It is both an understatement and an overstatement to say that the far Left, i.e. self described "progressives", who used to be called "liberals", are extremely unhappy with President Obama. Looking first at the understatement, some on the far Left are close to hysteria. No doubt, they had convinced themselves that the first black president, the former community organizer, the income redistributionist from the 2008 campaign, would finally be the long sought liberal activist president they had been dreaming of for decades. Obama, facing political realities that progressives as ideological purists with no responsibility for governing commonly ignore, could hardly be described as a moderate, a term liberals disdain almost as much as the hated label "conservative”. But he has simply not had the votes in the Congress to move the far Left agenda. Still, the progressives are offended and cite the following heresies: failure to quickly end U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as implied in the 2008 campaign; acceding to General Petraeus’ strategy of a thirty thousand man deployment surge in Afghanistan; his willingness to abandon the effort to include a “government option” in the comprehensive health care reform bill; his inclusion of moderates and “Wall St. insiders” in his economic inner circle; his inability to close the Guantanamo terrorist detention center; his failure to forcefully and quickly push to revoke the military's ban on openly homosexual service members; his failure to get a carbon tax (climate change) bill passed; his failure to introduce or pass so called “comprehensive immigration reform“; the failure to pass the pro-union organizing tool, "card check".
This pent up anger and frustration seems to have reached a tipping point with Obama's recently announced compromise on the extension of the Bush era tax cuts to include keeping the reduced tax rates for the highest brackets, the so called "tax cuts for the rich". In truth, Obama got as much or more than he gave in terms of reduced taxes for the middle class and a number of special programs for college applicants, children and the poor, and an extension of unemployment benefits. But the "rich" represent a symbolic bete noir for the far Left’s redistributionists and conceding any tax benefits to them is an unacceptable liberal apostasy. Liberals reserve particular animosity for lowering estate taxes, which conservatives have labeled "death taxes". This was part of the Obama-Republican "compromise" Republicans point out that the assets of the deceased have already been taxed, often more than once; first as income and then often as capital gains or as dividends. Liberals simply want to tax estates because they exist and represent their disdain for the accumulation of wealth.
In truth, the compromise is not about tax "cuts". It is about extension of existing tax rates that have been part of the code since 2001. Democrat complaints that they will substantially contribute to the federal deficit ring hollow. Democrats steadfastly refuse to cut any federal spending except for the Defense budget. Even Obama's announced "freeze" on pay "increases" for federal workers has stimulated cries of outrage from the Left. Liberal economic guru Paul Krugman has for months criticized the earlier multi-billion dollar stimulus bill as inadequate and has called for another such bill, claiming that dealing with the deficit should come after an economic recovery. In essence, keeping private money in private hands is the same thing as confiscating it through taxes and putting it back into the economy through government programs after government takes its cut for administrative overhead.
The outrage on the part of the Left is just part of the long history of ideologically based class warfare. It is true that "millionaires and billionaires" could easily afford to pay taxes at the old rates but the class based bar has been set to low. Married couples making $250,000 a year are well off but hardly millionaires and billionaires and claims by the Left that they do not spend their money makes no sense. Few wealthy people keep their money in their mattresses, they spend or invest it. Typical investments are in municipal bonds which finance state and local infrastructure, thus creating jobs, or corporate stocks which finance business expansion which also creates jobs. Liberal Senator Charles Schumer of New York recognized this when he suggested that the tax rate increase start at one million dollars instead of $250,000.
Nonetheless, so intense is the feeling of ideological betrayal by Obama to these doctrinaire progressives that there are now those suggesting that the Left wing of the Democrat Party should mount a drive to challenge Obama for the 2012 nomination of his party.
The proposed strategy has two possible goals: one is to actually take the nomination away from Obama and produce a far Left nominee who would then somehow actually win the national election and become the President. The second goal acknowledges the improbability of the leftist candidate either winning the nomination or in the unlikely result of denying Obama a second nomination, actually winning the general election. Thus the goal of this strategy is to push Obama to the Left in order for him to win the nomination .
