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Progressives Prescription for a GOP White House---Challenge President Obama

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Ralph Nader and Cornell West have gone from incessantly bashing, hectoring, and haranguing President Obama to actively trying to get a Democrat to launch a primary challenge against him. This is not simply another case of spewing progressive parlor rhetoric about what Obama should or should not be doing. This is a prescription for a GOP White House. The danger loomed even bigger when more than 45 labor, and political leaders, environmentalists and health care activists signed on to their proposal to challenge Obama. The proposal envisions upwards of six candidates running against him in Democratic primaries.

Nader has dropped steady hints from the day that Obama took office that he regarded him as just another deal making, corporate, beltway politician. To Nader the only difference between him and his predecessor George W. Bush was that Obama wore the tag of "Democrat" on his resume.   Since then the whispers from Nader and others have risen from murmurs and grumbles about Obama to the latest call for a Democratic palace rebellion. West has virtually made slamming Obama a holy crusade. Both reject the notion that challenging Obama will fracture, alienate and demoralize an already nervous, shaky, and uneasy Democratic base, and will only work to the advantage of the GOP. They claim that putting Democratic heat on Obama will make him do a sharp policy course correction, put spine in his backbone, and toe the progressive line on everything from labor rights, poverty, battling Wall Street and the corporations, and ending the wars.

There's no proof that a Democratic primary challenge to Obama will do any such thing. There's much recent historical evidence to show that intra-party hammering of sitting presidents or favored candidates actively aid and abet the other party. Nader is the poster candidate that proves that.   Nader apologists go through tortuous gyrations to dispute the claim that Nader did not toss the White House to Bush in200. Supposedly if Nader hadn't been on the ballot in Florida in 2000 Bush would not have gotten the Nader vote and Democratic presidential rival Al Gore would have still lost the state. This is a stretch. Even if as likely a small number of Nader votes would have gone to Gore, this would have been enough to shave away the razor thin majority that Bush claimed over Gore. This would have been enough to toss the state and the White House to Gore.

There are also the much cited examples of Ronald Reagan's challenge to President Gerald Ford in 1976 and Senator Ted Kennedy's challenge to President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Their challenges weakened both presidents, divided the party, and ultimately helped make possible Carter's win over Ford and Reagan's win over Carter possible. GOP President George Bush Sr. in 1992 did not face a challenge from anyone within the GOP in the presidential primaries. But there was the challenge from Ross Perot. The conventional wisdom was that Bill Clinton would have routed Bush whether Perot was in the race or not as Clinton eventually did. And that the rout was almost entirely due to the ancient Achilles heel of all presidents, an economy in the tank, and voter blame of the man in the White House for it. There's truth to that. But that's not the whole picture.

Perot for months pounded Bush not Clinton over the miserable state of the economy and his inept governance. He drew massive free air time for his attacks, and with his deep pockets he bought even more air time to hammer Bush. This resonated with thousands of voters. Perot also framed the debate as one that centered on the alleged fiscal bungling of the White House. And that touched a nerve. Bush again got the blame for that.

Some exit polls showed that Perot voters were equally divided in their party allegiance and political sentiments between Clinton and Bush. But other numbers showed that Perot got a large percentage of his votes from Reagan/Bush Republicans. This meant that these voters were less likely to vote for Democrat Clinton if Perot had not been in the race. Perot hurt Bush precisely because he came at him as a maverick, anti-beltway establishment challenger. This is exactly how a progressive Democratic challenger would come at Obama. And like Perot such a challenger would concentrate withering attacks on Obama's alleged failings, while being mum on the far more horrific GOP danger.

This would play directly into the GOP's hands since challengers don't get blamed for the real or imagined shortcomings of an incumbent president in dealing with the economy; the incumbent president does. This burden on an incumbent president is terrible, and unfair, but real, and that's what Obama will have to contend with in 2012. He will almost certainly have no margin for error to ward off the distraction of any spirited challenge from inside the Democratic Party.

If Nader and other progressives find credible Democrats to run against Obama, they might well get something else that that they claim to shrink in horror. That's a GOP White House.


Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on podcast on and internet TV broadcast on


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Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a nationally acclaimed author and political analyst. He has authored ten books; his articles are published in newspapers and magazines nationally in the United States. Three of his books have been published in other (more...)
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