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What’s the Point?

[ 246 ] September 5, 2011 |

Unless you’re completely new to the blog, you know that I disagree with the two key premises underlying Matt Stoller’s call for a primary challenge against Obama. First, I think it’s silly to see the Obama administration as an extension of the Bush administration.  And second, I don’t agree with the Beltway pundit assumption that electoral outcomes derive primarily from presidential tactics. (To state the obvious, nothing Obama could have done could have stopped the Democrats from getting slaughtered in the 2010 midterms, and talking about the Democrats being “destroyed” is just as foolish as assuming that the Republican coalition was permanently fractured because McCain lost Indiana and North Carolina.)

But let’s leave that aside, and assume that a third term of Bush would have involved a larger stimulus, the most significant health care reform in four decades, EPA regulations of carbon emissions, two liberal Supreme Court appointments, the repeal of DADT, a refusal to defend DOMA, the aggressive prosecutions of people who block access to reproductive health clinics, etc. etc. etc. And let’s also assume that against all precedent another Democratic candidate would have a much better chance of winning in 2012. Would a primary challenge to Obama make any sense?

Of course not. First, there’s no plausible scenario under which it would be produce another candidate. (Favorite son, seriously? Tom Harkin as your opening progressive standard-bearer?  Needs more brokered convention.) Second, assuming the point isn’t the inherently futile task of actually winning, the track record of primary challenges to advance progressive change is…not good. Anybody remember the Democratic Party shifting to the left and become more electorally powerful after 1968 and 1980? Me neither. And as a bonus, an Obama loss in 2012 would be blamed on the hippies and their primary challenge.  Third, the downsides of the intraparty conflicts are downplayed. I’m particularly amazed at Stoller’s suggestion that “African-American church networks” could be on board against a primary challenge to the first African-American president despite the fact that his record has been more progressive than that of his two Democratic successors (let alone the Republican a primary challenge would if anything make more likely.)  Sure.  In reality, a primary challenge to Obama would be a similar coalition to Nader ’00 — i.e. running the gamut from disaffected white academics to white college students.

So what, exactly, is the basis for thinking that a primary challenge would accomplish anything?

When taking state candidates into account, the 1894 midterm elections were comparable to the 2010 wipeout; Cleveland was disliked so ardently that party leaders pushed him out of running for reelection. Instead the Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan, who introduced many populist themes into the party and began the ideological transformation that would culminate with the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.

Let’s leave aside the specious Cleveland/Obama comparison and consider the strategy.  OK, so following the analogy, if the primary challenge “works” according to plan we would get upwards of four decades of Rick Perrys, interrupted in the middle by a Democrat who makes Obama look like Olof Palme, and maybe one Republican warmonger who’s slightly less awful on domestic issues.  And then in 36 years we’ll finally win with a president whose campaign has strikingly little in common with the candidate who won the primary challenge. I’d sure hate to see the downside of that self-refuting plan.

The primary challenge, in other words, is basically the lefty equivalent to Americans Elect Radical Centrist Unity — a useless non-answer to the wrong question.

Comments (246)

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  1. Jim Lynch says:

    I calculate that the number of people calling for a primary challenger to Obama would comfortably fit in a thimble.

    • Captain Splendid says:

      While I understand disaffection with Obama, the continuous chatter about primarying him mystifies me.

      Especially since, you know, nobody’s doing it or planning on doing it.

      I think I’ve actually reached a point where I consider the mainstream media as far more loathsome and useless than all the Sarah Palins and Rick Perrys of the world.

    • In the bottle cap that is the online left, a thimble is a large body.

    • soullite says:

      I have never seen a poll with that question resulting in less than a 30% number among Democrats. Democrats currently make up 31% of our 180 million person electorate. So unless you you have a thimble capable of holding 55-million people…

      • Pithlord says:

        Obviously, the US needs to prioritize math skills among Internet commenters. Assuming (without checking) that your numbers are right 30%*31%*180 Million is less than 17 Million.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That article could be read as mediation on how it would be better if we lived in a world in political parties were more nimble and flexible. On that point: fair enough, but his strategy to get there is to pretend like we’re already there if we want to be. To put it mildly, this is bizarre.

    • steelpenny says:

      Is that strategy really any more bizarre than Obama seeking compromise with people whose explicit goal is his failure? I mean, a primary challenge won’t help anybody except the Republicans, but the compromisey/hippy punchy strategy won’t either.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        Well, Obama has had victories (including health care, which is really a big deal esp as it’s been the Great Republican Thing To Kill over and over), and some surprise moves (even in the debt ceiling fiasco).

        You can even see a fallback aspect: By being calm and open over it all, he is in a position to be named “adult” eventually by the village. I don’t hold it as likely or easy, but it’s not a negligible idea. Being named “adult” does help a lot! Look how much it buys the Republicans.

        What has primary challenges of sitting presidents gotten progressives? What’s the theory that makes this work? What’s the fallback if it fails?

  3. charles pierce says:

    You’re right about the primary challenge and wrong about the president. It’s very confusing.

    • mining city guy says:

      I agree that he is right about the primary challenge. That would make no sense. I also agree that he is wrong about the President. He also makes little sense as do the people who defend him.

      • Ed says:

        It’s been pointed out more than once on this blog that primary challengers tend to be more symptoms than causes, but since there isn’t going to be such a challenger unless Obama’s situation becomes unimaginably worse and probably not even then,it’s hard to see any particular reason for discussing it at this point or bashing those few who are promoting the idea.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          I was going to make the “more symptom than cause point” myself.

          It is striking that the only incumbent presidents to lose bids for second terms since WWII met with serious primary challenges: LBJ, Ford, Carter, Bush I.

          Many people online have tried to use this to suggest that primary challenges have caused these losses. But with the exception of ’68, it’s hard to see how these primary challenges changed the outcome. And in the case of ’68, putting LBJ on the ballot in November probably would have resulted in a larger victory for Nixon (as HHH picked up steam in the last two weeks by separating himself from the Johnson administration).

          But primary challenges do show up with striking regularity–and already extent challenges become serious–when an incumbent President is in trouble. Had the economy been better in ’92, Pat Buchanan would have run for the Republican nomination and done about as well as John Ashbrook in ’72. Instead, he won NH.

          I am totally against a primary challenge against Obama, because I see no good coming from it for progressives, especially given the weakness of the progressive Democratic bench.

          But I don’t think that Obama’s situation needs to get “unimaginably worse” for a primary challenge to emerge. Indeed, given where the state of the economy, Obama’s reaction to it, and the direction of the President’s popularity, I’d say the odds are about even that one will.

          • firefall says:

            Who is the progressive bench? Anyone?

            • DrDick says:

              I was unaware that there really was one, at least one that was even remotely capable running for president. There are a number in the House and a couple, like Sanders, in the Senate, but no real contenders there.

              While I would like to replace Obama with someone to the left of Gerald Ford, a successful primary is not and never was a realistic possibility.

          • charles pierce says:

            As it happens, as a baby reporter for the alternative press — ah, thim was the days, as Mr. Dooley said — I covered the 1980 campaign, including the D primaries. I can tell you that whatever vestigial support Carter had among mainstream D’s pretty much evaporated as that process went along, even though EMK ran one of the most incompetent campaigns I ever saw. Come the general election season, people were fleeing from Carter in droves. I believe, if nothing else, the primary gave them a kind of psychic permission to do that. To the country’s everlasting detriment, I might add.

    • Bill Murray says:

      I’m so confused I went to work today.

    • DrDick says:

      Agreed.

  4. c u n d gulag says:

    I’ve asked other commenters on other sites, “Primary him with whom?”
    They can’t tell me.

    There are close to zero well known national Liberal or Progressive politicians out there, let alone people, with a chance to win the general.

    Maybe it’s me, but if there’s a great Liberal/Progressive hope on the horizon, I don’t see him or her. And I think that if that person did pop up, started to get a following, and posed a threat to the monied class, well, my guess is that his/her candidacy would be terminated with extreme prejudice – ASAP (which, in my mind, explains to some degree Obama’s centrist leanings).
    And I wasn’t one of the people who thought Obama would be some great Liberal lion – though I think he’s done as good a job as he could with the Congess that he had.

    Anyone have any ideas on who can be our Liberal/Progressive hope?
    Is there one?
    And, if we can get him/her elected, how do we get that person a filibuster-proof Senate, and a House without DINO Red Dog’s (ain’t nothin’ Blue about ‘em)?

    • Captain Splendid says:

      “Primary him with whom?”

      What’s the replies you get?

      “Whahh, you got your reality in my wishful thinking!”

      There’s only person right now who could primary Obama, and that’s Hillary. Who’s not that frigging stupid.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        She’s also not that frigging different from Obama. :-)

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          This.

          (I think the fact that there is not a single pseudo-plausible answer to the “with whom?” question should tell progressives that they’d better get their shit together fast if they want to have any impact at all on the 2016 Democratic primary race. The Obama Wars are a terrible distraction to the larger problem of the lousy place of progressives in the Democratic Party.)

          • I think that probably misunderstands the problem of the “with whom” question. If the question is “which progressives could mount a credible campaign for President in an open Democratic primary,” I think there are at least a couple of people probably more progressive than Obama that could pull it off.

            But what we have here is the question of “which high profile progressive could plausibly mount a semi-credible primary challenge to an incumbent, popular-with-his-own-party President and would be willing to engage in what would likely be a totally Quixotic campaign?” That’s a rather different question.

            • c u n d gulag says:

              Brien,
              “…I think there are at least a couple of people probably more progressive than Obama that could pull it off.”

              Ok then, who?

              • Well without thinking to much about it, Nancy Pelosi seems like a pretty obvious choice.

                • Anonymous says:

                  I love me some Pelosi, but she was a Speaker of the House. Just because she could organize votes from sitting Reps does not mean she could cobble together a majority of delegates from the primaries and caucuses in 57 states and territories (including DC).

                  Instead of trying to argue about this, think who in your neighborhood has just moved in, and give them a voter registration card. Tell them where to expect the voting booths to be next year.

                • Well I wouldn’t say she’d be a lock for the nomination, of course, but her stature alone would certainly make her a viable candidate in an open field, and I don’t think there’s much question she’s more progressive than Obama (and better at governing too).

                • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                  Do you have any idea how demonized Pelosi is in flyover country?

                  Imagine all the white hot, misogynistic hatred directed at Hillary Clinton. Factor in Pelosi’s slightly more progressive politics. Then add the San Francisco address.

                  Heck, when local teabaggers go after my mayor here in Norman, OK, they accuse her of being just like Pelosi.

                  Also: you might want to check the last time a sitting member of the House of Representatives won a major party’s presidential nomination.

                • dangermouse says:

                  Do you have any idea how demonized Pelosi is in flyover country?

                  Roughly as demonized, give or take, as Obama?

          • Ed says:

            I think the fact that there is not a single pseudo-plausible answer to the “with whom?” question should tell progressives that they’d better get their shit together fast if they want to have any impact at all on the 2016 Democratic primary race.

