Monday, September 05, 2011

Harkin for President?

Harkin for President? Naah. I'm not with the kamikaze tactic of a primary challenge to President Obama, but if one were, the biggest question mark is: who? Near the end of a standard lefty critique of Obama with plenty of valid points, Matt Stoller offers a very familiar name:
If a few of the key constituency groups in the Democratic Party publicly wondered whether Obama should run for reelection, rumblings would start. Some organized constituency groups -- say some components of the AFL-CIO -- would need to announce that their support is up for grabs, based on a clear set of criteria. Given the Obama administration's rampant anti-labor policies, this wouldn't be an unreasonable posture. And then a senior politician, like, say, a Tom Harkin, would need to decide that he would want to encourage robust intra-party debate about the party's future. Harkin could run as a "favorite son" of Iowa, and encourage people in the caucuses to send a message to the party and to Obama by choosing him. Other candidates could then emerge in early primary and caucus states, as a way of repudiating Obama's leadership. Candidates wouldn't have to pretend to be running for president or be presidential quality; they could simply stand in as favorite sons or daughters of their own geographic area.
Hm. Interesting. But several flaws. The old-fashioned "favorite son" campaign was last seen in our political culture in 1968, the last cycle before the McGovern era nomination reforms, when a series of governors and such stood in for LBJ and later Humphrey. I don't see it flying in a modern era nomination fight; people want to vote for a president, not a delegate slate and a player to be named later. And I've been there done that with Tom Harkin 20 years ago. We barely kept the caucuses after Harkin's 1992 run. The only thing that saved us was that Harkin was the only defeated candidate who enthusiastically got on the Clinton train when it left the station. Bob Kerrey and Jerry Brown probably wrote themselves in that November. Harkin is too realpolitik savvy to lead a quixotic crusade. But the larger point is made by Daily Kos frontpager brooklynbadboy:
Every time the incumbent president has been challenged, his party has gone on to defeat in the general. That happened to Truman in '52, Ford in '76 and LBJ in '68, and Carter in '80. And George H.W. Bush in '92. So the odds are heavily against you. A primary challenge will result in a Republican President. Probably Perry. Bank on it. We are going to sink or tread water with Barack Obama. Face it. Its Obama or bust. Nobody likes to hear that because this has been the most politically feckless Administration since Jimmy Carter. We've possibly never seen such an astounding turn of fortune in modern political history as we've seen in the past two and a half years. We've gone from "permanent majority" to "can we hold on" in what seems like a fortnight. If Obama goes down, rest assured...we're all going down. It will be a presidential election year. There is no feasible way we will be able to get our voters to the polls in sufficient numbers by simply focusing on Congressional and statehouse races. The presidency is on the line. This is for all the marbles. You'll be hard pressed to find a case where the incumbent president went down to defeat but his party won Congress. It doesn't happen and it wont happen next year.
So as we say in Obama World, I'm in. But a little constructive critique isn't a bad thing, as long as it excludes cliched chants.

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