As a long time novice observer of American politics, I am asking myself one question over and over these days: Why is there no one challenging President Barack Obama for the 2012 Democratic nomination?
I know the big reasons against it:
- a. The innate power residing in any incumbent President,
- b. The incredible strength of the Obama money raising machine,
- c. The power of the White House to deliver projects and funds to win the support of key districts, key people, and key constituencies.
Yet, there are compelling reasons for some Democrat, with no illusions of actual victory, to challenge Mr.Obama for the “soul” of the Democratic Party. Some of the reasons stem just from Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy. However, other reasons ‘” perhaps the more important reasons ‘” stem from Mr. Obama’s handling of the leadership of the Democratic Party and his stewardship of the “Democratic brand”.
Unemployment seems stuck above 9% no matter what Mr. Obama does. Mr. Obama got his big stimulus in 2009 with pronouncements that the stimulus would reduce unemployment. It didn’t. The situation is further exasperated by continued claims from the White House about the effect of that stimulus on jobs. Confusing claims that lack credibility: The stimulus created 2 million jobs; the stimulus saved 2 million jobs. The message from Mr. Obama and the White House is not clear. One thing, however, is crystal clear: Unemployment remains above 9%.
Perhaps if the Bush tax cuts for the rich had been reversed, Mr. Obama could have gotten a second big stimulus. But Mr. Obama, while enjoying Democratic majorities in both Houses of Congress, chose not to pursue the reversal of those tax cuts. Instead, Mr. Obama and the Democrats deferred action on the tax cuts until after the 2010 mid-term elections. The Republican victories in those 2010 elections eliminated Mr. Obama’s position of strength. As a result, Mr. Obama subsequently bargained away any real hope of reversing the Bush tax cuts for the rich without getting back significant concessions from the Republicans. Thus the hopes of further stimulus and reversal of the tax cuts for the rich died with barely a whimper.
Mr. Obama is now putting the key programs that comprise the “Democratic brand” on the chopping block in negotiations to increase the debt ceiling. Social Security. Medicare. These are the programs that provide the social safety net to the lower and middle class of this nation. These are the programs that the historical liberal giants of the Democratic Party fought to create. Yet, Mr. Obama is offering them up to the Republican knives for cutting, apparently with little consultation with the rest of the Democratic Party. The key point is that the Republicans were not demanding both Social Security and Medicare be cut. The Republicans had floated a plan ‘” probably a bad plan ‘” for fixing Medicare. But the Republicans had no demands on Social Security until Mr.Obama unilaterally offered up most of the entitlement programs for cutting.
Mr. Obama’s offering up of the key programs that make up the “Democratic brand” is a move that endangers the Democratic Party. The immediate result could be the decimation of the Democratic incumbents in the House and the Senate. If the Democrats allow the Republicans to gut Social Security and Medicare without a fight when less Draconian adjustments could have ensured the survival of both programs, it is my opinion the voters will take out their anger on the Democrats in 2012 and beyond.
The key to the future survival of the Democratic Party may be the phrase “without a fight” in the previous paragraph. If the rest of the Democrats simply allow Mr. Obama to make his own deals and negotiate away key Democratic programs, then they may suffer huge losses in the 2012 Congressional races.
Based on these observations and opinions, I come back to the original question: Why is there no Democrat challenging Mr. Obama for the 2012 Democratic nomination?
Where is the Democratic Party that loved a good fight? Where is the Democratic Party that effectively got their message out to the people? Where is the Democratic Party that stood up for the lower and middle classes? The Democratic Party I knew stood up for what it believed and fought the good fight'”. It did not roll over, capitulate, or surrender. The Democratic Party I knew is not the Democratic Party led by Mr. Obama.
For his inability to fix the economy, for his inability to reverse the Bush tax cuts for the rich, for his unwillingness to defend the programs that are the “Democratic brand”, for his inability to end our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, for his commitment of US military to a new conflict in Libya for ill-defined reasons, and, most of all, for his willingness to surrender to the Republicans on issue after issue without a fight ‘” Mr. Obama deserves to be challenged for the 2012 Democratic nomination. He simply has not earned the right to be the presumptive and automatic Democratic nominee. Lyndon Johnson had Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in 1968. Jimmy Carter had Teddy Kennedy in 1980. Mr. Obama has earned a challenger because of his substandard performance as President and as leader of the Democratic Party. As lesser teams must play their way into the NCAA March Madness, so too Mr. Obama should be forced to prove his fitness for the 2012 Democratic nomination in contested Democratic primaries.
Russ Feingold? Hillary Clinton? Mario Cuomo? Is anyone out there willing to try to reclaim and save the Democratic Party? Anyone?