Nation needs a Democrat to challenge Obama

The nation desperately needs a Democrat to challenge President Barack Obama for the party’s nomination for president in 2012.

The tipping point came last week when Jackie Calmes reported in The New York Times: “When West Wing officials discovered that the Democratic National Committee had mobilized Mr. Obama’s national network to support the protests [in Wisconsin and Ohio], they angrily reined in the staff at the party headquarters.”

The Times story goes on to say that administration officials saw the events beyond Washington as a “distraction” from the optimistic “win the future” message that the president unveiled in his State of the Union speech. He spent last Friday talking about the need to “educate and innovate” with Jeb Bush in Florida on one of the president’s begging-for-bipartisanship road shows.

That’s right – a Democratic president considers the men and women who have stood out in the cold in the Wisconsin winter to have a voice in their government a distraction from his positive message.

If you take all of Obama’s positions – too cautious to curtail the behavior of the Wall Street bankers, signing onto a health care plan that amounts to what the Republicans offered ten years ago, jawboning about overregulation of businesses, supporting a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, pandering to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at a time when big business is working with Republican governors to kill off what is left of organized rights for workers – you come to the conclusion that he should run as the Republican nominee. And he might win that nomination, if this were 1968 instead of 2012. His positions could fit comfortably into a debate among Richard Nixon, George Romney, and Charles Percy.

Obama’s theme of educate and innovate to win the future is positive and forward-looking, and has the perfect pitch to serenade the Rotarian Republicans of the ‘70s in Grand Rapids and Peoria. But not this year. The Republican party of 2012 has become enslaved to a narrow brood of Christian fundamentalists and extreme taxophobics – people that do not want government to do anything except what they can easily see helps them directly. That is 24 percent of voters.

The country needs someone to offer a completely different vision of America that is held by millions of Americans who do not fear enforcing the antitrust laws against heath insurance companies, or putting Wall Street executives in jail, or raising taxes on wealthy – and even non-wealthy – people for the public good.

The country may turn away from such an agenda, but it deserves the debate to be something other than how big a tax cut we should give to each other. If Obama runs unopposed, the nation will continue its slide into selfishness and a government philosophy of every person for himself or herself. His presidency has ignored the country’s moral and material depression caused by government and corporate malfeasance, and the need for institutional change.

America needs a candidate to do for the nation on a number of issues – chiefly taxes and the relationship between government, business, and individuals – what governor Scott Walker did for Wisconsin on unions. That is, to place the choices clearly in front of people rather than avoid what is really going on.

Right now it seems possible that the Republicans will nominate someone to push this debate about choices to a “Wisconsin” level.

It would be refreshing if the Democratic nomination process could at least begin such a debate – the way Bobby Kennedy’s candidacy forced Hubert Humphrey to reevaluate his position on the Vietnam war in 1968 and the way Alan Cranston and Gary Hart generated a national attention and a stronger Democratic nominee, Walter Mondale, on nuclear disarmament and gay rights in 1984.

In the narrative of American politics in the early 21st century there is a role on the left for someone to claim. We now know that role will not be filled by Barack Obama.

Someone else needs to try out.

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