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Challenge Obama from the Left in 2012 Not to Save His Presidency — but the Democratic Party Itself

Yesterday, Michael Lerner had a piece in the Washington Post in which he argued that Obama must face a primary challenge to save his presidency.

With his base deeply disillusioned, many progressives are starting to believe that Obama has little chance of winning reelection unless he enthusiastically embraces a populist agenda and worldview – soon. Yet there is little chance that will happen without a massive public revolt by his constituency that goes beyond rallies, snide remarks from television personalities or indignant op-eds. […]

But there is a real way to save the Obama presidency: by challenging him in the 2012 presidential primaries with a candidate who would unequivocally commit to a well-defined progressive agenda and contrast it with the Obama administration’s policies.

The stakes are actually much higher than that.

In retrospect, it was unfortunate that the Democrats won such resounding victories in 2006 and 2008 — because they had done little to deserve it. They were brought back into power, not on the strength of their convictions and the soundness and clarity of their platform, but simply because Bush/Cheney and the Republicans in Congress were such an unmitigated disaster. It took two losing wars, the rank criminality of DeLay/Abramoff, and Republican incompetence from Katrina to the economy to get the Democrats back in office.

But what did the Democrats really stand for in 2006 or 2008? Opposition to everything Bush, and that’s about it. That was certainly necessary — there is little question that opposing Bush’s disastrous policies was critical. And Bush’s activist agenda made it difficult to do much else. But that opposition inhibited the development of a clear, affirmative agenda, an agenda which had grown increasingly corporatist and vanilla after the Clinton ’90s — a good decade for the country, to be sure, but not a good decade at all for the Democratic Party. The Democrats did not spend their time in the wilderness crafting a clear rebuke of Reaganism, as they should have.

I remember hearing Nancy Pelosi speak at Netroots Nation in 2008. Someone asked her what the Democratic Party stood for, and she delivered a completely rambling, incoherent answer, filled with random policy goals (we’re for education!, we’re for science!). It was shocking to hear the Speaker of the House be unable to clearly articulate what defined her own party, in one or two short sentences.

It was into this void that Barack Obama campaigned for the nomination. Because the Democratic platform and ideals had been watered down after the Clinton/Bush eras, the party would be defined completely by Obama, for better or worse.

Well, worse it is.

I used to scoff at those who would say as late as 2006 that there was no difference between the parties. How can you say that, I’d ask: do you really think the country would’ve been different under President Gore? But now, Obama has made that argument much more difficult.

By continuing the Bush/Cheney Wall Street bailouts, amplifying the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, enhancing the worst of the executive power grabs, refusing to investigate or prosecute the criminality of the Bush/Cheney terror policies, failing to champion serious environmental reforms, by doing a stimulus bill that was loaded up with tax cuts to attract GOP votes, extending the irresponsible Bush tax cuts for the rich — and of course, delivering a Republican health insurance bill, stripped of its meager progressive elements — Obama has all but obliterated the meaningful differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.

With a Republican in the White House, there still would’ve been some stimulus. Maybe one with even more tax cuts, but something, certainly. Remember, the House and Senate were still held by Democrats, and McCain loved to dress up as a moderate for the cameras. No, McCain would not have nominated Sotomayor and Kagan to the Supreme Court, and he would likely have taken a more bellicose posture against Iran and North Korea. But when you’re reduced to SCOTUS nominations and rhetoric, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Really, to get the GOP position on anything, just add the word “more” to the Obama’s: more tax cuts, more war, more corporatism, more fealty to Wall Street, more screwing of the American worker.

Unless a progressive Democrat challenges Obama from the left, the Democratic Party will be synonymous with Obama’s corporatist, hawkish agenda for years — an agenda which seems to please only the Evan Bayh/Blue Dog wing of the Democratic Party. It certainly does not appeal to independents — whose support of Obama has cratered recently, and certainly not the base of the Democratic Party, who delivered such resounding victories in ’06 and ’08 in opposition to Bush.

Obama’s presidency might be a lost cause, but for the good of the country, the soul of the Democratic Party must be saved. And the only way to do that is to challenge him for the Democratic nomination in 2012.

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