Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Obama's re-election campaign

Utopia won't be on the ballot in 2012. But I hope a primary challenge to Barack Obama will be.

I don't think it's likely that a primary challenge would succeed in unseating Obama as the Democratic nominee. But what it would do is give the Democratic base a way to register our objections to Obama's general approach, which in a more sane political environment would be called conservative. Obama is not going to morph into a 21st-century Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt. He's not that guy. He's too cautious in his style, too wedded to the worst features of the national security state and too eager to please Wall Street in his economic proposals.

But a serious primary challenge from a liberal/progressive candidate could scare him into taking a more progressive stand on economic issues like foreclosure relief, employment and consumer protection. It could discourage him from new military adventures or from further escalation in Afghanistan and Libya. And it would likely force him to back off from the most destructive of his neoliberal inclinations and unambiguously defend Social Security against the Republicans and the Pete Petersons of the world.

Here's the Obama campaing's lackluster opening video, which is apparently aimed at getting the grass roots supporters (aka, "the left" in Punditspeak) who he has been posturing against for months and months fired up about campaigning for him:

We live in a two-party environment in the United States. That means that people with serious ideas about politics, especially those outside what our Pod Pundits take to be the current mainstream, have to be able to walk and talk at the same time - in this context meaning that we have to recognize the differences between the two parties while keeping in mind the deficiencies of the one we prefer. Pointing out that Obama's austerity policies are damaging doesn't mean that we have to forget that John Boehner's austerity policies are even more destructive, or that crackpots like Michelle Bachman would cause far more harm than Obama's failings.

Joan Walsh opposes any primary challenge to Obama. I don't agree with her position on that. But she does have a good analysis of the reasons it could be problematic from a progressive Democratic viewpoint (Obama 2012: Let's talk next year Salon 04/04/2011):

I [also] oppose a primary challenge from the left because I believe it would keep progressives trapped in the fiction that presidential campaigns are the be all and end all of progressive politics. They're not, as Obama's election should have proven to everyone. MoveOn, Dean-turned-Democracy for America and much of the lefty blogosphere went all-in for Obama, lauding him as the true-blue progressive in the race, when he was not. They helped bring him the Democratic nomination he should have had to at least compete for among progressives. (Do people now understand that his praising Reagan and saying Social Security needed fixing might have been harbingers of the way he's led?) They dissipated energy that could have been spent in other ways; progressive groups have spent the last two years trying to figure out how to organize the base for truly progressive causes, rather than allegiance to a centrist Democratic president. Meanwhile, the stunning organizing achievements of Obama for America in 2008 -- building an email list of 13 million names, 4 million donors and 2 million active volunteers -- were never put behind a grass-roots effort to support Obama's agenda. We know from the New York Times that the Bill Daley White House shut down an effort by OFA to back the Wisconsin protests.
Joan is basing this observation on the experience of 2008. Obama encouraged liberal donors to focus their contributions through the official campaign rather than through independent liberal groups. This was widely understood as a savvy move because it was generally thought that the diffusion of campaign effort between the Kerry campaign in 2004 and independent liberal groups was a weakness because it made message management more difficult. The Obama campaign also organized a grassroots support group, an effort led by Marshal Gans. All of this looked promising in the short run from both a Democratic Party and progressive activist point of view.

She's got a good point. We need independent progressive organization advocating for labor and civil rights, for Social Security and Medicare, against war and neoliberal economics.

But we also need a Democratic Party that will fight for democracy and programs like Social Security that are vital to the American way of life. Governors like Jerry Brown are showing that such a thing is possible at the state level. It's got to become possible again at the national level.

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"It is the logic of our times
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