Transcript: Thom Hartmann: Nebraska Democrats, take back your party! 28 December '11

Excuse me if I don't shed a tear over news that THIS guy is retiring next year.

That's right - Ben Nelson - the Democratic Senator - in name only - from Nebraska announced that he will not be seeking a third term next year.

Nelson leaves behind quite a legacy as the - to quote the Huffington Post - "Human Impediment to Progress".

He held President Obama's health reform bill hostage until he could extract some special deals just for his home state.

He joined Republicans to block benefits for unemployed people.

He stood in the way of meaningful Wall Street reform.

He helped the Republicans kill foreclosure assistance legislation for struggling families.

He blocked energy reform legislation.

And he even bucked Democrats and voted against confirming Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan to the high court.

With friends like these...right?

So needless to say - I'm not the only one isn't too upset to see Ben Nelson leave.

He himself even saw the writing on the wall: Republicans were dumping huge amounts of money into Nebraska to unseat him - and Democrats were only grudgingly offering their support to help him...but they really didn't want to.

He really had no friends on either side left...except maybe Joe Lieberman.

It lends truth to Harry Truman's advice to Democrats in 1952 when he said:

The people don't want a phony Democrat. If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time; that is, they will take a Republican before they will a phony Democrat, and I don't want any phony Democratic candidates in this campaign.

Rush Limbaugh, of all people, shared with the country how the people of Nebraska feel about Ben Nelson's betrayal of his own party and his own state:

Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson and his wife were leaving dinner at a new pizza joint near their home in Omaha one night last week when a customer began complaining about Nelson’s decisive role in the vote on the Senate health care bill.

Other customers started booing. A woman yelled, “Get the hell out of here!” The Nelsons and their dining companions then beat a hasty retreat.

But despite Truman's take on this - Democrats are worried by Nelson's retirement.

There are 23 Democrats in the Senate fighting for re-election next year - and only 10 Republicans up for re-election - and Republicans only need to net 4 seats to take control of the upper chamber.

And with Nelson retiring - Democrats are already figuring that they'll lose that seat in Nebraska to a Republican.

After all - Nelson is the only Democrat currently elected to statewide office in the entire state.

So here's what Democrats need to realize - Nelson retiring isn't a setback...it's an opportunity.

This is a chance for the Democratic Party to nominate a replacement who's a strong progressive, instead of another warmed-over party-machine get-along-go-along name from the past like former Senator Bob Kerry - who's name is already floating around - and who will generate less excitement than a room-temperature bowl of mushroom soup.

Instead Democrats in Nebraska need to take note of Elizabeth Warren's surging popularity in Massachusetts - and the rise of the 99% Movement in every state around the country - and listen to what the people on the ground are saying - which is that they want to kick corporations out of government.

That's the populist message that Elizabeth Warren has claimed - and she is kicking Scott Brown's butt right across the state of Massachusetts with it.

Now we all know that Nebraska is different from Massachusetts - but the anger across America is the same.

Consider this ad featuring a Nebraska small businessman that progressives in Nebraska ran when Ben Nelson was screwing up Obamacare and having single-payer advocates arrested in the Senate:

Michael Snider, Small Business Owner: For six years, I've owned the Syzzlyn Skillet here in Ralston, Nebraska. Last week, my health insurance agent called. He told me my rates were going to go up 42 percent from last year. I can't afford that. I told him I may have to cancel the coverage. I'm just going to pray my kids don't get sick.

When President Obama proposes a public health insurance option that would force the private insurance companies to compete at lower rates, that's exactly what my family needs. Now, I hear that Ben Nelson, the senator that I voted for, is leading the charge to delay health reform this summer-that's exactly what they want. The health and insurance companies that have given Senator Nelson over $2 million know that if they can stall reform, they can kill it.

I have to ask: Senator, whose side are you on? If you're on my side, stay at work. My family can't wait for reform.

So, whether it's the Tea Party or the Occupy Wall Street Movement - common ground can be found when it comes to throwing banksters in jail - ending crony capitalism - reining in Wall Street - and bringing our jobs back home.

Heck - even the most ferocious Tea Partiers don't want their Social Security and Medicare taken away from them.

So if Democrats take advantage of this opportunity - and nominate a true progressive - someone who is able to bluntly say that the problem is not "big government" - but big corporations controlling government - then he or she can win...not just in Massachusetts, but also Nebraska, and heck - even Texas - as more and more Americans today are seeing the Republican Party for what it really is - corporate shills and sellouts working exclusively for the top 1 percent.

And in the end - they would have replaced a bought-off corporate 1 percent Democrat in Ben Nelson with a true progressive willing to fight for things like single-payer healthcare, energy reform, and making the rich pay their fair share in taxes.

That's what's at stake - and THAT'S why this is an opportunity - and not a setback - for Democrats.

So Cornhuskers...don't blow it.

Somewhere in your state there's a good, progressive person willing to run for office -- maybe even the small businessman in that anti-Nelson ad.

Find him or her, and make history!

That's The Big Picture.

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