Don't primary Obama, change Congress

The itch to change candidates reflects the left's inability to buckle down to long-term political organizing


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Joan Walsh
December 9, 2010 6:09AM (UTC)

I talked about the discouraging notion of a primary challenge to President Obama on "Hardball" tonight. Steve Kornacki's been doing a great job explaining why such a move is unlikely; Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (a Hillary Clinton supporter in 2008) explained to Justin Elliott why it is unwise. Still, Matt Bai's vaporous piece in the New York Times set people talking again today.

I'm disappointed in President Obama's tax-cut deal, as I've already explained. I'm glad the administration is framing it as a "stimulus bill" now -- let's hope tough progressive Democrats make it better, since there's little chance that it won't pass. But I think pondering a primary challenge to Obama is suicidal, and reflects a certain fecklessness on the left. First of all, Obama was a great gift to lefty Democrats in 2008, making them believe that a few years of online organizing and railing against George W. Bush had produced a true progressive hero and a coalition for dramatic change, which simply wasn't true. Too many anointed him the true candidate of the left too quickly and attacked Hillary Clinton -- and anyone who defended her -- as moderate sellouts, or even racists, even though Clinton was taking the more liberal line on healthcare reform, Social Security and the economy generally. I don't want to fight that old fight again; I really do understand that many progressives were tired of Clintonian centrism, which is what they thought they'd get under the wife of the former president, and thought it was worth taking a chance on the inspiring African-American from Chicago who had, significantly, opposed the Iraq war, unlike his leading Democratic rivals.

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Still, the rush to proclaim Obama the one, true progressive in 2008 was foolish, and I'd suggest that those who wound up disappointed in Obama think more about what they can learn from that race, rather than plotting to bring him down in 2012. Switching candidates now would be just another symptom of progressives' inability to dig in for a long haul of taking our country back from the plutocrats who now run it. It's tough work. I think, sadly, Obama is probably the most progressive Democrat who could be elected right now. (Admittedly, it's still early, and it's still theoretically possible for Obama to do something so outrageous as to change my mind.) I'd rather see liberals put time and money into electing courageous folks to the House and Senate than a quixotic attack on Obama, which would split the party racially -- almost 90 percent of African-Americans still support the president in most polls -- and probably hand the White House to Republicans.

Here's the "Hardball" discussion:

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Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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