            I believe Obama was supposed to be the progressive alternative to Clinton-type centrism. I think it will take some time for the left wing of the party to regroup from how that turned out.

            • Anyone who believed that wasn’t paying very much attention.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

                Exactly.

                Given the occasional cries of betrayal one reads online, I’m willing to believe that a non-trivial group of people saw Obama as more progressive than Clinton.

                But I remember quite distinctly the standard (and largely true) line during that primary campaign that the only major policy difference between the two of them was Clinton’s support for an individual healthcare mandate.

                Besides that the differences were:

                1) Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War, which given their otherwise identical foreign policy stands went to judgment more than progressiveness.

                2) Political competence.

                3) The vague (and frankly silly) hope that the rabid GOP hatred for Hillary would somehow not be replicated for Obama.

                • elm says:

                  Also, I think there was a somewhat reasonable hope that Obama, while just as moderate as H. Clinton, wouldn’t triangulate as much as she would. This seemed based on both her last name and the hiring of Mark Penn. Obviously, this turned out to be a vain hope.

                  Plus, I think many thought that Obama would be a better public advocate for the Democrats (though not for progressive values), what with his better speachifying and his building of a grass-roots machine. This has also been a largely vain hope.

                  Personally, I’m dissapointed in Obama, not because I thought he would be more progressive than he is, but because I thought he would be more inspiring and inspired than he is. Would this have changed policy outcomes in the short term? I don’t know; probably only at the margins at best. But I feel we missed an opportunity to expand the Democratic coalition (which would have given progressive politicians more leeway to run and win.)

    • Triplanetary says:

      Agreed. I could name several people who would, in my opinion, be a better POTUS than Obama, but not a single one who’s realistically electable. Additionally, no matter how awesomely liberal the POTUS is, it’s doubtful he or she could get anything genuinely liberal done in the face of our current Congress.

      Liberals are spending too much time focusing exclusively on the presidency. That said, I don’t understand the ones who defend Obama. Is he a stealth neocon? No! But he is an uninspiring (with the exception of his impressive intelligence and eloquence) typical Village moderate. Why bother defending that? His best use, as with most national Dems, is filling a seat that might otherwise be held by a Republican.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Triplanetary
        Divide and conquor works, and it’s working on you.
        Rightie trolls have been making a career in the past 2+ years out of coming on Liberal sites, and trying to piss people on the left even more than they already are at Obama.

        No, Obama’s no Liberal lion, but when he had a Congress he could work with for 2 years, he accomplished more than Carter and Clinton – combined!

        I think it’s ‘nucking futs’ when I hear my fellow Liberals bitching about Obama. ‘He didn’t do this, he didn’t do that.’
        When Obama enters, they play “Hail to the Chief,” they don’t all rise and yell “Hail Caesar!”

        You want a more Liberal President?
        Elect more Liberal House and Senate members.

        He’s not a dictator.

        Democrats want Obama to act more like W. But he couldn’t and can’t. And the only reason W. got done what he wanted, was that he took advantage and had a cowered Democratic Party after a terrorist attack, and a totally complicit and compliant Republican Party ready, willing, and able to vote in lockstep.

        Obama had a Senate with barely 60 votes, an ill and dying Ted Kennedy, and a perpetually pissed-off and petulant MFing asshole like Joe Lieberman, barely on his side, and in the House, he had the Red Dogs. HA! And he now looks at a House that is full of ‘Mad Dogs and Americans.’

        There’s plenty to blame on Obama, like starting to negotiate from the right-center.
        Blaming Obama for things beyond his control is, to me, falling for exactly what the right-wing wants you to fall for.

        Note: I am, and have always been a hard-core Liberal.

        • Triplanetary says:

          I don’t understand why you accused me of being a stooge to conservative propaganda, and then proceeded to say a bunch of things that are largely in agreement with my original comment.

          Other than the part where I said I find Obama largely uninspiring (horror!), I also said this:

          Additionally, no matter how awesomely liberal the POTUS is, it’s doubtful he or she could get anything genuinely liberal done in the face of our current Congress.

          Liberals are spending too much time focusing exclusively on the presidency.

          And I’ve said it before. More than anything, I’m just tired of the whole liberal debate over Obama. The problem with Washington’s inability to provide substantive reform isn’t Obama’s problem, it’s the entire Village’s problem.

          • c u n d gulag says:

            I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to accuse you of being a stooge.
            Truly.
            I should have worded what I wrote differently.
            SORRY!

            • Triplanetary says:

              It’s not that I was offended, it’s that I don’t see why either side of the liberal Obama divide needs to be trying to enforce some kind of ideological purity. Many of my political ideals (and yours too, as you well know) would make a candidate unelectable, but I’m not going to give up on them.

              My point is, we seem to feel the same way about where the focus needs to be (local and Congressional politics), so who cares whether we like Obama or not? We’d probably both rather vote for President Susan Faludi or something, if such a thing were remotely possible.

        • “You want a more Liberal President?
          Elect more Liberal House and Senate members.”

          This, right there.

          Why that point wasn’t driven home in 2010 I have no idea.

          And the President is not a dictator. He’s part of the system of checks and balances that also involves Congress and the Supreme Court. He cannot just go out there and snap his fingers and get whatever he wants.

          My problem with Stoller and those who have his viewpoint is that it appears that they wanted a liberal GWB in the White House, someone who was going to just go over and slap Congress around. And as always, they talk about primarying Obama but never give any names that could actually WIN.

          What’s worse? They seem not to care about a GOP victory next year and how that will absolutely screw this country royally. Or they cling to a mindset that it’ll be a good thing because Americans will finally wake up and go get the GOP out once and for all.

          It’s incredibly flawed thinking. It also proves that when it comes to the political history of the US since 1968, Stoller and company are, to put it mildly, completely clueless.

          Now I’m stepping off my soapbox.

          • dangermouse says:

            “You want a more Liberal President?
            Elect more Liberal House and Senate members.”

            We could start by finding organizations that are successful at registering lots of new, Democratic voters, and then, completely destroying them.

      • soullite says:

        Anyone is ‘electable’, all Dems had to do was nominate someone. The fact that they find certain people unacceptable has nothing to do with electability. Anyone is electable under the kind of circumstances we had in 2008, Obama was hardly the most progressive candidate possible.

        If you want to understand American politics, you have to stop pretending that issues matter. They would if there were more parties, but in a binary system, who’s in charge and the state of the economy are worth about 90% of your vote total.

    • DrDick says:

      And I think that if that person did pop up, started to get a following, and posed a threat to the monied class, well, my guess is that his/her candidacy would be terminated with extreme prejudice – ASAP

      Exactly. Which is why a serious primary challenge from the left has never been a realistic possibility. Challenging the money boys and bucking the party power structure is a sure ticket to a long walk on a short pier for any Democratic politician.

    • dangermouse says:

      to some degree

      ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

  5. ploeg says:

    If anybody would like some alternatives, how about find a liberal congresscritter in a competitive district (or a liberal candidate in a competitive district that is currently being mis-served by a Republican) and support that person? If you must ignore the presidential campaign, you must, but why not do something that is incontestably good and that makes a difference?

    • 1. Which person is it who would be interested in this proposition?

      2. Considering that Obama’s approval rating amongst Democrats is still very strong, what plausible path to the nomination would said candidate have?

    • TAZ says:

      I think this is the best solution starting at the local level and working your way up to the House and Senate. The righties started with school boards we lefties should do the same. Promote and support progressives from the bottom up that way we create a movement and base that has at least some chance of forcing changes at the top.

      • Triplanetary says:

        Exactly! Republicans have been playing the long game and it’s paying off in spades for them now. It’ll only end when enough Americans realize how godawful it is when the GOP is in power. (Or maybe not, even. Swing voters have astoundingly short memories.)

        It’s unlikely that we’ll see real liberals in office within 5 or 10 years, but if we work hard at it, from the ground up, it can happen within a few decades. If that seems dispiriting, consider that the alternative is to continue to give ground to the GOP until our country becomes genuinely ungovernable and the federal government’s sole reasons for being are bombing non-white people and handing money out to corps.

      • It’s worth pointing out that while they pursued that bottom-up policy, they also followed Buckley’s advice in top-ticket elections: Vote for the most conservative viable candidate.

        The two are in now way contradictory.

      • DrDick says:

        This is what I have said for a while. If we want to push the Democrats to the left, then we have to start at the local level and gradually build up a national infrastructure of institutions, people and money.

        • That’s the right thing to do. It will take time, of course, and you have to play the “long game”.

          Stoller and types like him cannot see that and instead just shoot straight for the Presidency.

      • Precisely. The Presidency is the end-game, not the beginning.

        • Charrua says:

          Easier to say than to do. The local level is more important to conservatives, since a lot of their philosophy is “let’s stop the evil federal government and let’s protect states rights”. It doesn’t matter the same way to the left. Also, there’s no Big Business money to finance it. A “national infrastructure of institutions, people and money” used to exist; it was called strong unions. It’s pointless to try to copycat the conservatives; different socioeconomic bases are movilized differently.
          If you want to copy somebody, copy the LGBT movement.

          • TAZ says:

            Of course it is easier to say than do. No one is saying political change is easy and quick, We should always be thinking about how the current battle sets us up for the next one. Mike Konzal noted this. The history of Social Security or Civil Rights, how they got started (pushed from below) and how they got widened (pushed from below) is how is how where the eight hour day originally came from and why my parent’s inter-racial marriage eventually was legalized We should copy any political movement that effects small d democratic change and even take a few lessons from those are imposing the most radical social change this county has every scene. I know we cant’ match the plutocracy’s money and power. So what! The Taliban don’t seem to be running away in the face of the world’s premier military power but instead have explored and exploited ways ways to fight back. They also are playing “long ball.” Why shouldn’t we?

            If one is objective it is clear we are in an unequal fight. I shouldn’t have to say I do not endorse violence as a political tactic, never have, nor ever will, We become what I despise if we go down that road. Instead we should be looking to inspiration from Egypt and Wisconsin for models of non-violent movements of social change. From King to Choi there are lessons to be learned. We should intellectually embrace the asymmetry of power between us and our enemies not allow that to lead us to paralysis but instead to use a realistic understanding of how social change happens in this country to focus and inform our tactical moves and strategic ends. If you know what the Morris Memo is then you know our current state did not emerge by overnight or by accident. We can either accept that shock and awe works and watch while the new Rome burns as we scramble for the scraps or chose to fight (yes, it is a fight) to create a better world for ourselves and our children.

  6. Now President Bryan – there’s someone who knew how to use the bully pulpit.

    “Instead the Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan, who introduced many populist themes into the party and began the ideological transformation that would culminate with the election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.”

    A mere 36 years later.

    A brief modern history of leftist challenges to incumbent Democratic presidents, including the results in that year’s election, and their impact on the future direction of the party:

    In 1952, Truman faced a challenge and stepped aside. The Republicans won the election, ushering in 8 years of GOP rule. The next Democrat to be nominated was the more-conservative-than-Truman John F. Kennedy.

