Obama Needs a Primary Challenge in 2012

obama wavingPrimary Challenge Benefits Obama, Democrats

While many believe that Democratic voter turnout in 2012 will be mobilized by fear of a Palin-Bachmann-Tea Party victory, such confidence may not be warranted. Disaffection among progressives is wide and deep, and the massive Obama voter outreach effort of 2008 will not come close to being matched.

While the AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka brags that he visits the White House “two or three times a week” —one wonders what he accomplishes there—rank and file union activists are not going to work morning, noon, and night for Obama as they did in 2008. If fear of a Republican takeover were alone sufficient to generate large Democratic turnouts, the sweeping 2010 GOP victories would not have happened.

Mobilizing young people to the polls will be easier if the President returns to addressing their concerns (deficit reduction is not among them). Only a primary challenge can force him to do so, and the resulting increased turnout helps Obama’s re-election chances and Democratic prospects for maintaining the Senate and regaining the House.

The Failure of Progressive Enabling

I criticized Obama’s “progressive enablers” last January, predicting that wooing the president to the progressive camp through deferring criticism would prove a “failed strategy.” The President’s actions over the past months confirm this. Yet some will defend Obama so long as he opposes the Tea Party, and will view a primary challenge as another progressive firing squad (said to be circular).

But more self-destructive is allowing Obama to take the Democratic Party on a path where budget cutting is its chief priority. It’s as if the entire Bush Administration never happened, and that Republicans did not squander the Clinton surplus on tax cuts for the rich.

randy shawWe’ve played this deficit reduction game before, and know that even if Obama eliminated the deficit entirely by slashing public services and programs to the bone, Republicans would create new deficits through a new round of tax cuts.

It appears that it is not just Democratic and Republican elected officials that approach power differently (the latter plays harder to win), but their respective grassroots bases as well. The GOP base would never tolerate a President who moved left (and even backed Ronald Reagan against incumbent but non-elected Gerald Ford in 1976); progressives will be sending a contrary message if they forego a primary challenge against the right-shifting Obama in 2012.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw’s most recent book is Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Shaw is also the author of The Activist’s Handbook.


  1. Nina Allen says

    Feingold is a good choice, Randy. I don’t like Sestak because he’s fundamentally a warmonger. He actually run to the right of Spector on the issue of the wars. I think you’re right about Dean, though. Hells, bells, I’d like to see a whole slew of them challenge Obama. The media rarely pays any attention to progressives in or outside of Congress. Hardly anybody, for example, knows that the Progressive Caucus has created a budget plan for 2012 that is right on the mark–and every bit as “courageous” –so says the Beltway media–as the Ryan plan. Sure Obama is beginning to sound more like a progressive now that he’s officially launched his campaign, but will he govern like a progressive? That’s why I’d like to see a slew of progressives in the field making the case that Obama has never made for more liberal policies.

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