Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Presidential Primary Challenge: dangerous and inappropriate

By Matt Dai, New York Times, December 7, 2010
President Obama’s compromise with Republicans on extending tax cuts for the wealthy, which his self-described progressive critics see as a profound betrayal, is bound to intensify a debate that has been bubbling up on liberal blogs and e-mail lists in recent weeks — whether or not the president who embodied “hope and change” in 2008 should face a primary challenge in 2012.

The idea seems to have little momentum for now, not least because there isn’t an obvious candidate, and because such a challenge would seem to have about as much chance of success as, say, a reality show about David Hasselhoff. That a primary is being openly discussed, though, reflects how fully Mr. Obama’s relationship with his party’s liberal activists has ruptured and the considerable confusion on the left over what to do about it.
Just last weekend, three liberal writers made the case for taking on Mr. Obama in 2012. Michael Lerner, longtime editor of Tikkun magazine, argued in The Washington Post that a primary represented a “real way to save the Obama presidency,” by forcing Mr. Obama to move leftward. Robert Kuttner, co-founder of The American Prospect and one of the party’s most scathing populist voices, issued a similar call on The Huffington Post, suggesting Iowa as the ideal incubator.
On the same site, Clarence B. Jones, a one-time confidant of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., suggested that liberals should break with Mr. Obama now, just as Dr. King and others did with Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. “It is not easy to consider challenging the first African-American to be elected president of the United States,” Mr. Jones wrote. “But, regrettably, I believe the time has come to do this.”
Meanwhile, in Iowa, a group known as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, originally founded to aid Democratic Congressional candidates in 2010, has started broadcasting an advertisement that shows Mr. Obama, in 2008, promising to reverse the tax cuts for the most affluent Americans. The group isn’t advocating a primary challenge just yet — but then, the choice of Iowa as a market seems intended to send a pretty clear warning to the White House.
Democrats who engage in such a process of even positing the notion of a primary challenge to President Obama, because of his "lack of the fighter/killer instinct," would do well to recall the floor fight between Senator Edward Kennedy and then President Jimmy Carter, over health care in 1980.
It was a fight that virtually ruined Carter's chances for victory and those who undermine the current president, who has taken office, let's not forget, at a time of extreme peril for the U.S. and for the rest of the world, on many fronts, and who has made considerable progress in a difficult political climate, given a Republican party of NO to everything..especially to the president, personally.
Mr. Obama, yesterday, reminded the left flank of his party that, while compromise does not give everyone everything they would want or like in a bill, for example on the health care reform bill, some 30 million Americans will have coverage and no insurance company can deny coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Let's try to see the glass as half-full not half-empty, which a perfectionistic and absolutist approach will often do.
All political issues bring out the supporters and the opponents, in all their shades of meaning, language and emotion, not to mention the marshalling of their "facts". And when it is time to write a piece of legislation, those at the table are conscious of the implications of how the bill will "sell" to their various constituencies.
Paying more attention to the liberal left, while attempting to "right" a "sinking ship" of the American economy, might have to mean not completely pleasing economic advisers like Paul Krugman, while still including his perspective in the process of the debate. By the same token, it might mean not completely satisfying Nial Ferguson, of Harvard. And that is just how it is.
The liberal left, with whom I strongly identify, needs to take a little "patience" medicine, and "chill out" in its frenzy over Obama's failures, and start to look at the plate he inherited, and the degree to which he has addressed, if not perfectly, at least professionally and far more than competently, in the last two years.
And, remember, too, that it the independent votes that will determine the results of the next presidential election, not only the liberal left votes, of which there may be only 25%.




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