    In 1968, Johnson faced a primary challenge and stepped aside. Nixon won the election, ushering in 8 years of Republican rule. The next Democrat to be nominated was Jimmy Carter, who lost to Reagan.

    In 1980, Carter faced a primary challenge from Ted Kennedy. He won, but was fatally wounded in the process, and lost the election to Ronald Reagan, ushering 12 years of Republican rule. The next Democrat to be nominated was more-conservative-than-Carter Bill Clinton.

    Though not a primary against an incumbent President, Ralph Nader’s third-party challenge on Gore’s left tipped the election to the Republicans, resulting in 8 years of George W. Bush. (Stoller’s goal of clearing out a moderate, letting the country see how bad the Republicans are, and hoping they’ll respond by nominating a left-winger). The next Democrat to be nominated was Barack Obama. If you subscribe to the notion that Obama is more conservative than Gore, or that he is one-term failure who will hand the White House to the wingnuts, then this is clearly not the outcome hoped for.

    Tossing the White House to the Republicans doesn’t get you a more liberal nominee next time. It gets you a Democratic primary electorate that values electability (expressed as perceived bipartisan appeal – the hawk Kennedy, the Southerner Carter, the Southerner/Sistah Souljah-basher Clinton, the “post-partisan” Obama) because the primary voters are desperate to take back the White House.

    • Let’s add in the Democratic nominees in the very next election:

      In 1956, four years of GOP rule led to the nomination of Adlai Stevenson. Their relative positions on the political spectrum can be debated. He lost.

      In 1972, four years of GOP rule led to almost all Democrats staying out the race and the nomination of political powerhouse George McGovern, who set a record for the scale of his loss.

      In 1984, four years of Republican rule led to the nomination of too-conservative, too weak Jimmy Carter’s Vice President, who went on to break McGovern’s record.

      In 2004, four years of Republican rule (which included Al Gore railing against the invasion of Iraq) led to the nomination of Iraq-War-voting, safe choice John Kerry.

      Not once has this strategy resulted in a more liberal, or even as liberal, Democrat taking over after a single Republican term. Whether you want to attribute this to the weakness of the Democratic nominees, or the strength of the Republicans after one term, or a combination, the fact remains that it hasn’t worked a single time.

      • Don K says:

        “Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!”
        “But that trick never works.”
        “This time for sure, presto!”

      • John says:

        Besides Ted Kennedy, whose ambitions for the presidency had probably been mortally wounded by Chappaquiddick, who stayed out of the 1972 race? That was an incredibly crowded field, with a large number of mainstream Democratic alternatives to McGovern – notably Humphrey himself, Humphrey’s 68 running mate Ed Muskie, and Scoop Jackson. Besides Kennedy, Muskie and Humphrey were the leading candidates that the Democratic establishment looked to.

        McGovern won because he had basically designed the new Democratic primary system himself, and understood it better than everyone else, and because that new system was slanted in the direction of a candidate like McGovern who could harness the anti-war vote, not because more serious candidates stayed out of the race.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Also, Carter was far more conservative than LBJ or HHH.

      • As someone currently writing a dissertation chapter about Carter’s handling of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, this is an understatement – basically, the average national Democratic would have been better than Carter on economic policy.

        • Andrew says:

          I’m curious about Humphrey-Hawkins. I know that in the end it got watered-down to, basically, just the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate.

          Was it viable in its original form? In what ways could it have been stronger?

          The reason I ask is that, whether Obama wins or loses in 2012, I suspect there’s going to be a lot of debate within the Democratic Party about full employment again, and it’d be interesting to go back and review the debates over that from back in the 1970s, especially because till recently, even self-described “progressives” basically adopted neoliberal orthodoxy on that issue.

    • Murc says:

      Uh. Okay, Joe, no offense, but this list doesn’t prove what you want it to prove.

      In 1952, Truman faced a challenge and stepped aside.

      • In 1952, Truman faced a challenge and stepped aside.

        I said that: In 1952, Truman faced a challenge and stepped aside. The Republicans won the election, ushering in 8 years of GOP rule. The next Democrat to be nominated was the more-conservative-than-Truman John F. Kennedy.

        I then added that the result was the Republicans winning the election, holding the White House for eight years, and the Democrats nominating a more-conservative candidate.

        I see this list proving that the result of primary challenges are:

        1. Republican victories that year.

        2. Long periods of Republican control (8 or 12 years).

        3. More-conservative Democratic nominees.

        Why, what do you think it proves?

        • Murc says:

          It proves that I fucked up and hit the submit button way to early. Mea culpa.

        • lawguy says:

          Um, in 1952 the republican candidate was the guy who won World War II, or at least that is how Americans viewed it. It is doubtful that democrat could have won that year.

          Truman might have figured that one “miracle” election was all he could pull off. He didn’t have much in the way of primary candidates against him in 1948, but he did have a right wing democrat and a left wing democrat running in the general election against him.

      • Murc says:

        Okay, shit. I hit the submit button by accident and now I look dumb. Let me try again.

        In 1952, Truman faced a challenge and stepped aside.

        Truman face a primary challenge because he was incredibly unpopular both within his own party and on a national scale, and he, himself, thought it was for the good of the party and the country to step aside, because he’d have trouble winning. Moreover, the Republican nominee that year was Dwight frickin’ Eisenhower. Name a single person who could have beaten Eisenhower.

        In 1968, Johnson faced a primary challenge and stepped aside.

        Johnson faced a primary because he was GENUINELY unpopular with the party as a whole, and slightly less unpopular with the country as a whole, but still rather unpopular.

        More to the point, there is substantial evidence that Johnson would have declined to run again even if there hadn’t been a challenge on the horizon, because of health issues. Johnson died in 1973, about a week, week and a half after his theoretical term would have ended, and that was after four years of taking it easy. Had he run and won, the Presidency would have killed him probably before 1970.

        I’ll give you Carter and Ted Kennedy, even though there’s an argument to be made that Reagan was going to be unstoppable in 1980 no matter what.

        2000 didn’t involve a primary challenge, and Gore didn’t lose because of Nader, he lost because the election was stolen. Gore WON in 2000. You can bitch that Nader made it close enough for that to be possible, but that’s always seemed pretty blame-the-victim to me. It might be unwise to go walking at night in a bad neighborhood, but if you get mugged primary responsibility lies with the mugger, not with you.

        Basically, if your point was to provide evidence that leftist primary challenges to incumbent Presidents are a proximate cause of the Democratic Party losing the election in which they do it, I think the evidence you’re providing here is weak, at best. It’s correlation without causation.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          But the point is not that the primary was the key causal agent. The point is that it’s hard to imagine a strategy with a worse track record of actually accomplishing anything. Again, Stoller has to go back more than a century to find an example of “success” — which happens to invoke 36 years of a constitutional order in which it was unconstitutional for the federal government to regulate child labor. Replacing Cleveland with Bryan wasn’t a main reason this happened, but it is another example that fantasizing about generating progressive change through primary challenges is nuts.

          And as for 2000, if Nader doesn’t run, Gore wins. Nor is Nader the “victim” — his goal was to elect Bush (for the same heighten-the-contradictions reasons that could apparently cause someone to see 1896 as a major progressive triumph.) He, Harris, Baker, Jeb and Scalia were all on the same side, and they needed each other.

          • Also too, William Jennings Bryan should never be implied to be a progressive. Ever. It’s long been a mystery to me why, ever since TARP or thereabouts, Our Progressive Betters have been so insistent on wrapping themselves in the trappings of the racist, bigoted, know-nothing populists.

            • Bryan is a bit more complicated than you’re setting out – instrumental in getting the income tax through Congress, pushed hard for a more progressive Federal Reserve, opposed to WWI, pro-Spanish American War but anti-annexation of the Phillipines.

          • But the point is not that the primary was the key causal agent.

            Indeed. Even granting that Murc is 100% correct and Truman and Johnson would have lost, challenging them instead of rallying around them did absolutely nothing to help.

            And, of course, we can’t be 100% certain that they would have lost the general election. What we can be 100% certain of is that dumping the Democratic President has never, ever worked. It has never worked to salvage a tough election, and it has never worked to move the party to the left.

          • Murc says:

            But the point is not that the primary was the key causal agent.

            Uh… it’s not?

            Let me say that I find Stoller’s argument kind of silly, but for the assumptions it makes (the thought that African-Americans are going to turn on Obama is particularly priceless) rather than its underlying premise.

            It seems like the counter-argument being presented here is ‘you shouldn’t primary incumbent Democratic Presidents from the left, because it leads to them losing.’

            Have I got that right? Because if I’ve got that right it seems like you HAVE to be making the point that the primary was the key causal agent. If it WASN’T, then the whole basis of the argument falls apart. And the examples Joe provided are for the most part quite weak, in my opinion, because they involve elections where the presence or lack of a primary challenge was probably, at MOST, a slight contributing factor rather than, as you said, the key causal agent.

            I’m against a primary of Obama because of the lack of anyone who could do so who is actually better than he is on the issues I care about, and because most of the Democratic coalition is in fact pretty okay with him. If EITHER of those things weren’t true I’d pull a lever against him in a red-hot second, but they are not.

            • Have I got that right?

              No. The argument here is that the strategy Stoller advocates has never, ever worked. In 100% of the test cases, it has failed. I did not write a single word on why they failed. The conclusion I draw is that it is highly unlikely to work if tried again.

              And the examples Joe provided are for the most part quite weak, in my opinion, because…

              I’d say the case for Nader’s challenge being a key causal agent is irrefutable. Kennedy’s challenge, fairly strong. 1968, weak. 1952, weak. But attributing causation, once again, was never my thesis.

              If EITHER of those things weren’t true I’d pull a lever against him in a red-hot second

              What would you hope to achieve, in terms of electoral politics, by doing so? If anything.

              And is there anything in the historical record to indicate that voting against Obama would be likely to achieve your desired result?

              • Murc says:

                What would you hope to achieve, in terms of electoral politics, by doing so?

                In terms of the first, it wouldn’t be so much to ACHIEVE something electorally as BECAUSE of electoral politics in general. If elections are won mostly structurally, it would make sense to nominate the best candidate available to take advantage of that. If there were a theoretical primary challenger who was Obamalike in most ways but, say, a huge champion of civil liberties as well, I’d vote for that guy in the primary. If he lost I’d vote for Obama in the general.

                In terms of the second, it would seem unwise to run someone who is genuinely unpopular within his own party. If Obama were polling at, say, mid-forties among Democrats, it would just be SMART to dump his ass.

                • If elections are won mostly structurally, it would make sense to nominate the best candidate available to take advantage of that.

                  OK.

                  And is there anything in the historical record to suggest that supporting a candidate who challenges an incumbent Democratic President is likely to lead to a victory in the general election?

                • That’s a bit of a catch-22 though, since in general cycles that feature strong challenges to the incumbent also feature quite unpopular incumbents and situations where the incumbent party isn’t very likely to win anyway.

                  But as to the question of whether such a fruitless challenge can force a party to move leftward…no, there’s no evidence to that effect.

