Ralph Nader and Cornel West have gone from incessantly bashing, hectoring, and haranguing President Obama to actively trying to get a Democrat to launch a primary challenge against him. This is not simply progressive parlor rhetoric about what Obama should or should not be doing. This is a prescription for a GOP White House. That danger loomed even bigger when more than 45 labor, and political leaders, environmentalists and health care activists signed on to the challenge Obama proposal. The proposal envisions upwards of six candidates running against him.
Nader has dropped steady hints practically from the day that Obama took office that he regarded him as just another deal-making, corporate, beltway politician. The only difference between him and his predecessor George W. Bush was that Obama wore the tag of "Democrat" on his resume. Since then the whispers from ringleader Nader has risen from murmurs and grumbles about Obama to a call for a Democratic palace rebellion. West has virtually made slamming Obama a holy crusade. They've stood the retort that this will further fracture, alienate and demoralize an already nervous, shaky, and uneasy Democratic base, and could only work to the advantage of the GOP, on its head. They claim that putting Democratic heat on Obama will make him do a sharp course-correction, put spine in his backbone, and toe the progressive line on everything from labor rights, poverty, battling Wall Street and the corporations, and ending the wars.
There's absolutely no proof that it will do any such thing, and much historical evidence to back up the grave peril that intra-party squabbles that take aim at sitting presidents or favored candidates actively aid and abet the other party. Nader is the poster candidate to back that up. Nader apologists still go through tortuous gyrations to back their claim that, if Nader weren't on the ballot in Florida in 2000, Gore still would not have gotten the Nader vote and would have still lost the state. The fact is that with the razor thin margin of victory Bush claimed over Gore, even a small number of Nader votes that almost certainly would have gone to Gore and that would have been enough to toss the state and the White House to Gore.
There's the obvious examples 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 possible. GOP President George Bush Sr. in 1992 did not face a challenge from anyone within the GOP in the presidential primaries. But there was the challenge from Ross Perot. The conventional wisdom was that Clinton would have routed Bush whether Perot was in the race or not as he eventually did. And the rout was almost entirely due to the ancient Achilles heel of all presidents, an economy in the tank, and voter blame of the White House for it. There's truth to that. But that's not the whole picture.
Perot for months pounded Bush not Clinton over the miserable state of the economy and his governance. He drew massive free air time for his attacks, and with his deep pockets he bought even more air time to hammer Bush. This resonated with thousands of voters. Perot also framed the debate as one that centered on the alleged fiscal bungling of the White House. And that touched a nerve. Bush again got the blame for that.
Some exit polls showed that Perot voters were equally divided in their party allegiance and political sentiments between Clinton and Bush, but other numbers showed that Perot got a large percentage of his votes from Reagan/Bush Republicans. This meant that these voters were less likely to vote for Democrat Clinton if Perot had not been in the race. Perot hurt Bush precisely because he came at him as a maverick, anti-beltway establishment challenger. This is exactly how a progressive Democratic challenger would come at Obama. And like Perot such a challenger would concentrate withering attacks on Obama's alleged failings, while being mum on the far more horrific GOP danger.
That would play directly into the GOP's hands since 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, and unfair, but real, and that's what Obama will have to contend with. He will almost certainly have virtually no margin for error to ward off the distraction of a spirited challenge from inside the Democratic Party.
If Nader and other progressive find credible Democrats to run against Obama, they might well get something else that that they claim to shrink in horror. That's a GOP White House.
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
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