In November 2008, Barack Obama’s ascendance to the presidency was hailed by many as a victory for progressives who had argued against the conservative policies of George W. Bush, who as president, up until 2006, had been aided by a Republican led Congress bent on enacting key conservative tenets with respect to limiting the size of government—if not the scope of government interference in business affairs
In Obama, progressives lauded one of their own, a man who as an Illinois State Senator opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had a long and distinguished record with respect to civil rights, and one who supported the concept of universal health care.
When Obama entered the White House, the recession that arguably served as a catalyst for his election took center stage. Like his predecessor Bush, Obama took swift and decisive action in advocating stimulus packets to bail out certain finance related industries as well as U.S. automakers. While both packets certainly stabilized those industries, neither scratched the surface at curing two lingering ills—the decline in home sales and the loss of private sector jobs.
Curiously, the president’s focus soon shifted from job creation to passing a sweeping health reform measure. What passed, known as the Affordable Care Act, was viewed by many progressives as a shell of the long desired single payer system in that the current act does more to provide incentives to existing insurance companies than containing costs or providing greater benefits to Americans.
Still, if most progressives are willing to concede that some form of universal care is better than none, few are as accommodating for other perceived missteps by the Obama administration. Chief among these include the president’s reticence to advocate government sponsored economic stimulation with respect to jobs—a modern day “New Deal” similar to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s public works programs. Others were concerned with the president’s escalation of the conflict in Afghanistan and willingness to attack Libya despite the fact that Libya’s civil war did not directly implicate any U.S. interests. Other progressives lament the fact that the president has taken a seemingly nuanced approach on the issue of gay marriage.
These concerns pale in comparison to progressives fevered pitch from the recent debt ceiling debate, one in which Tea Party conservatives’ unwillingness to compromise drove the president closer to the ideological right with respect to tax cuts.
The fact that no new revenue sources were created particularly vexed perennial third party challenger Ralph Nader, who now calls for a primary challenger to Obama in 2012. Nader recently stated that he “would guess that the chances of there being a challenge to Obama in the primary are almost 100 percent.”
Nader also averred “when (Obama) surrendered the continuation of tax cuts for the rich last December, the least he could have gotten was the debt ceiling increased. He didn’t even do that. So he set himself up for this hostage situation by the Republicans and it’s his own fault. And the country and the workers are paying the price.”
As to the supposed wisdom of a primary challenge, no incumbent president has been felled by a primary challenge. In 1968, Democrat incumbent Lyndon Baines Johnson withdrew from the Democrat primary before receiving a strong challenge from both Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey. In 1980, Jimmy Carter staved off a primary challenge from Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. And in 1992, George H. W. Bush soundly defeated primary challenger Pat Buchanan.
The common theme in those primary challenges was that the incumbent president lost in the general election. For this reason, conventional wisdom holds that progressives, fearing a Michele Bachman or Rick Perry presidency, likely will rally behind the president.
That is unless polls suggesting that Americans, weary of partisan gridlock in Washington, are finally willing to place blame on a seemingly inept two party system.
In recent weeks, rumors have increased that billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may mount a third party run. Bloomberg could benefit from Americans Elect, a group that, according to a New York Times report, plans to recruit “millions of citizens to vote online for a third-party or independent candidate for president.” If the current partisan stalemate continues, history may be made again in 2012, by the election of a third party president.