                • Murc says:

                  Not particularly, no. But there’s also not a lot of evidence that its likely to lead to defeat. There are a number of examples where that action occurred and then the subsequent election was lost, but you haven’t convinced me of a causal link.

                  Put it another way. Would you take seriously the position that we shouldn’t elect a Catholic of irish descent from Massachusetts to the Presidency because 100% of the people matching that description we’ve elected to the Presidency have been assassinated?

                  You have to prove cause, and I don’t think you’ve done that.

                  And even if there WAS a causal link, so what? Plenty of things have been electoral poison until suddenly they weren’t.

                • If 4/4 Irish Catholics from Massachusetts had been assassinated, on the other hand…

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Murc,

                  I think you’re setting the epistemic bar far too high.

                  The point isn’t whether the evidence is strong enough to support a causal hypothesis at e.g., epidemiological or particle physicsesque levels of proof. We’re never going to get that, obviously.

                  However, the evidence we do have all runs the same way. What’s more, if you examine the cases and look at the structure of the democratic party and of US presidential elections, the conclusion seems rather well supported.

                  Contrariwise, the pro-primary position has no real successful examples, nor any reasonable theory of how to avoid the failures of the past, and a huge downside. (Both if Obama wins or loses. If he loses, the challenge will get a fair share of the blame.)

                  So, really, the burden of proof runs in the other direction. Either a general account that reasonably explains all these cases as outliers plus a positive theory, or some reason why this time is different (plus a positive theory).

                  In other words, even if it’s mere correlation, mere correlation is better than what you’ve got, afaict.

                  It’s even harder because 1) there’s no real field to draw from, 2) Obama has pretty strong grass roots, 3) a primary challenger is going to have a terrible time with the African-American community (even assuming that they don’t fall into race baiting, cf. Clinton, Bill). Thus, it seems way more unlikely to do good in this case.

                • 3) a primary challenger is going to have a terrible time with the African-American community

                  You gotta love the thinking: Barack Obama has (allegedly) diminished enthusiasm for voting Democratic among key Democratic constituencies.

                  So, therefore, we should mount a primary challenge against the first black person ever to be elected President.

            • Isn’t the key thing that you shouldn’t primary sitting presidents, because it never leads to the party shifting in the direction you want it to shift?

          • lawguy says:

            I find it interesting that the people who are blamed are the people who tried to make a change.

            Whenever people talk about 2000 no one ever says, you know if Clinton hadn’t been so conservative or Gore hadn’t had that idiot Lieberman as his running mate then he would have won. It is never the fault of the ruling class, is it?

            • This is a thread about how challenging the incumbent Democrats’ presidential nominees from the left works out.

              Can you come up with a more “interesting” explanation for why such a discussion has more to say about Nader than Lieberman, than trite Marxist determinism?

            • Furious Jorge says:

              I always said – even at the time – that if Gore had picked Bob Graham as his running mate instead of Lieberman, all he would have had to do is let Graham roam from Miami to Pensacola and back, over and over for three months, and that’s pretty much all it would have taken.

        • A couple of addendums:

          1. 1968 was a bit of an outlier given the extensive amount of conflict among the broad Democratic coalition. And had Kennedy not been assassinated, it’s entirely possible he would have been able to beat Nixon had he secured the nomination of the convention.

          2. I do think it’s fair to say that Nader cost Gore the election, if only because Nader deliberately tried to cost Gore the election by spending the last days of the campaign campaigning in swing states rather than safe blue states where he could have picked up votes for the Green Party without weakening Gore’s overall chances.

        • efgoldman says:

          Also re: 1952 -
          The resemblance between Eisenhower and the modern TeaTard GOBP stops with the “R” after their names.
          Also the GOBP congressional and, especially senatorial parties too.

        • But Murc, even when the Presidents stepped aside, the party still went on to lose.

          No matter what happened in the middle, the outcome was the same: when incumbent Democrats were primaried, the party lost the election, ushered in a long period of Republican rule, and the next Democrat to win was more conservative than the Democrat who was primaried.

          2000 didn’t involve a primary challenge

          Which is why I wrote: Though not a primary against an incumbent President…

          I brought it up because it is an example of the “deny the election to the moderate Dem, so the party will move left, and the public will support a better Dem next time” strategy.

          Gore didn’t lose because of Nader, he lost because the election was stolen.

          In a race that close, you can point to anything that benefitted Bush as “the” reason he won. Take away Nader, we get President Gore.

          but that’s always seemed pretty blame-the-victim to me

          No matter how morally blameless you consider Nader, his actions still had results. It remains a terrible, awful idea to walk through bad neighborhoods at night.

          It’s correlation without causation.

          When the correlation is perfect, the burden falls on those arguing that it won’t happen the same way again to demonstrate why. The rational assumption is that the pattern will hold.

          • I would just toss out 1952 and 1968 as outliers. Truman was unpopular with basically everyone, and no one had any hope of beating Eisenhower. LBJ was genuinely unpopular with Democrats as well, and because of Civil Rights legislation and the Vietnam War, the New Deal coalition was coming apart at the seams. Reducing the intra-Democratic conflict in 1968 to “the incumbent President was primaried” does a lot more to obscure than illuminate what was happening.

            In any event, neither examples are particularly useful for comparing to a normal election cycle, and certainly not this one.

            • Those “outliers” are much more useful comparisons than the examples that contract my thesis, if only because there are zero examples that contradict my thesis.

              There are four examples in which the dissatisfied left did not rally around the Democratic nominee while the party held the White House – three primary challenges and a third-party challenge.

              Zero of the four provide any reason at all to think that Stoller’s strategy will bring about the results he wants to see – either a Democratic victory in tough times, or the election of more-liberal Democrats in subsequent elections. We are left to argue the degree to which the examples discredit his strategy.

              • Well yeah, but the proper answer for that is just that there’s zero evidence to support the proposition.

                But bringing up 1968 in particular is just going to confuse the matter, given that a) there really was a lot of shit going down causing strife across the entire party and b) you have to consider what might have happened in the counterfactual in which RFK isn’t assassinated.

                • But bringing up 1968 in particular is just going to confuse the matter

                  I was trying to be scientific in testing Stoller’s thesis: let’s look at all available evidence of the Democrats dumping the incumbent, and see what happened.

        • DrDick says:

          Between Vietnam and the Civil Rights Acts, there is no way Johnson could have won the election and he new it.

          • Charrua says:

            Are there examples of Republicans Presidents being primaried which have led to electoral success and advancing the conservative cause? (Truly I don’t know)
            And really, ¿WHAT tactic has proven effective in advancing the liberal cause? If NIXON was a more liberal President than Obama (a position I’ve heard on these forums)…well, it would seem than every single tactic that the left has tried during the last 40 years has been a complete failure, right?

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              If NIXON was a more liberal President than Obama (a position I’ve heard on these forums)

              Hint: this is in fact ludicrously false.

              • NonyNony says:

                And stems from the fact that Nixon had a Congress that was substantially more liberal than Obama has to deal with.

                Nixon signed what Congress put in front of him. Obama signs what Congress puts in front of him. In a representative democracy, for domestic legislation, the representative bodies are FAR FAR more important than the presidency. Control enough of the House and Senate to force your agenda and you get your agenda. In the House that means a simple majority. In the Senate if you’re willing to play “stonewall everything” as your political strategy, that means controlling 40%. (And for conservatives, blocking progress equates to a victory – which is why they can play this game successfully and Democrats cannot).

                Republicans understand this. I can never quite understand why Democrats do not.

                • When you’re fighting a rear-guard action against progress, you know that you’re only holding things up. You know that some progress is going to be made, so when it happens, they don’t blame those trying to stop it.

            • “Are there examples of Republicans Presidents being primaried which have led to electoral success and advancing the conservative cause?”

              Not that I can think of.

              It would be curious to find out, because if it shows that such a move didn’t work out, then the conclusion one would draw was that such a move will not work period, no matter whether it’s the GOP or the Dems.

              It would also shoot down Stoller’s meme (but then again, a look at politics from 1968 through 2000 would be just as effective a counter against his nonsense).

              • Malaclypse says:

                “Are there examples of Republicans Presidents being primaried which have led to electoral success and advancing the conservative cause?”

                Arguably, Reagan/Ford in 1976 was a Strategic Defeat.

  7. I don’t agree with the Beltway pundit assumption that electoral outcomes derive primarily from presidential tactics.

    It’s difficult to make a man understand something that his salary depends on not understanding.

    What are beltway pundits going to talk about every Sunday? Demographic developments and economic determinism?

  8. R. Porrofatto says:

    Apocryphal or not, FDR’s “now make me do it” demand wasn’t even a possibility if he lost power. And nobody to the left of Rick Perry is ever going to make Rick Perry do anything. FDR may have been liberally inclined, but it took marches, threats of marches, protests, strikes, civil disobedience, and a lot more to get him and Congress moving.

    A primary challenge to Obama won’t accomplish anything except to make Democrats appear to be in disarray, and undermine Obama’s chances of beating whichever one of the scariest bunch of Goopers this side of George W. Bush is their nominee.

    If we want more liberal policies supporting increased unionization (among other things), with all the union muscle, funds, organizing, and votes it engenders, would do more towards achieving that goal than electing President Perry.

    • I suppose we could try offering Southern Republican Senators a trade in which anti-lynching laws are repealed in exchange for their support of Medicare for all as well.

      • Stag Party Palin says:

        I’m down with that, but would add that anyone who wants a get-out-of-lynching card could buy one for $1000, a permanent relinquishment of their voting rights, and a $50 co-pay for all Medicare-related office visits.

        Yeah, that’s what I like about the South.

    • TAZ says:

      Again, yes we need to push, protest, march, strike, engage in civil disobedience and other forms of creative organizing. We should also vote. I have become convinced by history that a primary challenge at the top doesn’t make sense at the moment. However, at the local, state, and representative levels it does. Someone should challenge Ben Nelson. I also believe that third parties can add to the political debate if allowed by the corporate media to engage in it. Alas they won’t hence the need for thinking about using all legal means to challenge the system that is currently leading us off a cliff. For example, supporting those organizing around issue such as inequality, environmental sustainability, and measuring our well being around quality of life rather than GDP or asset prices. On a final note, I ask the scholars what impact Eugene Debs played in promoting unionism and working class interests in the long run? I don’t know but I suspect his barnstorming had some effect. With millions of people out of work on this Labor Day it is worth questioning who really is supporting the working people of this country.

      • Someone should challenge Ben Nelson.

        Nelson represents a conservative state. A primary challenge to him would result in a conservadem squashing a liberal, thus “proving” (to the purveyors of conventional wisdom) that liberals are out of the mainstream; or if you’re particularly optimistic, a Republican squashing a liberal Democratic, thus handing a Senate seat to the GOP and “proving” that Republicans – probably a Tea Party Republican, in this case – are more mainstream than Democrats.

        Better: somebody should primary Diane Feinstein.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Exactly. You primary squishy blue-state Democrats.

