Michele Bachmann's idea of giving a second Republican reply to the State of the Union was politically brilliant. Democrats, progressives and real populists would be well-advised to understand why.
By standards of Democratic presidents, the president has positioned himself as a center-to-right Democrat, reaching out to big business and Republicans. Being charitable, Tuesday night's debate was between a Democratic centrist, Barack Obama, a conservative Republican, Paul Ryan, and a more conservative Tea Party Republican, Michele Bachmann.
There were two missing chairs last night. The first was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords'. The second was any voice for a progressive or populist viewpoint, which was not a part of last night's discussion, one more step in a debate that is moving very far to the right, and by doing so, taking the political center even further to the right.
What Bachmann was doing was moving to define the debate and move the debate further to the right. So, Obama took the Democratic position further to the right by standards of Democratic presidents, Paul Ryan took the Republican position further to the right, and Michele Bachman took the debate even further to the right.
The voice of the liberal and the populist was silent in the State of the Union. Those who had been jobless for 99 weeks, those who are poor, the homeless vets, the most poor and climate change itself were not part of the state of the union.
I have repeatedly argued that the voice of the true populist and progressive America are names like Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Robert Reich, James Galbraith, and Simon Johnson. I believe this view should be the basis of a progressive populist majority, but this view was virtually silent Tuesday night.
The progressive and populist narrative is that banks refuse to lend to consumers and small business, that speculation rules Wall Street, that skyrocketing foreclosures treat homeowners as the petty cash of short-term profits, that the climate is warming because of rapacious excess, and that the huge jobless rate is an inevitable result of what is called capitalism, but is in fact cruel greed without the true competition of a real marketplace.
Strangely, even Wall Street-friendly CNBC gives these views more voice than they received in any of the speeches last night.
There was not a word last night that even began to discuss this narrative, or offer a genuinely progressive or populist alternative.
Bachmann's goal was to move the debate even further to the right. I can disagree with every word she said, but understand her tactic. She succeeded last night as the most conservative voices were roaring and the progressive and populist voices were silent.
The question progressives and populists should ask is not how Bachmann could dare give her speech, but why their voice was virtually silenced as the nation considered the state of the union.