Barack Obama And Progressive Disillusionment: What Is The Alternative?

With the announcement of a deal on the Debt Ceiling Crisis last night, but still to be voted on today by both houses of Congress without a guarantee of its passage at this moment of writing, the question arises as to what is the future of the progressive movement in America.

Many might say the answer is to give up on Barack Obama and challenge him in the primaries, and or run a candidate on a third party line in November 2012.

If one looks at the history of such efforts, however, it always leads to the worst alternative to progressivism being triumphant!

In November 1967, Senator Eugene McCarthy entered the race for the Presidency against President Lyndon B. Johnson, followed by Senator Robert Kennedy in March 1968, leading to his withdrawal and replacement as the administration candidate by Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The split engendered in the party over the war in Vietnam led to a divided Democratic convention, and the defeat of Humphrey by Richard Nixon, who proceeded to continue the war in Vietnam another four years, something assuredly that would not have happened under a President Humphrey. This tumultuous split in the Democratic Party helped to make for a Republican advantage, and permanently changed the Democratic party, whereby they would only win the Presidency three times out of the next ten national elections.

In late 1979 and early 1980, President Jimmy Carter was challenged in the primaries, for being too moderate and centrist, by both Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Governor Jerry Brown of California. The effect of the primary challenge was to weaken Carter for the campaign, with all of the attacks by Kennedy and Brown used by the Republicans against Carter, and Ronald Reagan won the election, setting back the progressive movement dramatically, still having an effect in 2011!

There was similar discontent among some progressive elements with Bill Clinton in his first term, but no revolt or challenge from within the progressive movement, and Bill Clinton, with his faults and shortcomings, was reelected to a second term, the only Democrat to do so since Franklin D. Roosevelt.

So while there can be discontent and disappointment with Barack Obama, that he has not achieved everything that progressives desire, try to imagine President John McCain instead, and try to imagine whether any of the many accomplishments of the Obama Presidency would have been achieved, and the answer is clearly negative.

So when Ralph Nader, who helped to defeat Al Gore by running in Florida in the 2000 election, talks about challenging Barack Obama, the answer is to steer clear of him unless one wants another 2000 election, unless one wants a Republican likely to be further to the right than George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan were in 2000 or 1980.

And when one tries to consider what progressive spokesman could really win the nation in 2012, one comes up empty handed. Certainly, Ralph Nader has no credibility and is seen as fringe in nature. Dennis Kucinich has appeal for some of what he advocates, but has run twice in the Presidential primaries and comes across as loony to many with his personal quirks. Bernie Sanders is appealing to many, but is actually a Socialist, not a Democrat, and could not possibly have broad based appeal. Russ Feingold is probably the most attractive alternative, and has formed Progressives United, an advocacy organization in Madison, WIsconsin, but he is weakened by the loss of his Senate seat in 2010, and it would be better if he ran for Senator Herb Kohl’s Senate seat with Kohl retiring, with a good chance to come back to the Senate in 2012 and promote the progressive cause from that location, in a more constructive manner.

Who else is possible, with any credibility? Realistically, NO ONE, and therefore, there is no alternative but to support Barack Obama, have him and his party fight the good fight over the next 15 months, and work to create a solid majority for progressive causes in the House of Representatives and the Senate!

If that quest is successful, and with a second term and no reelection to face, Barack Obama would likely turn further to the left, stick his neck out, and become more progressive than he has been able to do, logistically, in this first term. With all the criticism that has been and will be made of Barack Obama, he still has the most progressive term in office since Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s with his Great Society!