Is it time to divorce the progressive movement from the Obama presidency — and can a primary challenge succeed?

December 10, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

NOTE: The title of this post reflects a question that is being posed by opinion-makers on the left. It is not intended to advocate for or against a primary challenge to Obama.

As disappointments rack up (the latest here, here, here and here) and the ever-growing stream of anti-Obama criticism from the left continues unabated, talk of a primary challenge now permeates progressive circles.

From blogs to Twitter and other online discussion forums, a fundamental question is being asked: is it time to divorce the progressive movement from the Obama presidency?

To some, the answer seems obvious: the White House has already separated itself from the left; all that remains is for the left to sign the divorce papers.

To others, talk of a primary challenge in 2012 is absurd. History shows that not only do they not succeed, but these quixotic quests can hobble the candidate in the general election.

Still others say that because President Obama is the figurehead of progressives (whether he likes it or not), even a futile challenge sends a message to America that the Obama presidency does not represent the objectives, policies, hopes and dreams of the left. The point is that because the rightwing noise machine has effectively portrayed Obama as a raging liberal, his failure to actually be one creates a dissonance that will damage the left for years, perhaps decades to come. A good number of progressives simply want to pull Obama to the left and see a primary challenge – or the threat of one – as an effective way to do it.

Skeptics and Obama supporters shrug this off as idle chatter, pointing out that the vast majority of rank and file Democrats and liberals still support the president and have no interest in opposing him.

Recent polling, however, puts some weight behind the notion that Obama could face trouble from the left in 2012:

Democratic voters are closely divided over whether President Barack Obama should be challenged within the party for a second term in 2012, an Associated Press-Knowledge Networks Poll finds. Among Democrats, 47 percent say Obama should be challenged for the 2012 nomination and 51 percent say he should not be opposed.

Despite all this, and even among strong advocates, the consensus seems to be that a credible primary challenge is wishful thinking.

But I wonder if they are factoring in the media’s hunger for a ratings-boosting 2008 redux, a bruising primary battle that can be covered like a 24/7 cage-fight. I suspect they’re not. If the media and online commentariat want a Democratic primary fight and a candidate steps forward with a modicum of legitimacy, Obama will have a serious fight on his hands.

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