          • I think there’s value to primarying Democrats in swing states in cases where there’s a Democratic majority and they have no chance of winning re-election anyway, if for no other reason than to give party leadership a good means by which to pressure them during their remaining days in Congress.

            Blanche Lincoln being a good example.

        • TAZ says:

          Agreed with Feinstein. California deserves better. But If you looked at what I wrote then you would understand that what I’m calling for is a bottom up development of a challenge to Nelson’s politics. It is a mistake to hang ones hopes on the person or a single office, as we’ve learned and as Scott has put in historical context. It might take time and effort and we might lose in the end but organizing against regressive politics and those that espouse them at each and every level is our only recourse in the long run. That or give up.

  9. jeer9 says:

    Progressive Choices
    1. Primary Obama and bring about election of creepy right winger. (Dems re-think strategy and move to the left. Okay. Stop laughing. There is no move to the left after the loss.)
    2. Support third party challenge and bring about election of creepy right winger. (Repeat parenthetical thought.)
    3. Refuse to vote and bring about election of creepy right winger. (Repeat parenthetical thought.)
    4. Vote for Obama not out of support but to slightly arrest the descent into craziness. Dems do not move left (and in fact move further right).
    5. Work to reform the party from within by voting for progressive local candidates (realizing all the while that as said candidates move further up the food chain they become more and more tied to corporate hackery and big machine loyalties.)
    6. Dems move left … when hell freezes over.
    7. Progressives deny climate change.

    • Murc says:

      You know, jeer kind of has a point regarding the catch-22 those of us who’d like to move the Democratic Party to the left find ourselves in a lot of the time. It seems, logically speaking, that if you deny someone an office based on being insufficiently left-wing, the people who come after them, who would like to NOT be denied office, would move… to the left.

      Only that doesn’t seem to happen.

      It also doesn’t seem to be the case that objective misrule on the part of one political party significantly damages the electoral prospects of that party. I find that frightening; it calls into questions the entire underpinning of participatory democracy.

      I will say that something we haven’t tried yet on a grand scale is kicking the shit out of squishy-soft blue state democrats, but I’ll note that the last time we tried that, the party couldn’t run away from Ned Lamont fast enough and the guy we kicked out won anyway. Joe suggested primarying Diane Feinstein upthread, which is something I support, but what the hell do we do if she pulls a Lieberman?

      Fuck, is it five yet? Can I start drinking?

      • Take heart!

        In September 2005, Lieberman’s approval in CT was 66%-29%.

        The latest poll I’ve been able to find for Feinstein was from June 2011. It shows her at 43-39 job approval.

        Joe Lieberman was – was, mind you – an enormously popular figure in Connecticut.

        Diane Feinstein is not all that popular in California.

      • Triplanetary says:

        It also doesn’t seem to be the case that objective misrule on the part of one political party significantly damages the electoral prospects of that party. I find that frightening; it calls into questions the entire underpinning of participatory democracy.

        Exactly. That’s another reason I’m tired of the debate over Obama. Our country’s ability to govern itself, or rather to be governed by anything but corporate interests, is fast fading away, and Obama’s hardly central to that problem.

        Obama’s doing just fine by current Village standards; it’s those standards that need to change. Good governance – ie, governance that brings about peace and prosperity for as many Americans as possible without regard for race, gender, sexuality, or class – is not a standard by which Village politicians are judged at present.

      • jeer9 says:

        It also doesn’t seem to be the case that objective misrule on the part of one political party significantly damages the electoral prospects of that party. I find that frightening; it calls into questions the entire underpinning of participatory democracy.

        Now you’re getting somewhere, Murc. You’ve almost reached Karpland.

      • lawguy says:

        Am I wrong or didn’t the democratic establishment all support Leiberman? Including the big guy?

    • grackle says:

      jeer’s point correlates perfectly with Berube’s scenario on CT.

      I don’t understand the reference to Feinstein but her popularity rating probably means little unless the CA republicans are able to beat back their locally controlling unhinged right wing (who control the primaries) and can nominate a candidate more broadly appealing than they have been able to do in many years.

      Myself, I agree with Murc’s analysis but where does that leave me? I feel as unrepresented as I’ve consistently been for the last 40 years.

      • Her popularity rating matters in the case of the scenario Murc brought up, that I replied to: if she lost a Democratic primary and ran as an independent, like Lieberman, would she beat the Democratic nominee?

        • lawguy says:

          I thought that Leiberman was in a special case that is he was allowed to run as an independant after being beaten in a primary. Is that possible in California?

          But anyway even if that is possible then that is another reason not to do anything and to go on and explain to each other why one can’t, in fact ever win. And that would be the goal of the corporate leadership, right.

          • But anyway even if that is possible then that is another reason not to do anything

            Where “do anything” is defined as “primary a popular incumbent,” and “reason not to” is defined as “explanation why success is unlikely.”

    • The thing is, 5 actually works – as much as people handwave corporate finance trumping all, if you change a movement, you really do get policy change. The same theory that works for shifts to the right also holds for shifts to the left.

      • jeer9 says:

        Just to be clear, I do not agree with Berube and would love to see a primary of Obama in which Dem principles and core values are debated and in which Obama’s choices are pointedly revealed to be the Republican-lite ones they are by a strong progressive voice. But it is not going to happen – mainly because anyone with the hope of a future in the party would have their career crushed through the various means available to the bosses. And it’s hard to believe in reform from within when the California Progressive Caucus has their funding denied after they express their disloyalty to the President. Either you toe the corporate line or you find another line of work. Hope begins on the other side of despair, beyond the huddled honking and braying of the jackasses. Magical thinking to some but no more magical than thinking this train is going to turn around of its own accord (supporting local progressives who will then overturn the bosses’ wishes or winning primaries against squishy blue state incumbents).

        • Or alternatively, the California Progressive Caucus could have not gone for a stupid symbolic gesture without support from any other segment of the party.

          5 works, but it’s not a guarantee against stupidity.

          • jeer9 says:

            without support from any other segment of the party.

            That sort of captures the Dem Big Business state perfectly.

            To reiterate: Either you toe the corporate line or you find another line of work.

            Bonus points for the hippie-punching “stupidity” remark. Progressives! When will they learn that you have to go along to get along (and the President will throw in some defict reduction/austerity framing just for fun).

      • Murc says:

        It seems to work better for Republicans than Democrats, for some reason. But yeah, getting true believers into office does seem to be effective. There’s no reason NOT to try it, at any rate. It’s a project of decades, though, as it was for the Republicans, and I don’t know we have that long.

        • Sharon says:

          It works for Republicans because their fringe has financial support.

          The Brothers Koch and others have funded the rehabilitation of the GOP for parts of their base for the last three years.

  10. partisan says:

    I just want to be a little clear about things. In 1952 I doubt any Democrat could beat Eisenhower. Conceivably Taft could have been nominated, and conceivably one but not all three of Truman, Kefauver, and Stevenson might have been able to beat him. The question is hypothetical and we don’t know who Taft would have chosen as his vice-President to replace him when he died in July 1953. (Conceivably it could have been Nixon, though possible it would have been Lodge. And by the way, why does no one mention 1948?}

    In 1968 are we aaying that Johnson shouldn’t have been primaried? Yes, I know it didn’t turn out well, and Eugene McCarthy seems like the Christopher Hitchens of the age, being more concerned about his reputation for integrity than actually stopping the war. But the Vietnam war was cruel and unjust, Johnson had systematically lied about it, and he had no idea had to win it. To accept Johnson just because pro-war forces had enough power and influence that the media would not call out their lies, strikes me as an abdication of any kind of responsibility.

    Are we saying that Cleveland should have been nominated in 1896? Basically what we would have are two very conservative parties and no way to change them. Bryan was a failure as a candidate because his rural Protestantism made it difficult for him to win workers and immigrants. But there is no reason to think Cleveland would have done better, and this is confirmed by the examples of Parker (1904) and Davis (1924).

    As for 1980, Carter was clearly desperately unpopular by the fall of 1979. Kennedy’s challenge failed for three reasons: he was unsure whether he really wanted to be a candidate and so campaigned ineffectively, many people never forgave Chapaquadick, and Carter benefited from the hostage crisis for several months. But it’s possible that only two of those conditions had existed Kennedy would have won.

    I’m not suggesting that primaring Obama would be a good idea. Clearly it would be a very good idea even if there was a better alternative who actually wanted to do this. But we don’t way to say that there is nothing the left of the Democratic Party and that it should surrender to whatever the party establishment wants.

    • I think we’re saying that primarying Johnson did not lead the Democratic Party to shift to the Left. So the question becomes which goal people hold to be preeminent – achieving a moral/symbolic win or changing the party in the long-term.

    • The question of whether a President “should” be primaried needs to be answered by considering the consequences for American politics, not one’s own sense of individual justice.

      Man, those eight years of Reagan sure taught Jimmy Carter his mistake in not pursuing national health care. Sorry about the collateral damage.

  11. Left_Wing_Fox says:

    Personally, I think we’d be far better off trying to get Sarah Palin to form a third political party. Much better track record of success.

  12. Santos Guero says:

    I know I’m going to get pilloried for this, but the foregoing discussion seems to miss one of Stoller’s key points – Obama is unpopular, becoming more so and pursuing policies which advance the Republican agenda while undermining the Democratic legacy. Please note, this does not mean I consider his Presidency a continuation of the W Bush administration on all counts. Although on key economic (TARP,) civil liberty (the whistle-blower witch hunts) and national security issues (even Cheney mostly agrees), this is pretty much true. Combine this with a bad and probably worsening economy due largely to the President’s duplicitous embrace of Republican economic priorities (e.g., deficit reduction, social spending cutbacks, NAFTA like free-trade agreements), and it’s likely he will not be re-elected next year. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, the President is powerless in the face of a hostile Congress… But has he outlined, defended and promoted any alternatives to the Republican austerity narrative? Nope. So, from the perspective of a low or no information voter, the kind of person who will likely decide the next Presidential election: ‘Why vote for the incumbent when he really isn’t that much different from the other guy? They’re both proposing to cut Social Security and raise the Medicare eligibility age. I might as well vote for the one with a really good hair cut and the less exotic name.’ It’s time for the Democratic Party to start thinking about a post-Obama world for its own sake. That’s Stoller’s main point. This discussion is illustrative of just how hard that is going to be to do. That said, would a primary challenge work? Probably not. It’s time to accept that Obama is a mistake and embrace Strategic Defeat in 2012. His Republican replacement pursuing similar economic policies will be no more successful which creates an opening for a chance to get it right in 2016. Meanwhile, the Democratic party can go back into the opposition on things like cutting Social Security as they successfully did when the W Bush made that kind of proposal.

    • jeer9 says:

      I agree with most of your points, but Obama remains a lock for re-election. Perry is his dream opponent.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Strategic Defeat in 2012

      I can almost feel the Heightened Contradictions.

