Monday, December 13, 2010

Race, Again

The problem with Joan Walsh is not that she is wrong but that she may be right.

The Salon editor wrote last week

Switching candidates now would be just another symptom of progressives' inability to dig in for a long haul of taking our country back from the plutocrats who now run it. It's tough work. I think, sadly, Obama is probably the most progressive Democrat who could be elected right now. (Admittedly, it's still early, and it's still theoretically possible for Obama to do something so outrageous as to change my mind.) I'd rather see liberals put time and money into electing courageous folks to the House and Senate than a quixotic attack on Obama, which would split the party racially -- almost 90 percent of African-Americans still support the president in most polls -- and probably hand the White House to Republicans.

Barack Obama may in fact be the "most progressive" Democrat who could be elected President right now. That depends, though, on how one defines "progressive." If Matt Bai is to be believed, Barack Obama himself does not even consider himself a progressive.

And it depends on the meaning of "right now." The next presidential election will be held more than 22 months from now and the political climate could change drastically by then, just as it has veered sharply right since November 2, 2008. (Thank you, President Obama.) Further, Obama might be even more unpopular in autumn of 2012 than he is now, though if he is, the Democratic "brand" will have been hurt even further, rendering any Democratic presidential nominee an underdog.

Wresting the Democratic presidential nomination from Barack Obama would be a long shot, no matter the circumstances. But that, Walsh fails to acknowledge, would not be the sole motivation of challenging him in the primaries/caucuses. Robert Kuttner notes that a salutary effect might ensue if "it gets the attention of the White House, and raises the possibility, however faint, of a more progressive Obama."

Curious is Walsh's argument "I'd rather see liberals put time and money into electing courageous folks to the House and Senate than a quixotic attack on Obama." She understands that a challenge to the re-nomination of incumbent Obama would lessen the likelihood that the eventual nominee, Obama, would be re-elected; yet, she seems to be either a)encouraging a challenge to incumbent Democratic members of Congress, which would make it more likely the seat would go Republican; or b)encouraging greater support in the general election for progressive Democrats who, presumably, can join other Democrats frustrated by the Eisenhower Republican occupying the White House.

Walsh criticizes the possibility of this "quixotic attack on Obama, which would split the party racially -- almost 90 percent of African-Americans still support the president in most polls ."

Yet, the Congressional Black Caucus is clearly disenchanted with the President. Following the CBC's meeting with Vice-President Biden, Vice Chairman Barbara Lee rightly remarked

We are extremely concerned that the cuts that could be made should this package pass would disproportionately hurt the poor, and low income communities and further erode the safety net. We don’t want to create a situation today that will exacerbate the conditions for Americans who are already hurting. That would be unfair and that would be unwise.... I do think that a major part of our objection is that we feel that it’s going to be bad for African Americans. The Republicans have said, for example on health care reform, that one of the ways they plan to attack it is by the appropriations process, by starving the provisions, and I think this is the first step.

Nonetheless, in a guest op-ed in the New York Times, Ismael Reed less sensitively, less thoughtfully, and more crudely takes Walsh's thoughts and ups the ante:

When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.

Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.

Taylor Marsh responds:

Did white working class have a beef with Obama during the midterms because they are used to “getting it all”? Did seniors? Did women? Hardly, because each of the groups who tilted to the Right with their midterm vote all believe Pres. Obama doesn’t understand their plight, is ignoring it or selling them out....

There are most assuredly “whispers” and conversations about Barack Obama being weak, politically incompetent and hopelessly flailing for direction, but it’s nothing compared to the defensive, inartful and desperate push from Obama’s fan boys and girls that he can’t be challenged because he’s the first African American president.

Still, challenging the renomination of Barack Obama probably would be fruitless, possibly damaging, and might "split the party." But risk of the latter effect is no reason to be intimidated from calling out the President when he betrays not only the principles of his party but also his campaign promises. And if an "attack" does split the party in that manner, Democrats have a bigger problem than a spineless president lacking conviction.

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