by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
February 25, 2010
OBAMA NEEDS A PRIMARY CHALLENGER IN 2012
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- President Barack Obama came into office with a reputation for being a sharp and canny politician. So why does he keep alienating the people who helped get him elected president in 2008?
Obama's main failing is putting bipartisanship ahead of policy. Even though the Republicans in Congress have made it abundantly clear that they will not give Mr. Obama any legislative victory this year, he still clings to the illusion that they will come to their senses and work with his Administration for the greater good.
On issues such health care reform, winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reining in the financial speculators on Wall Street, President Obama has been unable to take decisive action and is too willing to compromise and embrace the conventional wisdom.
That why I like a suggestion recently made by John MacArthur, the publisher of Harpers Magazine. Writing in The Providence Journal, MacArthur put forth the idea that if the Democrats and independents who put Mr. Obama into the White House want to steer him back to being an agent of change, there needs to be a Democratic primary challenge to the President in 2012.
Being a product of Chicago politics, President Obama knows personally how a primary can be used as a strategic tool. In 2000, he was asked by Mayor Richard M. Daley to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush in a Democratic primary.
"The Washington Post's David Ignatius reported that Obama was 'prodded by the Daley Machine' into running, 'which led him into his only big political blunder,' since Rush beat him badly," wrote MacArthur. "Ignatius is only half right: Obama was, in fact, proving his value to the machine by helping to punish Rush for conducting a primary challenge for mayor in 1999 against the incumbent, Richard M. Daley. By running at all - while knowing that he would probably lose - Obama earned the gratitude of the machine and boosted his career. And he effectively delivered Daley's warning to Rush: Don't ever try that again."
That's what Rep. Eugene McCarthy did in 1968 when he took on President Lyndon B. Johnson in the New Hampshire Primary and came close enough to beating him. Johnson decided not to seek re-election, and that opened the door to a real national debate over U.S. policies in Vietnam. The analogy might be imperfect, because the Democrats didn't take advantage of the opportunity. They nominated Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey and ultimately lost to Richard M. Nixon. But the idea is still sound. If the man in the White House doesn't seem to be listening to the people who put him in there, maybe it's time to run someone who might light a fire under him.
Who would be MacArthur's candidate? "My first choice would be a rejuvenated Howard Dean, who might be the only hope left for the cause of liberal reform, at least in my lifetime," he wrote. "After scaring the wits out of the party's Iraq-compromised establishment in 2004 with his anti-war and pro-small-donation crusade, Dean performed the thankless task of chairing the Democratic National Committee in some of its dark years. In that post, he compromised himself again and again in the interest of party unity and beating the Republicans in 2008. ... Yet for all his hard work, Dean was rewarded by being passed over for the new Cabinet and was not invited to continue running the DNC."
Certainly, the way Howard Dean was kicked to the curb by President Obama's team after the election was a sign of how much he was detested by the party insiders. A Dean primary would send a loud and clear message that the President will not get a free ride to the 2012 nomination.
"So what's he got to lose, except maybe an election?" asked MacArthur. "The country, on the other hand, might have much to gain. And Obama could relearn an important lesson about politics, and the consequences of betrayal."
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.