    • a bad and probably worsening economy due largely to the President’s duplicitous embrace of Republican economic priorities (e.g., deficit reduction, social spending cutbacks, NAFTA like free-trade agreements)

      Uh, yeah, that’s why the economy sucks – not because of misrule under George Bush, but because Barack Obama has slashed the deficit, cut social spending, and passed free-trade agreements.

      Except that Barack Obama has vastly increased the deficit, vastly expanded social spending, and no free trade agreements have been passed.

      (even Cheney mostly agrees)

      This is the worst argument in the history of the internet. Hey, Dick Cheney agrees with me! OK.

      • Anonymous says:

        Well… that didn’t take long. Right to the ad hominem and intentional misreading. Desperate days over at OFA. Like I said, I know I’m going to get pilloried, but, at least for now, I’ve not been labeled a “political rookie.” That’s a relief.

        • Except there is neither an ad homenim nor an intentional misreading.

          Pointing out the fallacy of an argument from authority (Someone famous agrees with me!) is not an ad homenim.

          And you can’t even identify a single place where I misread an argument.

          You know, “ad homenim” and “intentional misreading” are not magical incantations that make an inconvenient observation vanish.

        • But DAMN are you devoted to the notion that you’re being victimized by the secret machinations of “OFA.”

          You’ve got a whole little script written up and ready to go whenever anyone disagrees with you.

      • Sharon says:

        You might want to take a spin over to Jared Bernstein’s blog.

        He’s got a post up about the slow crawl to austerity over the last year. The Administration’s insurance policy ran out just in time to amplify the state’s contracting fiscal policies.

  13. A number of commenters have snuck in the proposition that Obama is likely to lose in 2012 – not might lose, but is certain or likely to use.

    In fact, Barack Obama ties of beats every potential Republican rival in head-to-head polling in just about every poll out there.
    Marist/McClatchy (pdf)

    Quinnipiac

    Even Rasmussen has Obama beating everyone except Perry, to whom Obama loses by only 3 points.

    Please note that all of those polls were taking within the last month. This is after 3 solid years of Republicans training their fire on Obama, before Obama himself has begun to campaign, and without a Republican nominee being nominated.

  14. calling all toasters says:

    The obvious solution is for Obama to decline to run for re-election. It’s best for the country and best for the party– not that any of that would have any sway with him.

    • Sure, like Truman in ’52 and Johnson in ’68.

      Best for the country and the party.

      • calling all toasters says:

        In ’52 and ’68 we got Presidents who were more liberal than Obama.

        • But less liberal than the ones who preceded them. So the issue is, would Obama stepping down lead to a president to his left?

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Nixon was, of course, far more conservative than Obama.

            • Nonsense. Look at how he used his Green Lantern powers to force all those liberal domestic policies down Congress’s throat.

              • DocAmazing says:

                Yeah. Notice how he vetoed all that legislation. Notice how he followed Congress’s lead with wage and price controls.

                The guy was a power-mongering police-state nutjob, but he didn’t get in the way of liberal economic policies. Would that we could say that today…

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  What progressive legislation has Obama vetoed?

                • he didn’t get in the way of liberal economic policies

                  I defy to name a single piece of liberal economic policy that would have been passed but for Obama getting in the way.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  If someone is going to make this argument, they obviously can’t appeal to mythical formal vetos. Instead, they’ll have to claim 11 dimensional chess vetos, e.g., “he didn’t support it at key moments” or “they yielded to Nelson or Leiberman tactical desires because they CREATED those desires since that’s THEIR desires”, “Will/speech failure!”. Or some such.

                  But these are as good as vetos, yes?

      • I’m not sure Eisenhower was better than Truman, but him winning the Presidency was certainly better than the Taft-wing alternative coming to the forefront of the Republican Party sooner.

        And LBJ calling off a run probably meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, if for not other reason than Johnson pretty much no foreseeable path to winning the election.

      • Murc says:

        Truman and Johnson stepping down were both, in fact, good for the country and the party. They were both replaced with candidates who had better chances of winning (good for the party) than they did and were more liberal than their Republican opponents (good for the country). The fact that those candidates lost is irrelevant unless you can prove they were worse candidates than Truman and Johnson, and I don’t think you can.

        • They were both replaced with candidates who had better chances of winning

          You can tell, because they both lost.

          were more liberal than their Republican opponents (good for the country).

          Liberals losing is good for the country how? Because the Republicans get to make hay about the public rejecting liberalism?

          The fact that those candidates lost is irrelevant unless you can prove they were worse candidates than Truman and Johnson, and I don’t think you can.

          I can make a very strong case that they were no better, because they lost. Every single time, they lost.

          • Murc says:

            Er… I legitimately don’t understand this critique of my point, joe. Maybe I’m phrasing things badly. Let me try again.

            If you replace a guy who has almost NO chance of winning with a guy who has SOME chance of winning, everything else being equal, you have replaced him with a stronger candidate, yes? It does not matter in ANY WAY whether the latter guy actually does go on to win; that has nothing to do with his relative strength as candidate.

            Zombie FDR has a better chance to beat Zombie Reagan than Zombie Eugene McCarthy does; it doesn’t follow that if you put up Zombie FDR and he loses, that Zombie Eugene McCarthy was the stronger candidate.

            Truman and Johnson both voluntarily stepped down because they saw their likely successors as being more likely to win than they were, and you know what? In both cases they were absolutely right. Yes, the guys who replaced them as candidates did lose. It doesn’t mean Truman and Johnson wouldn’t have been completely annihilated if they’d hung on.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              I’m a bit skeptical about the “absolutely right”. The hard data is that they lost. If you can point to circumstances where the annihilation prediction was vindicated or the SOME chance guys one, then this would be more plausible.

              If you are a structural determinist, then the difference at the margin between the damaged goods and the fresh blood is likely irrelevant. What would be interesting is to know e.g., the downstream effects (is it that they are toxic or does the power of incumbancy really help out)?

              If the difference is between 0% and 2%, frankly, I might go with the 0% (assuming that’s the incumbent). I think it’d a better narrative for the next round. (I.e., we didn’t try fresh blood and fail.)

              I agree that there are aspects of the candidates that are somewhat intrinsic. But given the large structural role (you don’t have to be a determinist to think that it’s a huge factor), gaining a bit might not be the best long term strategy.

            • If you replace a guy who has almost NO chance of winning with a guy who has SOME chance of winning

              There is no reason to believe that this happened in either case. And taking all of the available cases together, we find not a single one in which replacing the incumbent resulted in a win.

              It does not matter in ANY WAY whether the latter guy actually does go on to win; that has nothing to do with his relative strength as candidate.

              It is the only evidence we have to judge his efficacy as a candidate.

              it doesn’t follow that if you put up Zombie FDR and he loses, that Zombie Eugene McCarthy was the stronger candidate.

              I’m not the one making the case that someone is a stronger candidate than someone else; you are. I’m pointing out that there is no evidence to conclude that you are right.

              In both cases they were absolutely right.

              And the evidence for this is…?

  15. Hear, hear! I’ve been saying this more or less non-stop. It doesn’t work at all.

    The bizarre thing is that right-wing activists don’t seem to have our hangup on this issue – they start by taking over the local party structure, then dominate state-level, then Congressional, then presidential nominations, all the while supporting the most viable right-wing candidate there is.

    It’s less sexy than primarying a sitting president, but it works.

  16. Jim Lynch says:

    The entire “challenger” nonsense can be distilled with a single question: Why hasn’t Barack Obama declared that the republican party poses a mortal threat to the essential interests of his own (ostensible) rank and file?

    • Because he hasn’t shifted into campaign mode.

      He certainly spent 2007-2008 making that point loudly enough, and now he’s starting to make it again. Did you catch today’s speech in Michigan?

      Campaigning and governing are two different things. Drawing distinctions can get you 69 million popular votes, but it isn’t going to get you 60 Senate votes.

      • I get what you’re saying, but making nice with Republicans isn’t going to get you 60 votes either. He really should have been waging electoral war on Republicans as soon as Speaker Boehner was sworn in.

        • Pretending to make nice with Republicans will get you 60 votes if votes 58, 59, and 60 are Democrats from red states that need bipartisan cover.

          Haven’t any of you people been nice to to a hot girl’s mother because you wanted her daughter to sleep with you?

  17. Jim Lynch says:

    Slow Joe From Lowell: There’s not a goddamn thing that has stopped Obama from attacking the GOP as the mortal enemies of the democratic party rank and file, other than his own political priorities.

    He doesn’t pull political punches for the sake of a greater calculation, one that would rebound to the credit of those who voted him into power. His unwillingness to employ his soaring rhetoric in their name is not studied.

    No one expects him to prevail in every fight, or even most of them. Quite the contrary, given the make-up of today’s republican opposition.

    But he doesn’t even lift a finger in trying.

    Because he is, more or less, simpatico with the republican party agenda. He is who he is, and rank and file democrats fucked up in 2008, by allowing themselves to be snowed with his bullshit.

    And now they are stuck with him.

    • That you feel the need to write such a cheap insult only advertises your lack of confidence in your argument.

      There’s not a goddamn thing that has stopped Obama from attacking the GOP as the mortal enemies of the democratic party rank and file, other than his own political priorities.

      Indeed. When his political priority was to get elected, he put a great deal of effort into attacking the GOP. When his political priority was to get bills passed, he did not.

      It’s funny how the same people who make so much noise about Obama allegedly changing after taking office let their certainty about what a butt-kicking liberal lion he was during the campaign slip right out of their minds, when it suits them to.

      But he doesn’t even lift a finger in trying.

      Because he is, more or less, simpatico with the republican party agenda.

      Odd, then, that he passed the most extensive body of legislation of any president in generations, without any Republican support whatsoever.

      Far more disappointing than Obama are those Democrats who think that “lifting a finger” refers to making tingles rum their legs, as opposed to actually moving the ball down the field against the opposition.

  18. Jim Lynch says:

    “His unwillingness to employ his soaring rhetoric in their name is not studied”.

    Should read, “is studied”.

  19. commie atheist says:

    A few weeks ago I posted a comment here wondering why no one was seriously considering the notion of primarying Obama. I’d like to thank Matt Stoller for making the definitive argument as to how stupid a primary challenge would be. What a load of drivel.

  20. JRoth says:

    When was the last time Scott wrote anything that wasn’t an increasingly desperate defense of Obama? At this point I miss his tendentious and dishonest defenses of steroid users in baseball.

    Honest to fucking God, if it weren’t for Loomis, I’d take LGM off my bookmarks at this point.

    • jeer9 says:

      Even if the masthead contributors are pretty consistently lame (though I’d exclude Campos along with Loomis), the comment threads are consistently entertaining and the embedded format is the most conducive to sustained debate. Plus, one comes to recognize certain sympathetic voices and a display of anger or wit on their part brings with it no small measure of consolement.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Coding “an increasingly desperate defense of Obama” (IDDOO) as any post that is 1) about Obama and 2) does not attack Obama, I find that the last time Scott did not post an IDDOO is Sept 1st, “Why Perry is the Frontrunner” (i.e., 3 posts back). Liberalizing it to include third party bashing, in the last 10 posts, there were 3 IDDOOs, 3 posts on Perry (if we include the Ponzi scheme one), 2 on Cheney, 1 on SCOTUS politics, and 1 first amendment ruling post.

