Why There Need to be Democratic Presidential Primary Contests in 2012

On this Memorial Day, the AP headlined “Obama Prospects Might Hinge on Voter Registration” ( http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_obama_voter_registration/print ), and reported that so many Democrats had become disillusioned with Barack Obama, so that the Republican candidate in 2012 (whomever that might turn out to be) will stand an improved chance of winning, as compared to 2008 (when Democrats were expecting that an eloquent President Obama would use the “bully pulpit” and really fight against the special interests, for progressive change — not repeatedly cave to them after only a weak fight).

As it turns out, Obama hasn’t been the progressive leader that many of his voters in 2008 expected him to be. He has instead been determinedly “bipartisan,” by protecting from prosecution George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Dick Fuld, Lloyd Blankfein, Angelo Mozilo, Christopher Cox, and all other high-level individuals who are alleged to have broken (sometimes simply by refusing to enforce) the nation’s laws, and to have thereby produced multi-trillion-dollar taxpayer bailouts of Wall Street firms, and other major national and international problems.

As the President, Obama immediately gave up on even pushing for the “public option” health insurance which would be made available to every American, such as he had promised in his election campaign, and he instead meekly put forth at the start a proposal for a weak public option that would be made available only to individuals who were rejected by private insurance companies — about 5% of the public. And President Obama’s refusal to “look backward” to investigate possible crimes by higher-ups in the previous (G.W. Bush) Administration, and on Wall Street, has prevented the very accountability that, as a Presidential candidate, Obama had promised to deliver from the White House. Obama’s refusal to “look backward” has made the view increasingly ugly when the nation itself looks forward. Non-enforcement of the laws whenever elites have broken the laws can deliver only oligarchy, not democracy; and oligarchy is intrinsically ugly.

Candidate Obama never promised that U.S. taxpayers would take on the financial losses of Wall Street’s leading firms, but that’s what he pushed for as President — and he won it from Congress, because President Obama made clear that he wouldn’t sign any other type of legislation to deal with the financial collapse. He got what he demanded from Congress, and it’s not the kind of legislation that he had promised to deliver to the American people. He will certainly be remembered as the President who resolutely blocked any break-up of the large Wall Street banks and so perpetuated the Too-Big-To-Fail problem that performed an essential role in creating the 2008 crash. Obama chose as his top economic official Timothy Geithner, who had already helped Wall Street to fleece taxpayers; and Obama still stands by that choice, even today.

If this President Obama goes into the 2012 general election contest against a Republican, without there first being a series of Democratic Presidential primaries in which he wins the Democratic nomination from Democratic voters, then many Democratic voters on Election Day in November 2012 will be so disheartened by his betrayal of their trusts as to refuse to vote on the Presidential line, either as a protest against the horrible choice that is being offered to them, or else because they won’t want to blame themselves for having approved and having helped to cause the continuation of the policies that they know are destroying America.

One might argue that the Republicans are even worse, and in many respects they assuredly are, but Obama’s immediate caves to Republican policy-positions are driving this nation’s political center farther and farther to the right, and are delivering increasingly scary economic and political results to the American people.

Is there any way to reverse this frightening trend?

Certainly, a Ralph Nader-like third party challenge to the two major-Party candidates in the general election will be harmful if it draws more votes away from the better of the two contending candidates than from the worse of the two, as Ralph Nader did in 2000. Without Nader in that race, Al Gore would easily and incontestably have won Florida, and President George W. Bush would never even have been President. Global warming, and many other issues, might have gone far better as a result; and Iraq would never have been invaded. (Gore in 2002 spoke passionately against invading Iraq.)

However, an electoral challenge to Obama within the Democratic Party would be an entirely different matter.

For one thing, if progressives within the Party can soon hold a convention where they listen to speeches by prospective progressive challengers to Obama and elect one as the progressive Democrat against Obama, then the very real possibility would exist that there will be a vigorous contest between that person and Obama to win the Party’s nomination. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, and other progressives, might offer themselves as possibilities, and all people who do so should be required to promise in advance that they will support the choice of this progressive convention, and that they will also support whomever the Democratic Party chooses as the eventual Democratic nominee. The progressive convention might even offer a Presidential and Vice Presidential ticket for the Party; this would encourage all of the progressive contenders to work together during the campaign with the understanding that even the contenders who fail to win the progressives’ nomination will serve in the Presidential Cabinet if the progressive Democrat succeeds and wins the Party’s nomination and then the Presidency. This would encourage progressive unity straight through to Election Day. The progressives’ convention would thus constitute the real start of a meaningful and constructive progressive political movement in the United States. Our country needs that.

For another thing, a progressive challenge to Obama within his own Party will force him to move away from his evidently deep commitment to the oligarchs whom he’s been protecting, and will drive him to promise to fight against these give-aways to the super-rich, and to veto the types of oligarchic and anti-democratic legislation that, in his first term, he had been demanding from Congress (such things as taxpayer bailouts for billionaires combined with “fiscal austerity” for everybody else).

If President Obama wins such a contested Democratic nomination for the Presidency, then there is some hope for a reversal of the move toward oligarchy, and away from democracy, in America. But better yet: If the progressive Democrat wins the Party’s nomination instead, then the hope for progressive change will be both huge and realistic, not just for victory in the 2012 campaign, but going forward. This could transform America.

However, if there is no single progressive who will lead the progressive movement to take over first the Democratic Party and then the White House, then the prospects for the 2012 general election contest will be merely a choice between bad and worse; and the Republican Party will be rejuvenated if that is the outcome.

Right now, according to the conventional wisdom, voters in both Parties will be unenthusiastic about their ultimate Presidential options on Election Day. However, this conventional wisdom is presuming that there will be no united progressive movement offering to Democratic primary voters during the primary season a single progressive candidate as an alternative to Obama.

Progressives will have to make the decision very soon. The progressives’ convention must precede by many months the first primary. For progressives to remain passive and not to hold such a convention will hand the Democratic nomination to Obama, which will be good only for the oligarchs, who are destroying America.


Eric Zuesse is the author of IRAQ WAR: The Truth (2004) and WHY the Holocaust Happened: Its Religious Cause & Scholarly Cover-Up (2000).