions of dollars to victims of their unethical practices.
Blustery and boastful in temperament, Thompson is the polar opposite of the warm, soft-spoken Baldwin. In his heyday, Thompson was a moderate whose political success was built on compromise. He created BadgerCare, which helped low-income earners obtain affordable health care coverage.
But the Thompson of today is not the popular governor that older Wisconsinites remember. During the Republican primary, he positioned himself as a hardline conservative, promising tea party extremists that he would act as an obstructionist if elected. Since then, he has taken to labeling himself alternately a conservative or a moderate, depending on the audience. He is as disingenuous as Baldwin is authentic.
Thompson left Wisconsin in debt despite presiding over a period of great national economic expansion. He took the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services in George W. Bush’s administration. After leaving that job, he capitalized shamelessly on the connections he’d made, shilling for pharmaceutical companies in which he had financial stakes. Among his gifts to the drug industry was changing federal law to make it illegal for Medicare to negotiate with them for lower costs. That put affordable, life-saving drugs out of reach for millions of middle- and lower-income seniors, but it helped to make Thompson $13 million richer.
Now 70 and somewhat worse for the wear after years of notorious hard living, he’s back in Wisconsin pretending to be a farmer. During the Sept. 28 debate, Thompson had the temerity to depict himself as loving and devoted family man and a Washington outsider, one of the more audacious distortions of reality heard this election cycle.
Tellingly, Thompson has refused to release even one year of his tax returns since 1997. But of even more concern is his inability to articulate why he’s running for office, other than to offer the obligatory political promises de jour of wanting to create jobs and lower taxes, without explaining how.
Like GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Thompson would sacrifice the nation’s future as a whole for the short-term financial benefits of a very few, themselves included. Beyond cutting taxes for the uber rich, a strategy that has failed to deliver the promised economic bonanza for more than 30 years, Thompson and Romney have not laid a single job-creating proposal on the table.
Baldwin, on the other hand, would help to reinvigorate the economy by investing in critical infrastructure and education needs.
Baldwin, who has released all of her tax returns, has not enriched herself through public employment as Thompson has. Instead, she has enriched the lives of those she has served by faithfully representing their interests, by standing up to the greedy and the powerful and opposing GOP policies that have pushed the American dream farther and farther from the grasp of average individuals.
Baldwin would be a stellar choice for the U.S. Senate regardless of her opponent, but this race is not even close. Thompson just isn’t in the same league. He’s running to run, while she’s running to make a difference.