When Antonin Scalia died on February 13th, Republicans took little time before plotting to undermine president Obama's efforts to nominate a replacement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced just one hour after the news of Scalia's passing broke that the nomination should be left up to "the American People" -- a code for "the next president," who McConnell obviously thinks will be a Republican.
This situation is unprecedented. Not the issue of who should replace Scalia -- Barack Obama was democratically elected to a four-year term, and other presidents have appointed justices in the last year of their presidency -- but the reaction of the Republicans. Anybody who seriously tries to deny the malicious and partisan obstruction efforts against the president after this needs their head examined.
And that's precisely the problem. Nobody who has been paying any attention is really surprised by this move -- McConnell has opposed Obama for being Obama for years now. The problem lies with Barack Obama's handling of the situation, and it is emblematic of his failures as a progressive president.
History and the constitution are very clear on this issue. The president has a duty to nominate Scalia's replacement, and the Senate has a responsibility to consider each nominee on his or her merits, not on the basis of electoral politics. Rejecting any and all nominees because of the party of the president is an egregious dereliction of constitutional duty and proof to the American people that the already-despised Congress is corrupt.
Obama holds all the cards in this game the Republicans are trying to play. If they go through with their plan to block any and all nominees, they will only hurt themselves in a wildly unpredictable general election this fall. They know this, and given enough pressure from the executive branch and the American people, would almost certainly cave.
I can't make this point strongly or clearly enough: the Republicans are bluffing. They've put themselves in a "heads-Obama-wins, tails-Republicans-lose" situation. They either confirm a nominee of Obama's, in which case Obama wins; or they refuse to, severely hurting themselves in November, in which case they lose.
So what does our fearless president do with all the advantages and the American people behind him?
He caves by attempting to nominate a Republican as Scalia's replacement.
The Washington Post reported on February 24th that the White House was leaning towards Republican governor of Nevada Brian Sandoval to the Court.
That's right: Barack Obama preemptively compromised without even negotiating.
Now let's be clear on the facts: Sandoval is moderate (for a Republican), and to his credit, refused to be a part of this game by withdrawing his name for consideration. But the fact that Obama saw the blatant disrespect from the opposition and responded by trying to meet them in the middle is exactly what has been wrong with his presidency from day one.
The progressives who elected Obama twice deserve a champion, someone who will stand up for their values even in the face of an obstinate Republican Party. Someone who is not afraid to fight back and nominate a true liberal to the court, bringing his case to the American people who elected him and showing the Republicans for what they are: childish, entitled bullies unfit to govern.
A progressive champion who doesn't spearhead free-trade deals that would decimate American economic opportunities for the working-class.
This presidential primary season, we have seen in almost every Democratic debate and town hall, the two leading candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), fight over which one loves Obama more, which one will build upon his legacy better, as they wrestle for progressive votes.
The question nobody seems to be asking is: why? Why should Obama's extremely centrist record be a weapon to win progressive votes?
And then you realize, in an America that sees someone like Barack Obama as a progressive, it's no wonder Hillary Clinton can claim that same mantle and not be laughed out of the room.
It's time for real leftists, liberals and progressives to wake up about Barack Obama. You can admire his intelligence, his eloquence and his personality; he certainly has these and other positive traits. But to pretend that he is anything other than a neoliberal, centrist Democrat is folly and endangers the whole movement.