      If you count the Perry one’s as IDDOOs (which is a pretty damn big stretch), then 6 out of the last 10.

      To get something actually pro-Obama (which isn’t just a link post), you have to go back to Aug 29th (either On Alan Kreuger or, best candidate, The Job-Saving Auto Bailout).

      I post this primarily so that I’ll have a positive answer to any rhetorical questions of the form, “When has anyone else in these threads every posted links or data?”.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Coding “an increasingly desperate defense of Obama” (IDDOO) as any post that is 1) about Obama and 2) does not attack Obama,

        Well, in fairness, noting that Obama is not merely a continuation of Bush is a defense of some sort, I guess.

        But I concede the point that I have yet to be converted to the position that I should be hysterical because modern athletes use different performance-enhancing drugs then the athletes of his generation did.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          I’m not coding for nuance on your views on Obama, I’m coding for the most charitable reading of JRoth’s claim. Which I take as refuted :)

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Yes, of course; I was making fun of JRoth’s claim, not your coding (which of course accurately reflects JRoth’s view that anything not a scathing critique of Obama is a desperate defense.)

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              So you do admit that you should be hysterical because modern athletes use different performance-enhancing drugs then the athletes of his generation did!?!

              (Well, that’s how I’m coding your reply. FTW!)

  21. lawguy says:

    I understand that this doesn’t add to the fun, but how do you know that nothing that Obama could have done would have prevented the democrats from getting slaughtered in 2010?

    I do like the absolute positive knowledge of all those who insist that Obama could never have done anything other than he did and that no other out come could possibly have happened other than the one that did.

    Tell me again how you know that.

    • Realistically, the entirety of modern political history and the ebbs and flows of Congressional majorities made losses in 2010 all but inevitable.

      • JRoth says:

        Actually the 2010 losses were much worse than any model predicted.

        But it’s comforting to think that, like keeping hundreds of American soldiers in Afghanistan to die and promoting thousands of deaths from poor air quality, it was an inevitability that merely holding the Presidency couldn’t have prevented.

        • elm says:

          Actually the 2010 losses were much worse than any model predicted.

          Could you give a cite for this please? This is a sincere question, because my understanding was that the most prominent models predicted roughly the size of the House swing.

          • lawguy says:

            Or you could ask the guy who said that his research showed that the 2010 losses were nearly inevitable where he got his info.

            • elm says:

              I could, but my own understanding was similar to his so if I wanted new information that might change my understanding, there was no point in asking him.

              And, given Scott’s link below, I see that my understanding was somewhat wrong: I knew that the Hibbs model predicted large Dem losses and that Republicans would take over the House, which is what happened and why I said the model was roughly right. But JRoth is correct that the size of the loss did exceed what the model predicted.

              Even so, Brien is also clearly correct: losses in 2010 were essentially inevitable. Losses so big that they would lead to Republican control of the House were extremely likely (per Hibbs model) no matter what Obama did (short of finding a way to drastically increase personal income growth). To the extent that JRoth is right that losses were even larger than predicted, it is irrelevant to Brien’s point.

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            JRoth is actually correct that the Democrats did even worse than the models predicted, and if you want to blame that all on Obama (despite him being far more popular than congressional Democrats) I can’t prove you’re wrong, and he certainly deserves some of the blame. But the model also certainly also shows that the Democrats were going to get slaughtered no matter what. We’re talking marginal differences here, which is the point.

            • Walt says:

              The link is strong evidence that JRoth is right, since #3 in the model — personal income growth — is an area that Obama fucked up. The most important actor in the economy in determining personal income growth is the Fed, and Obama clearly screwed up there.

              • elm says:

                I don’t disagree with you in that I think Obama could have done more (such as not renominate Bernanke) to increase personal income growth, but even the rosiest scenarios of where we could have been by 2010 on that score would have led to the D’s losing many seats and probably the majority given, a, the other 2 factors in Hibbs model, and, b, the depth of the economic crisis Obama inherited.

              • The most important actor in the economy in determining personal income growth is the Fed

                No, the most important actor in the economy determining personal income growth is the underlying economic fundamentals. The Fed’s influence is much less significant that the conditions produced by the financial meltdown itself.

                • Furious Jorge says:

                  I don’t know if I would define circumstances as actors (since “actors” by definition take action, and circumstances merely determine the context in which those actions are taken), but if you replace “actors” with “factors” I would probably mostly agree. But certainly the Fed’s refusal to address any of the actual problems that cause personal income to be stagnant is a significant factor.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  The Fed’s influence is much less significant that the conditions produced by the financial meltdown itself.

                  The financial meltdown, caused largely by banks. Banks regulated by the Federal Reserve.

                  And even some on the Fed realize they are dropping the ball.

    • jeer9 says:

      I do like the absolute positive knowledge of all those who insist that Obama could never have done anything other than he did and that no other out come could possibly have happened other than the one that did.

      This is the Dr. Pangloss defense. Who knew Voltaire would grasp the essence of DNC talking points avant la lettre? A genius.

    • soullite says:

      We don’t. It isn’t remotely true, because if it were true, FDR’s term would have gone differently. They can (and often do) argue that FDR actually sucked and wasn’t really a liberal, but they cannot argue that he didn’t prove that midterm loses could be avoided even under the most dire situation imaginable.

      Obama just didn’t want to run against the Republican party. He wanted to run against the ‘extremes’, which is pointless in times of catastrophe, and ‘Washington’, which, by 2010, he represented.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        When did FDR win midterm elections with a declining economy? I hope you’re not talking about 1934, when personal income grew almost 13%…

  22. JRoth says:

    And let’s just be clear on this point: Obama was not forced by Blanche LIncoln or Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman or anyone else to pivot from jobs to the deficit. It was completely stupid, completely detached from objective reality, completely counterproductive, and, judged on the impact on the lives of actual, living human beings, completely evil. George W. Bush probably destroyed fewer American lives than Barack Obama did in January, 2010* when he announced that ending 9% unemployment was less important than ending deficits.

    Maybe there was nothing he could have done with 11 months of a friendly Congress to make any improvements**. But he didn’t try. He didn’t want to. He announced that he had no interest in making this country better, and that instead he wanted to make it worse. Fuck him, and fuck his sycophantic supporters. The moment he used the 100% dishonest GOP analogy of the US economy to a household budget, he lost all claim to my respect. And anyone who, 20 months later, still wants to slobber over his unprecedented greatness***, needs to wake up and shut up.

    * Not hyperbole. Yes, military deaths are tragic and awful. So are lives of perpetual poverty, and Obama made a preemptive decision to create millions of those with his ignorant focus on deficits, a focus just as factually-grounded as climate change denialism.

    ** bullshit.

    *** “Most progressive President since Johnson!” So #1 on a list of 3, and falling behind a bastard who let 65,000 American soldiers die rather than accept that he’d made a mistake. What a fucking hero.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      1)Not just 3, of course — especially relevant given the increasing popularity of the silly revisionist argument that Nixon was more liberal.

      2)The fact that you continue to see, wholly without textual support, my argument as “Obama is a hero” rather than “if you expect American presidents to be heroes you’re going to be perpetually disappointed” is a tribute to your desire to engage with strawmen.

      • Malaclypse says:

        the increasing popularity of the silly revisionist argument that Nixon was more liberal.

        But this can serve a non-silly purpose. When confronted with the silly, but common, idea that Obama is a socialist, it is rhetorically useful to ask the person to back that up by naming 5 policies on which Nixon was to Obama’s left. I have yet to see anybody get to a second policy.

  23. bobbyp says:

    Primary Feinstein? I’m not so sure. Consider Washington and Sen. Cantwell. I can hear it now: “You lefties are making the perfect the enemy of the good. She has supported (cites legislation X and Y). If we pull the rug from under her, that crazy Republican Kirby Wilbur will win. Are you nuts?”

    In other words, the same debate, the same players, but at a different level. Tell me please: What is different in this instance?

    • Murc says:

      In that specific instance? You can respond “This is California, bluest of blue states, which means we expect a Senator who is CONSIDERABLY more liberal than Ms. Feinstein has been to represent it. Moreover, primarying her will not allow Kirby Wilbur to win; the state is so blue that the fundamentals on the ground mean that ANY sharp, dedicated, competent Dem campaigned can win, as Ms. Feinstein herself has demonstrated admirably many times.”

      (This is assuming her putative primary challenger is both further left than she and has some evidence of being a decent campaigner.)

      THAT’S what’s different.

      • DocAmazing says:

        You’re overlooking something: Feinstein is very popular with the Party hierarchy, and they’ll mobilize national DNC resources to quash a primary challenge to her–it’s happened before. California Democratic Party politics are very influenced by outside (largely DNC) money and influence. Hell, we’ve gotten robo-calls from Bill Clinton in SF mayoral elections–do you really think that the national party is going to stand aside while their good and faithful servant is challenged?

    • What is different in this instance?

      Washington State and California are solidly Democratic, while the USA is not.

      that crazy Republican Kirby Wilbur will win

      No, he won’t.

  24. charles pierce says:

    I’m also having a hard time seeing Stoller’s straight line from Bryan to the New Deal. Seems to me that a lot of history happened all over itself in the interim.

  25. BradP says:

    I’m not sure if it means that progressives should push challengers against more mainstream democrats, but I have a feeling that, after seeing a few months of constant coverage of conservatives bickering over how extreme a conservative should be, you will be wishing for a similar dialogue.

    The Tea Party may be a reviled laughing stock by the majority of the public at this point, but they did shift discourse markedly in a short period of time.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      But the Tea Party isn’t, and never was, a minority force in the Republican party. The Tea Party always had enormous institutional support at all levels both inside the formal party, in the informal party (e.g., Fox), and in the village.

      Note that Tea Party electoral wins in response to primarying are thin on the ground. So the tactic has a poor success record in achieving the goal even if the indirect effect is to purify the party some. If destruction is either your goal or a happy outcome then destructive acts become wins.

      And what was the shift in discourse? A democratic president is a not legitimate? Blacks are bad? Taxation on rich people is anathama? Shorn of the tricorn trappings, what exactly was the shift?

      • BradP says:

        I have read recent stories referencing poll numbers showing that, while the Tea Party is rapidly generating dislike (something like doubled their disapproval rating over the last year), traditional conservative opinions about small government and wealth redistribution are gaining popularity.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          I can believe that.

          And? I mean, that doesn’t hurt my point does it? How is this responsive?

          • BradP says:

            You asked me what the shift was.

            I think the increased discourse about small government and limited government spending (as vapid as it was) shifted public opinions.

            Nobody likes the republicans and tea partiers more than they did before, but they are more inclined to agree with them on some core issues.

            Likewise, a wildly progressive may get treated as loonys, may cannibalize on democrats, and may not result in much direct political gain. But having some real public discourse over public works and social spending that is productive rather than simply “WE HAVE TO STOP REPUBLICANS!” could swing opinions and lead to future indirect successes.

