I had a hard time thinking about how to respond to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Washington Post oped on Saturday arguing that the best way to save the Barack Obama presidency is to find some progressive to challenge him in the Democratic primaries, since at first glance it looks more like parody than political analysis.
What pushes his argument over the line is his list of potential challengers – like the foot-in-mouth-prone, just-defeated Rep. Alan Grayson, or actress Susan Sarandon – she was great in Bull Durham, but I have my doubts about a Sarandon presidency – or Rep. John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who is just about the only member of Congress who seems to admire Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Or, Lerner argues, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), with his ethically checkered past – just the man to give new credibility to some of the nuttier and more extreme Republican hopefuls. (To be fair, Lerner’s list also includes more reasonable potential challengers like Sen. Russ Feingold, the defeated senator from Wisconsin, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont).
Lerner writes: “[M]any 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.”
Well, yes: progressives are unhappy. But it seems pretty unlikely that splitting the party with a challenge from the party’s far fringes will somehow get a president whose entire political career has represented a quest for the center to suddenly tack left, or that it will be will be good for the unusually high number of Democratic senators who will be trying to hold on for dear life when they seek reelection in 2012.
I’m not arguing that liberalism is bad; I am arguing that liberals have done a pathetic job of getting their ideas across to the electorate, and part of the reason is that they have been deaf to the concerns of so many voters. Putting up Jim Moran as a possible Democratic challenger suggests Lerner, at least, hasn’t gotten his hearing aids fixed.
Add to that John Conyers, and the more conspiracy-minded among us might suspect a secret plot to fulfill perennial Republican predictions of a major Jewish exodus from the Democrats to the GOP.
While Lerner argues a stiff primary challenge would push Obama to the left, it’s probably do exactly the opposite, pushing him to more Clintonesque triangulation.
There’s little question Obama faces widespread disillusionment from the progressive wing of the Democratic party. That includes economic progressives who hate the compromises he’s made on health care and financial reform, and pro-Israel progressives who think he wears a “kick me” sign on his back every time he deals with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But I’m pretty sure a primary challenge from the left, and particularly from the likes of Conyers or Moran, won’t fix the problem – and would be the best possible gift to a resurgent GOP.