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

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.

The new Obama fault line on the left: ‘He’s a closet Republican’ vs. ‘He’s an inept Dem’

Paul Krugman is getting lots of attention for a scathing piece that concludes:

Whatever is going on inside the White House, from the outside it looks like moral collapse — a complete failure of purpose and loss of direction.

Interestingly, Krugman is on the forgiving side of a new divide on the left over President Obama.

Here’s what I mean: For some time, the basic division over Obama on the opinion-making left  was between those who argued that he had accomplished much considering the obstacles and those who believed he was selling out progressive principles out of a misguided desire for bipartisanship.

Today, the predominant rift appears to be between those who believe he is selling out progressive principles out of a misguided desire for bipartisanship and those who say that he is actually getting the policies he wants, i.e. that he is perfectly comfortable ditching progressive principles because he doesn’t believe in them.

Proponents of the latter view have new ammunition with a story making the rounds about Obama’s private self-assessment:

Privately, Mr. Obama has described himself, at times, as essentially a Blue Dog Democrat, referring to the shrinking caucus of fiscally conservative members of the party.

Whichever position wins out, one thing is for certain: Obama has lost the left’s opinion-making machinery. Of course, some would say that’s exactly what he wants.