Rachel Maddow should run for President of the United States of America. Seriously Rachel, you should.
This is not because I want to see President Obama not have a second term. He has accomplished more for the progressive cause than any president since, well, Johnson. Assuming he does run for four more years he is infinitely superior to any Republican the GOP will nominate. And a progressive third party candidate will only serve to split the liberal vote allowing say, Sarah Palin, to walk into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on a plurality. The reason someone like Maddow should run is in order to enhance the prospects for Obama while boosting the fortunes of the progressive cause.
The mainstream left is suffering from an enormous problem these days: the lack of strong political leadership. Because Obama has opted to be a centrist President -- probably both because that is his preference as well as his political calculation for better or worse -- he has effectively abandoned his liberal base. This is why even though the current administration and 111th Congress have put a lot of liberal policies into place progressives are so dismayed these days, after having elected the first African-American president with enormous hopes of a great shift to the left, they have been cut adrift with no major figure to proclaim their cause.
Hillary is part of his administration, and she is pretty centrist herself (her associates contend that she would have dropped major health reform in order to retain more of the center vote). The Kennedys are out of the picture, and they are so 20th century in any case. Ye old Ralph Nader is even more 1900s, and he merely splits the progressive vote. For reasons that are obscure no other liberal has achieved the national stature to represent the enormous numbers of Americans who want a more advanced and modern nation.
Americans who prefer what are labeled progressive policies are a minority, but a very large minority; at least as large as those who support policies that are considered conservative. Sociopolitical researchers including myself are showing that the long-term demographic and cultural trends favor progressivism (articles.latimes.com/2010/oct/27/opinion/la-oew-paul-religion-secularism-20101027; http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07398441_c.pdf). Bush II only got to the White House because a screwy electoral college system allowed the Republicans on the Supreme Court to wave him in, and the Repubs just made big gains only because the economy is in such terrible shape -- that because the Republican version of the American Way drove it into such a deep canyon (click here).
One reason that liberals are not doing as well electorally as their numbers indicate they should is because of a lack of discipline. Where was the million progressives march on the capital for a truly universal health care system or at least the public option? Why didn't liberals pack the town hall meetings in the late summer and fall of 2009? Had the petulant left not turned out in such low numbers this November, the damage would have been more limited. The left could use more moxie.
The right -- being more conformist and autocratic despite their constant proclamations of being all for individual liberty and so forth -- are more disciplined, and they also enjoy more in the way of leadership. In particular, they have John McCain's most desperate and irresponsible gift to America, Sarah P. The she-dropped-the-governor-job-as-soon-as-she-could-cut-lucrative-book-media-deals quasi-politician very probably cannot be elected President in a head-to-head race with a mainstream Democrat, but she is aiding the hard conservative cause by keeping the base excited and hopeful while pushing the Republican movement to the right. The Palin phenomenon does have its downside, she is pandering to the John Birchian, Glenn Beck wing of the Tea Party that she sometimes turns off even conservatives -- the GOP failed to pick up two or three Senate seats as a result.
Because getting liberals organized is like herding cats, the need for some leadership is all the more urgent. As Michael Lerner pointed out in the Washington Post (click here), the way to do this for the next couple of years is via a full blown, no holds barred, out and out progressive candidate for President in the Democratic primaries. One who can get liberals excited to have someone actually voicing their concerns in an open, forthright, and engaging manner. The left will have a reason to get off their sad sack butts and get active again. Meanwhile the existence of a strong progressive movement will both allow and pressure Obama to shift more to the left.
As the Wicked Witch of the West said in The Wizard of OZ, these things must be done delicately. We must avoid the debacle of 1980, when a politically powerful albeit flawed Ted Kennedy damaged Carter so much that Reagan won the Presidency. The aim is not to defeat Obama for the nomination or weaken his candidacy; in the end the progressive candidate will throw support to the President. At the same time the progressive candidate must be well known to and liked by liberals, have good media presence, and be intellectually sharp (at least as sharp as Gingrich (which is not really that hard to be) and way above Palin). A deep knowledge of American politics is a must. Best if the candidate were new to electoral politics (remember, this person is not intended to be the actual president), old school need not apply. Said person must be young to attract the youth base.
It would not hurt if he or she was a she. Physically attractive is always good. So is a quality speaking voice. The ability to gut the right politically and intellectually when necessary is critical. When all is said and done a person who can get progressives of all ages animated and energized, enough to attract large crowds and significant primary votes.
When looking at Lerner's list of potential liberal candidates the one who sticks out is -- Rachel Maddow! She most of all has the above combination of attributes that would best serve the purposes and needs of the progressive cause moving towards 2012. Her ability to be happily cheery when skewering the right is especially appealing. Her modulated speaking voice is excellent, being superior to the grating high nasal pitch of Sarah (and Hillary). Young progressives are likely to flock to her.
Here is something that Maddow as candidate could do. Repeatedly challenge Palin to debate. Palin keeps going on about how others should "man up" -- a sexist put down of women if there is one. So call her on it. Maddow should shame Palin with repeated demands for a one-on-one confrontation. If Palin refuses she is exposed as a wimpy fraud. If she does accept Maddow can marshal the facts to show Palin up.
What with three hours of progressive evening programming MSNBC could afford to lose Maddow for a year and a half. For American citizens to drop their current and preferred career in favor of public service is a time-honored tradition going back to the founders. As useful as Maddow is to the progressive cause as host of her MSNBC show, she could do more for advancing the nation as a political contender in the next couple of years.
GE and now Comcast-owned and operated MSNBC can never do as much for progressivism as can Murdoch's FoxNews can for conservatism. And because -- as Olbermann expounds -- MSNBC retains basic mainstream standards, while Ailes allows his channel to sink to Glen Beck's twisted conspiracy theories. By hitting the campaign trail Rachel will be able to get the progressive message out to many tens of millions more than the 1-1.5+ million who watch her show.
But what if, perchance, Maddow demurs? Then who else would do? Although qualified in a number of regards John Stewart is too ensconced at his Daily Show to be an option, and his being a comedian precludes his participation --" don't want another Pat Paulson. Olbermann has positives including the intellectual ability to go for the conservative jugular, but there are those who see him as too abrasive.
Lawrence O'Donnell also has the smarts and considerable charm, but lacks Maddow's exposure to date. To be blunt a number of the possibilities suggested by Lerner are too well worn, or dull. Al Franken has his points, but he is doing his best to serve the citizens of his state, and I wonder if he has the appeal to get the job done. Susan Sarandon, as much as I am a fan, is too Hollywood.