Will Obama Get a Primary Challenge in 2012?

08/13/2010 09:27 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • David Sirota Newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), bestselling author

That question is the subject of this front-page Hill newspaper story that serves as a follow-up to the Hill's original story about the White House attacking the so-called "professional left" (FYI - as outlined in an earlier newspaper column, I have a much different definition of "professional left" than Robert Gibbs). In the piece, I am quoted saying that I haven't heard yet of a credible primary challenger to Obama and that I didn't expect it to happen. What didn't make it into the story, but what I told the reporter, is that there's an important and telling reason for that.

In my discussion with the Hill's reporter, Sam Youngman, I made clear that I believe it is too early to evaluate whether Obama will prompt a primary challenge, and that we also don't know for sure if after the mid-term elections he will move into an even more oppositional posture against progressives than he's already in. But even in the worst case scenario -- even if he does move hard to the right from his already center-right positions on so many issues -- I don't think he'll face a primary because I don't think the progressive movement is at a point where it can mount one.

The fact is, much of the "American Left" is organized around the Democratic Party and specifically around Obama. The professional Left as I define it are all the major, well-funded liberal interest groups (what Jane Hamsher sometimes refers to as "the veal pen") and they have repeatedly shown themselves to be more loyal to the Democratic Party and Obama than their alleged policy/ideological missions. Whether you think that's a good thing or a bad thing, it's clear that kind of Left is not built like successful social movements of the past -- and it doesn't yet seem to have the structure, independence or stomach for oppositional politics that could fuel a genuinely credible presidential primary like those we've seen in past eras.

This isn't to say I think a presidential primary would be bad. I don't -- at all. because I think the more contested elections the better -- and that goes for president or dog catcher. Yes, that's right, I think every incumbent officeholder -- even the ones I love -- should face a primary. I think all that because I believe the more democracy we have -- ie. the more electoral choices voters get -- the better the policy outcomes and the more electoral pressure there is on officeholders to actually represent the values of their constituents (as opposed to their special-interest Big Money donors).

But at this moment in history, the Left, while certainly having pockets of social movement-like power, is still not yet built as a genuine social movement -- one willing to take on either party in the name of an agenda. And without such a social movement posture, the prospects for a presidential primary are slim.