Worried the liberal voice is being drowned out in the presidential campaign, progressive leaders said Monday they want to field a slate of candidates against President Obama in the Democratic primaries to make him stake out liberal stances as he seeks re-election.
Ralph Nader warns that without an intraparty challenge the liberal agenda “will be muted and ignored,” the one-man primary will kill voter enthusiasm and voters won’t get a chance to reflect on the real differences that divide the Democratic and Republican parties.
“What we are looking at now is the dullest presidential campaign since Walter Mondale — and that’s saying something, believe me,” Mr. Nader told The Washington Times.
The group’s call has been endorsed by more than 45 other liberal leaders. They want to recruit six candidates who bring expertise ranging from poverty to the military.
Mr. Nader said the intent is not to defeat Mr. Obama but to make him focus on issues that might get lost in a purely Obama-versus-GOP discussion.
Defeating an incumbent in a primary is a tall order, but opponents can expose weaknesses, as Patrick J. Buchanan did in 1992 to the first President Bush and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy did in 1980 to President Carter.
In its recruitment letter, the group faulted the administration’s handling of the Wall Street bailouts, the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the U.S. involvement in the military effort in Libya. They also criticized Mr. Obama’s decision to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and the recent deal he struck with Republicans over cutting spending to raise the debt ceiling.
“We need to put strong Democratic pressure on President Obama in the name of poor and working people” said Cornel West, an author and professor at Princeton University. “His administration has tilted too much toward Wall Street, we need policies that empower Main Street.”
While Mr. Nader ran as an independent against Mr. Obama in 2008, Mr. West helped him get elected, but has since become increasingly critical of the president.
Darrell West of the Brookings Institution said the group should find a high-profile liberal to challenge the president if it is to be effective.
“The group should consider the fact that one of the greatest predictors of a one-versus-two-term president is having an in-party challenge,” Mr. West said. “Presidents with no nomination challenge such as Reagan, Clinton, and Bush won re-election while those with a significant in-party challenge such as Carter and George Herbert Walker Bush lost their bids for re-election.”
The GOP presidential field has been quick to pin the blame for just about every negative economic sign on the president’s “liberal” agenda, leaving some, including labor unions, feeling as if they have been hung out to dry.
Chris Townsend, of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, said he is disappointed with the administration’s response to the various attacks on organized labor on the local, state and national level. He said the approach contrasts mightily with the Republicans running for president, who have made it clear they want to “liquidize organized labor.”
“They’ve been woefully, woefully, inadequate in response to this moment,” said Mr. Townsend of the administration’s reaction to the GOP candidates and to high-profile labor disputes in Wisconsin and Ohio. “Then we see the other side absolutely unified in regards to the question of reducing wages, destroying unions and abolishing pensions, and now going after Social Security. This is a breathtaking moment that we haven’t seen in our lifetimes.”