Ralph Nader is as predictable as the sun rising in the Sahara in July. He wasted no time in jumping all over President Obama following the debt ceiling deal. He made his by now standard plea for someone to challenge Obama in a Democratic primary campaign, or better still from his view a third party challenge to Obama. Nader promised with smug assuredness that the chances of such a challenge are near "100 percent." Nader, as in the past, when he begged for an Obama challenger quickly added that the pined for challenger wouldn't be him. That's charitable. It couldn't be him. He's not that delusionary. He's had his moments in the political sun, and the combination of age (he's 77), the still heavy historical cross he'll always bear as the "spoiler" who tipped the election to George W. Bush in 2000, and his virtual disappearance from the media scene except for the occasional outbursts at Obama, make him a political anachronism, and to most, a pariah.
There will be no challenge to Obama in the Democratic primary. There's not even much assurance that there will be a third party ticket of any note from the left. States have made it even more difficult for third parties to get on ballots. The crushing requirements of exorbitant ballot fees, a massive numbers of signatures required, and astronomical costs of running even a local office campaign, and the total media blackout for any third party candidate for any office have made third parties virtual museum pieces. No Democratic ex-senator or ex-governor as Nader claims will toss his or her name into the challenge column for several compelling reasons. Many still harbor political aspirations and an intra-party challenge would be a virtual kiss of death for their getting future Democratic Party political patronage, favors, positions, contracts, and other perks that party affiliation and loyalty rigidly demand. All Democrats still have the horrific memory of Ronald Reagan's challenge to President Gerald Ford in 1976, and Senator Ted Kennedy's challenge to President Jimmy Carter in 1980 Their challenges weakened both presidents, divided the party, and ultimately helped make possible Carter's win over Ford, and Reagan's win over Carter. Many Democrats still have nightmarish memories of Nader too. Though there's still much debate over how much Nader actually did contribute to Bush's win, the undeniable fact is that when Nader ran in 2000 he had vast name recognition, respect and admiration from a wide body of independent, liberal Democrats, and progressives, and he had by third party standards a virtual king's ransom to run a vigorous multi-state national campaign. He may not have helped elect Bush. But the certainty is that he didn't help Gore.
This just pecks around the edges at why there will be no third party or Democratic primary challenge to Obama. The political danger is just too great. Gore and Bush were not sitting presidents. Neither faced a financially well-oiled, organized, relentless, foe hell bent on running either one of them out of political life. Obama is a sitting president facing that kind of foe. And neither Gore or Bush had the burden of having to spend every waking and sleeping moment being blamed for the economic woes of the country, with the absolute knowledge that history has shown presidencies rise and fall on one thing, and one thing only, the reality and perception among voters that the economy is either hopelessly sick or comfortably well-off. Challengers don't get blamed for the real or imagined shortcomings of an incumbent president in dealing with the economy; the incumbent president does. This burden on an incumbent president is terrible, unfair, but real, and that's what Obama must contend with. With an approval rating barring any spectacular uptick in the economy that is likely next year to still be razor thin between what's needed to eke out a victory or tottering perilously close to a defeat, he will have virtually no margin for error to ward off the distraction of a spirited challenge from inside the Democratic party. This would be manna from Heaven for the GOP. And every Democrat party leader, official, or name figure member knows that.
Nader then is just blowing smoke when he claims that Obama will be challenged by some unnamed intra-party opponent. But then again Nader can always be depended on to take a swipe at Obama when there's a touchy issue on the nation's political table that puts Obama on the spot. He gets some press ink attention because there are many who still like and admire him, and even more like his anti-corporate, tweaking of the two parties. They fervently believe there is no substantive difference between the Democrats and Republicans. They don't see Obama as a real change guy but rather another deal making Beltway insider who has betrayed his hope and change promise.
That's just enough to make Nader's fantasy about a possible Democratic primary challenge to Obama media quotable. The GOP for its part though would love nothing better than for Nader's fantasy be more than quotable but a reality.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com