            • Malaclypse says:

              I think the increased discourse about small government and limited government spending (as vapid as it was) shifted public opinions.

              But people always have said, in the abstract, that they want small government. And when asked what they want cut, the answer is always 1) waste, 2) foreign aid, which they believe to be a large amount, or 3) the military, which all Real Americans know is the only thing protecting us from ChiComIslamoFascists.

              In real life, people don’t want small government. They just know that those other people are getting undeserved handouts.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              So the shift you attribute to the Tea Party is the rise in views about “small government and wealth redistribution”. Sorry, I thought you meant shift in the Republican party, since that’s more on point to the current topic.

              Color me skeptical that this is due to the Tea Party. That was my point. That the Tea Party can decline while that rises seems to support that it wasn’t them per se. And to the degree that it is them (to the degree that they are a coherent force) it’s just more Republican party apparatus. You have a forceful chunk of liberalism + bad economic times + the incredible noise machine which accompanies Democrats getting the presidency. That a relatively small part of the noise machine is called the Tea Party seems to offer no model for progressives.

      • Triplanetary says:

        What was the shift? The Tea Party took complete control of the jobs crisis narrative and turned it into a debt crisis, and that narrative remains dominant in the Village even now that the debt ceiling fiasco is over.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          Again, Tea Party? Really? The debt pivot is everywhere, cf the UK.

          Again, I fail to see how the Tea Party is relevantly analogous to anything we progressives could field. The Tea Party is not insurgent against the post-Gingrinch Republican Party. It’s just one more bit of it. (Gingrich found running the house pretty difficult too.)

  26. Pepe says:

    “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”
    – Emma Goldman

    “I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.”

    “I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it, than vote for something I don’t want, and get it.”
    –Eugene Debs

    • Pithlord says:

      And Emma eventually found out that revolutions aren’t led by people like her but by sociopaths like Lenin and Stalin. Sociopath though he was, Lenin did understand the infantile nature of abstentionist leftists.

      • Pepe says:

        Or Jefferson, Washington, etc.
        Or Robespierre
        Or Cromwell

        What’s your point?

        “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” – JFK

        People who vote for Obama will only (1)aid in the rightward ratcheting of our politics, and (2) ensure a Republican 2016 victory (and if you think they’re crazy now – woo boy) – that is, if Obama even wins, which is not certain.

        I refuse to vote for another Democrat while they, as a whole, are right-wing. I’ll sleep somewhat soundly.

        The idea of an Obama victory being preferable because he’s marginally better than whatever the Republicans can scrape from whatever dark place they are created, is risible.

        LOOK OUT BEHIND YOU – SARAH PALIN! NO WAIT – MICHELLE BACHMANN! – I MEAN – RICK PERRY! SANTORUM!

        • What to see a magic trick?

          Just from your use of the word “marginal” to describe the difference between Obama and Santorum/Bachmann/Perry/Palin, I can tell that you’re a heterosexual male of at least middle class means who’s not in the military.

  27. cleotis says:

    At what point can I not vote for a D?
    Do I need permission to not vote for a D?
    Oh I remember, I have the right to vote your conscience.
    Stupid me.

    • Murc says:

      You do.

      And others have the right to tell you that your vote is counterproductive (in terms of advancing your stated goals) or simply that you’ve voted for the wrong person.

      You likewise have the right to tell those people to go to hell.

      I confess to having trouble finding your point in there; you seem to have just stated something we all already know to be true. That can be valuable sometimes, but do you have a follow-up?

    • Any time you feel like.

      No.

      Of course you do.

      Agreed.

    • dangermouse says:

      “Voting your conscience” vastly overestimates the importance of voting. Voting in our political system is one heavily limited instrument of sort-of democracy, voting in presidential elections exponentially moreso.

      Voting your conscience makes as much sense, more or less, as brushing-your-teeth your conscience.

  28. CHARLES PIERCE says:

    I’m still not sure that, had LBJ run in 1968, he wouldn’t have been nominated anyway. (The health concerns are a very good point, but we should put them aside for the nonce.) The campaign and convention would still have been bloody. RFK, in particular, in challenging a sitting president, would not have so easily been able to straddle the gap between his young antiwar acolytes and the Democratic establishment to which he was faithful right up to the end of his life. McCarthy never was going to be nominated once Kennedy got in. And, had LBJ been nominated, he might have been able to broker the peace deal in Paris that the Nixon people helped sabotage via Mrs. Chennault. The October Surprise to beat all October Surprises. OTOH, it’s possible that the convention would have ended with a body count, so who the hell knows.

    • Murc says:

      the peace deal in Paris that the Nixon people Henry Kissinger committed treason to helped sabotage via Mrs. Chennault.

      I’m nit-picking now, granted, but every mention of the Paris peace talks should include variations on the phrase ‘the traitor Henry Kissinger’ as many times as possible.

  29. [...] actually a science; and that, therefore, he can write declarative sentences just as this without sounding like a fool: To state the obvious, nothing Obama could have done could have stopped the Democrats from getting [...]

  30. 4jkb4ia says:

    It looks as if anywhere outside of Matt Stoller’s brain, nominating Bryan and getting into bed with the Democratic Party destroyed populism as a movement. Populism did not have the tools to engage with national politics on the national level. This is a sign that Stoller is talking about a generalized disaffection rather than a movement.

    (Matt Stoller is family, in the religious sense. You realize that he has never hit it off with Obama, and you move on.)

  31. 4jkb4ia says:

    I.e. people may have deepseated flaws but they are still family.

  32. [...] to make some vague gestures towards moderation to convince the rubes. Anyway, if you think that 1896 was a huge win for progressive politics, you will indeed love the Romney [...]

  33. jeer9 says:

    Sommers,
    Read Walter Karp. Indispensable Enemies in particular. The big money boys are all lined up behind Obama and he has done everything they could possibly have hoped for. Perry is exactly the sort of crazy needed to bring all the dissatisfied moderates and rebellious progressives back into the fold. The economy is the key variable, but if it marginally improves over the next year (even if it still sucks in a relative sense) I don’t see how the sensible adult who only wants to tweak the safety net loses to the nut who wants to demolish it. Wall Street is using the Tea Party to create fear and continue the rightward shift but has no intention of letting one of their loony echoes rule.

  34. Malaclypse says:

    What else you got?

    How many Iraqis are dead because we heightened the contradictions in 2000?

    Strategic Defeat, or Heightening the Contradictions, or whatever you want to call it, means that real people suffer and die. Every other part of this discussion is a distraction from that undeniable fact.

  35. Then why does he beat every Republican challenger in virtually every poll taken?

  36. commie atheist says:

    That’s two comments in a row from people who have already conceded 2012 to the Republicans. Coincidence?

  37. Your gut, on the other hand…

    The forecasting models are based on variables like presidential approval, being at war or not, and the state of the economy.

    Indeed they are. This doesn’t help your argument.

  38. s says:

    Actually if you’re going to use soft indicators tjen the key model would tend to argue for re-election.

  39. steelpenny says:

    Yes. Also, if you look at the electoral college vote map, Obama has a big problem. In 2008, he had 365 votes. In 2012 he loses 5-6 votes through reapportionment, plus he’s not going to get FL, NC, IN, or VA (ca. 66 votes), and I don’t think he’s going to get OH (20) either = -91 votes = 274 votes. NV, CO, IA, an NM all voted Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008; he loses one, then he’s done.

  40. elm says:

    So, the models you rely on to make your predictions suggest that Obama will get 48-50% of the vote, yet you are willing to declare that Obama is guaranteed to lose?

    Couple of quick questions:
    1. How many presidents in recent history won with 48-50% of the vote?
    2. What’s the margin of error on the forecasts?

    Question 1 is a bit unfair as I think the forecasts are only predicting 2-party share, so the answer would be 1 (Bush v Gore), but that the forecasts may not be predicting the state of the actual election only highlights question 2.

    Anyone saying Obama is a lock to win or a lock to lose is letting their own emotions and prejudices get in the way of the facts: we are still too far away and the picture is in no way clear to drawn any definitive conclusions about the elections.

  41. djw says:

    Sommers,

    You earlier suggested that Obama was a “goner” whose chances for re-election were miniscule. I could be mistaken, but I don’t recall making the opposite claim –that Obama’s a virtual lock for re-election. (That would be the view of his evil twin, Jeer9). So, the numbers that point to 50/50 would seem to undermine your previous position moreso than they would Joe from Lowell’s.

  42. commie atheist says:

    I was going to attempt a substantive reply to this before I realized you were just trolling.

  43. Anonymous says:

    NC will go blue from here on out barring a wave Kasich and Scott might make ther states Obama locks..

  44. I predict that Obama will be the first President since Roosevelt to be re-elected with fewer EVs than he won when he was first elected.

  45. Charrua says:

    Name recognition. It’s the President versus a bunch of not so well known guys at this point. At some point, it will become a choice between two equally recognizable, well known and familiar persons. At THAT point, polls will tell you something useful. Now, less so.

  46. djw says:

    I don’t know if Ohio will go blue in 2012, but if it does (and it’s close) Kasich will probably have played a pretty important role.

  47. steelpenny says:

    NC that went Bush +12.4% but Obama only +0.4% (during a D wave) is Democratic lock? Okay, if you say so Anonymous.

    If Obama can monopolize on Kasich’s unpopularity, he can probably get OH (and then he’d be in pretty good shape). I’m skeptical, but it’s still a long way out.

  48. if you like going with Alan Lichtmann’s gut better than mine.

    Alan Lichtman – who, unlike you, has a perfect record of predicting the outcome of presidential elections stretching back three decades – is also unlike you in that he doesn’t base his predictions on his gut, but rather, on an objective system of scoring presidents’ chances based on criteria that he applies disinterestedly to candidates of both parties.

    I should trust your gut, why, Sommers?

  49. NC that went Bush +12.4% but Obama only +0.4% (during a D wave) is Democratic lock?

    States change. Iowa used to be one of the classic toss-up states, now it’s solid blue. Missouri used to be a tossup, now it’s solid red.

  50. Also, if you’re not aware that we will still be at war – both the war against al Qaeda and the Af-Pak War – in 2012, perhaps you should adjust your self-regard about your political insight accordingly.

  51. “Anyone saying Obama is a lock to win or a lock to lose is letting their own emotions and prejudices get in the way of the facts: we are still too far away and the picture is in no way clear to drawn any definitive conclusions about the elections.”

    Good point, Elm.

    These are still the early days.

  52. “Strategic Defeat, or Heightening the Contradictions, or whatever you want to call it, means that real people suffer and die. Every other part of this discussion is a distraction from that undeniable fact.”

    Yep.

    Easy to say, “not a dime’s worth of difference” when your life isn’t going to be in the crapper.

    Real people are going to be hurt by a Perry or GOP Presidency–not just here, but around the world.

    And if one thinks, “Well, s**t happens”, then….no, I just can’t think of a proper response to that that won’t involve me turning into a raving lunatic diving for that person’s throat.

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