KUHNER: The left turns on Obama
President Obama is facing an internal revolt. Liberals are openly considering a primary challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination. Ralph Nader, a big-government maverick and former Green Party candidate, recently called for a group of left-leaning Democrats to run. If a prominent opponent emerges, Mr. Obama’s re-election efforts would be fatally crippled.
It is not just conservatives who are angry with Mr. Obama. Radicals are also seething. They view him as shallow and inept. After once deifying him as the liberal messiah, they feel betrayed - by both his incompetence and his deviations from socialist priorities.
In their eyes, Mr. Obama has abandoned key leftist causes. He extended the George W. Bush-era tax cuts. He agreed to leave the public option out of his massive health care overhaul. He has backed away (for now) from pushing “cap-and-trade” legislation. He failed to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants. And he has not dismantled corporate power; rather, through huge bailouts and the acceptance of lucrative campaign donations, Mr. Obama has developed a cozy relationship with Wall Street. He talks like a class-warfare populist, but he governs like a liberal corporatist.
His model is not George McGovern or even Jimmy Carter but President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Mr. Obama’s goal is to erect a corporatist state. He seeks to fuse big government, big business and big labor under a centralized command-and-control system.
For anti-war progressives, Mr. Obama’s most salient failures have been in foreign policy. He has kept Guantanamo Bay open. The Bush-inspired national security apparatus - the Patriot Act, domestic surveillance of potential terrorist cells, and drone strikes in Pakistan - remains in place. Mr. Obama has ordered more aid to help Yemen fight al Qaeda insurgents. He wants to keep thousands of U.S. forces in Iraq. He ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan, only to draw it down without giving it a real chance to work. He waged an illegal and unconstitutional war in Libya. In short, under Mr. Obama’s leadership, America’s military commitments have not been scaled back. They have expanded.
Then there is the dismal economy, which is dragging the president’s poll numbers down. Unemployment is high. Inflation is rising. Growth is anemic. The recovery is stalled; the economy may even be sliding into another severe recession.
None of this will change before the November 2012 elections. Nobody likes a loser - even ultraliberals.
The writing is on the wall: Mr. Obama is heading toward a one-term presidency. He has been more than a failure. He has been a disaster. His Keynesian policies have not revived the economy. In fact, they have worsened the crisis, burying America under a mountain of debt. Our capitalist system is being crushed by statism. Iraq is drifting into Iran’s orbit. Afghanistan is splintering along tribal lines. It has become our longest war - with no end in sight. Libya is slowly falling to the Islamists. Rather than being deterred, radical Islam has become more emboldened and powerful.
This is why the left should challenge Mr. Obama. A humiliating Democratic defeat in 2012 would discredit the entire liberal project. It would be a repeat of the Carter years. The malaise of the Carter administration stained liberalism for a generation. The same will happen with Mr. Obama: The liberal brand will become synonymous with economic sclerosis, political incompetence and decline abroad. It will set the stage for an era of Republican dominance.
Yet Democrats could still snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. A strong run by a prominent anti-war leftist, such as Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio or former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, would expose Mr. Obama’s soft underbelly - his plummeting popularity among the party’s base. Outside of blacks, key constituencies of the Democratic Party - feminists, labor unions, gays and lesbians, Hispanics and Jews - are frustrated with his performance. They hunger for another leader.
That person is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. A liberal candidate probably could win 37 percent, maybe even 40 percent of the vote, against Mr. Obama in Iowa or New Hampshire. Inexorable pressure would build for Mrs. Clinton to throw her hat into the ring, casting herself as the Democrats’ savior. If she were to run, she would beat Mr. Obama in a primary fight - thereby fundamentally altering the 2012 election landscape. The presidential campaign would be transformed from a probable Republican landslide to a horse race. A Hillary-Perry or Hillary-Romney face-off would not be easy for the GOP to win.
In 1968, a similar event happened. President Lyndon B. Johnson faced domestic turmoil and the raging war in Vietnam. Even though he passed historic civil rights legislation and implemented welfare liberalism - Medicare, Medicaid and the war on poverty - the party’s left-wing base turned on him. When anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy ran for the Democratic nomination, he stunned the liberal establishment with his early strong showing. This compelled popular Bobby Kennedy to enter the race. LBJ resigned rather than wage a grueling - and potentially losing - primary battle. Could Mr. Obama’s colossal and fragile ego handle a Hillary insurgency? No. Like LBJ, he would prefer to step down rather than endure a humiliating, almost historic rebuke.
Mr. Obama is the LBJ of our time. Like LBJ, he sought to enact a vast big-government agenda. Like LBJ, he presided over socialism at home and nation-building abroad. Also like LBJ, he has become one of the most reviled and disastrous presidents in history. The left took down LBJ. It would be fitting if it did the same to Mr. Obama.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.
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