These scenarios have been touted by reliably liberal political pundits in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere. They range in content from angry diatribes to completely nutty fantasies. A striking example of the latter is the recent commentary in the Washington Post by Michael Lerner. Lerner is neither a politician nor a political analyst (pundit). He is a rabbi, and like many of his brethren in the professional faith community of the religious Left, he exhibits a sophomoric and simplistic idealism. Also demonstrating a strangely inverse reading of the public mood, Lerner ignores the actual message sent by the November elections:
"With his base deeply disillusioned, many progressives are starting to believe that Obama has little chance of winning reelection unless he enthusiastically embraces a populist agenda and worldview - soon. Yet there is little chance that will happen without a massive public revolt by his constituency that goes beyond rallies, snide remarks from television personalities or indignant op-eds."
In other words, Lerner is saying Obama isn't Left enough to win in 2012. The trouble with this analysis is that there aren't that "many progressives", thus the "overstatement" in terms ofthe importance of the Progressive anger. A recent Gallup poll finds that only 20 percent of Americans self-identity as "liberals". It can safely be assumed that the angry "progressive", far Left portion of this group is an even smaller percentage. A late November Associated Press poll supports this.
With Obama's approval rating down to 48% overall, his approval rating among self-describedliberals was still a whopping 80%. Clearly the progressive fringe is out of touch with the Democrat base. Indeed, the alternate universe in which the Leftist fringe resides is both amusing and astounding. Consider the platform on which Lerner would have his Obama challenger run in order to "save" Obama from himself in the 2012 election.
Immediately withdraw all U.S. military from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and "replace the "war on terror" with a "global Marshall Plan that roots homeland security in a strategy of generosity and concern for the well-being of everyone on the planet."
Hey this might just work. Al Qaeda terrorists would be so busy printing up "Kum Bay Yah"song sheets and gathering wood and marshmallows for the campfires that they would abandon their quest to violently impose 7th century Islamic culture on the West. Of course a "global Marshall Plan" might be a bit expensive and consign the U.S. to permanent economic dependency on China but Obama would get enthusiastic crowds for visits in Africa and Latin America (except maybe Cuba, Venezuela, Somalia, and . . . .)
Once getting his utopian juices flowing, Lerner doesn't leave much out of his prescription for Obama's political renewal.
A "massive jobs program"; a "freeze on mortgage foreclosures"; "a national bank would offer interest free" small business loans; expansion of ObamaCare; a "strong tax on carbon emissions"; "prosecution of those (Bush Administration officials) accused of "torture or cover-ups" leading to the invasion of Iraq; "free equal (media) time for all candidates for national office"; "constitutional amendments requiring only public financing in elections" AND "a jury trial every five years in which corporations would have to prove that they have 'a satisfactory history of environmental responsibility' ".
OK, so Lerner is at best a "special needs" student in the area of political reality and common sense but he made it into the commentary section of the Washington Post, and others on the Left with a bit more credibility are also suggesting the basic idea of a Democrat primary challenge without the wacko window dressing.
So are there individuals with the backgrounds necessary to be serious, although symbolic candidates, that would be willing to take up the Don Quixote like challenge to a sitting President with only the support of the small progressive base? Lerner provides a short list of commonly suggested but almost universally politically flawed possibilities, but he also continues to show his inner Comedy Central child (except he's serious) with a list of residents of the angry fringe.
Former Democrat presidential candidate Howard Dean is often mentioned but he had his shot in 2004 and was soundly rejected by Democrat voters in the primaries. Senator Russ Feingold, a reliable liberal, will be in need of a job after January first but he finds himself in that predicament because he was defeated in November by the Republican candidate in what used to be liberal leaning Wisconsin. After that Lerner goes completely off the end of the pier with; Bernie Sanders, the Senate's only self described "socialist"; Al Franken, quasi-socialist, career Saturday Night Live comedian and commentator on the far Left and now defunct Air America radio program who was elected to the Senate in 2008 on Obama's coattails by a scant 312 votes; Rachel Maddow and Bill Moyers, whose "presidential qualifications" are respectively derived from MSNBC and PBS and actress Susan Sarandon?
Progressive Democrats who aren't quite ready for ideological group therapy would prefer to stick with Howard Dean but ultimately reality will sink in and finding a candidate willing to sacrifice eighteen months of his life in an endless and hopeless schedule of travel and fundraising will fall victim to the additional historical reality of presidents weakened by divisive primary challenges which is defeat in the general election.
Too bad. Presidential candidate Rachel Maddow is probably on every Republicans Christmas wish list.