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Why Nader, Cornel West, Jonathan Kozol Seek Primary Challenges to Obama

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But, this time, Nader really is doing what his liberal critics once demanded of him -- working within the Democratic Party -- and he is doing so rather creatively. That's attracted a solid list of co-endorsers for the letter. Among the signers, in addition to West and Townsend, are Gore Vidal, Jonathan Kozol, Rabbi Michael Lerner, former South Dakota Senator James Abourezk, former Federal Communications Commission member Nicholas Johnson, former Harper's editor Lewis Lapham and dozens of others.

Here's the letter and the list of signers:

Dear Colleague: We write to you in light of recent deteriorating events in Washington, D.C. Misguided negotiations by the Obama Administration over increasing the debt ceiling willingly put our nation's vital social services on the chopping block while Bush-era tax cuts remain untouched. Clearly the situation has reached crisis proportions. In response, an innovative plan has been developed to reintroduce a progressive agenda back into the political discussion during the 2012 election season.

Consider for a moment two very different scenarios for the 2012 Democratic presidential primaries.

The First scenario, President Obama advances without contest to a unanimous nomination. There is no recognizable Democratic challenger, no meaningful debate on key progressive issues or past broken promises, just a seamless, self-contained operation on its way to raising one billion dollars in campaign funds.

This scenario is what most observers expect. Mr. Obama will face neither opposition nor debate. He will have no need to clarify or defend his own polices or address the promises, kept and unkept, of his 2008 campaign. The president will not have to explain to his supporters why he directly escalated the war in Afghanistan and broadened America's covert war in Pakistan, why he chose to engage in a military intervention in Libya, or why he has maintained the Bush Administration's national security apparatus that allows for the suspension and abuse of constitutionally protected civil liberties -- dismissing Congress all the way.

In an uncontested Democratic primary, President Obama will never have to justify his decision to bail out Wall Street's most profitable firms while failing to push for effective prosecution of the criminal behavior that triggered the recession, or his failure to push for real financial reform. He will not have to defend his decision to extend the Bush era tax cuts nor justify his acquiescence to Republican extortion during the debt ceiling negotiations. He will not have to answer questions on how his Administration completely failed to protect homeowner's losing their homes to predatory banks, or even mention the word "poverty," as he failed to do in his most recent State of the Union Address, even as more and more Americas sink into financial despair.

He will never be challenged to fulfill his pledge to actively pursue a Labor-supported card check, or his promise to increase the federal minimum wage or why he took single payer off the table after he said he believes in it. The American labor movement, facing an unprecedented onslaught by the Right will not have the opportunity to voice its concerns and rally around a supportive candidate.

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The president will not be pressed to answer how he spent four years in office without addressing the ongoing destabilization of our climate or advocating a coherent and ecologically sound energy policy including defending his position on nuclear power and so called clean coal. Nor will he discuss regulatory agency deficiencies in enforcing corporate law and order in an era marked by a corporate crime wave having devastating economic consequences on workers and taxpayers and their savings and pensions. There will be no opportunity for the Hispanic and other relevant communities to speak out on immigration reform even as the Republicans continue to use it as a weapon of political demagoguery.

Add your own concerns, disappointments, and frustrated hopes to this list of what will surely be left off the table during an express-lane primary. The valid disagreements within the Democratic Party, let alone the goals of progressives, will be completely overlooked. The media will gleefully cover the media circus that is sure to be the Republican primaries, magnifying every minor gaffe and carefully cataloging every iteration and argument of the radical right.

The cameras will cover the Democratic side only for orchestrated events, the whiff of scandal, and to offer commentary on how the campaign is positioning itself for the general election.

The summation of this process will be a tediously scripted National Convention, deprived of robust exchange and well-wrought policy. And here the danger is clear: not only will progressive principles past and present be betrayed but large sections of voters will feel bored with and alienated from the democratic candidate. This would not serve the president's campaign, our goals, or the nation's needs.

Thankfully, there is another option. This second scenario would allow for robust and exciting discussion and debate during the primary season while posing little risk to the president other than to encourage him to take more progressive stands. It would also accomplish the critical task of energizing the Progressive base to turn out on Election Day.

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Imagine: A slate of six candidates announces its decision to run in the Democratic primaries. Each of the candidates is recognizable, articulate, and a person of acknowledged achievement. These contenders would each represent a field in which Obama has never clearly staked a progressive claim or where he has drifted toward the corporatist right. These fields would include: labor, poverty, military and foreign policy, health insurance and care, the environment, financial regulation, civil and political rights/empowerment, and consumer protection.

Without primary challengers, President Obama will never have to seriously articulate and defend his beliefs to his own party. Given the dangers our nation faces, that option is unacceptable. The slate is the best method for challenging the president for a number of reasons:

The slate can indicate that its intention is not to defeat the president (a credible assertion given their number of voting columns) but to rigorously debate his policy stands.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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