I heard it first from Tikkun's Rabbi Michael Lerner, who included outgoing Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) in his long list of potential primary challengers to President Barack Obama in 2012. Now Mark Pinsky, a Florida journalist, has raised the issue in a Politics Daily column.
Today's conventional wisdom holds that 2012 will be all about the economy, but “what if, instead, the war in Afghanistan, which Barack Obama has embraced, deteriorates dramatically, requiring a delay in the scheduled troop withdrawal or, worse, forces another escalation? Might Democratic anti-war sentiment -- until now a sleeper issue -- turn rebellious?" Pinsky writes.
The goal wouldn't be to actually win but to serve as a “vehicle for policy transformation. That is, to rally the liberal base in forcing the president to speed departure of U.S. military forces and, in the process, pressure him back to the left on economic issues.”
Then he gets to the point: “So who would be crazy enough -- or just foolhardy enough -- to make a kamikaze run against Obama? Consider outgoing Central Florida Congressman Alan Grayson, the master of the outrageous sound bite, and perhaps the most reviled member of the House.”
Cool; I have no doubt Grayson, who seems to love the limelight and now is out of a job, would be up for the challenge.
But I don't see such a candidacy having much of an impact, except possibly to make things easier for the eventual Republican nominee.
Pinsky sees some downsides, too, including Grayson's “quicksilver personality” and the fact the race “would pit a left-wing Jew against a centrist African-American, adding yet another incendiary element to what is an increasingly volatile national relationship. Grayson has a strong pro-Israel record, and has had the local support in his congressional races of groups like AIPAC, while the Jewish community has begun to have its doubts about the Obama administration.”
It's interesting that among those suggested for a progressive primary challenge in 2012 are two Jews- Grayson and outgoing Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.).
Feingold, who lacks Grayson's image as a slightly wacky outsider and has three terms in the Senate under his belt, would make a more credible candidate. But he's also a more sensible politician, and I just don't see him making a suicide run that would just infuriate party leaders.
The problem in this whole analysis: there's no evidence the incredibly long, costly Afghanistan war is or will be much of an issue with the American people, the way Vietnam was for Democrats in 1968. Maybe if the war gets a lot worse, that could change, although without a draft, I doubt it.
It's strange how an Afghanistan war that continues to go badly has faded into political background noise – and how voters can't seem to connect the dots between the astronomical costs of two long wars and our current economic woes. But there it is; barring dramatic new developments, there appears little likelihood a war Obama inherited but made his own will be a big factor in 2012.
A primary challenge to Obama on economic issues would be a lot harder to mount, since I don't hear a lot of clearly formulated ideas about how to fix the current mess coming out of the left (or the right, for that matter).
Paul Krugman for president, anybody?
There's no question President Obama has angered many of his supporters on the Democratic left, including many Jewish progressives. The big question: does he stand to gain more by his reenergized centrism than he could lose on the left?
I'm guessing yes, and that his strategists care a lot more about suburban swing voters than angry Jewish progressives. And based on recent electoral history, that could be a reasonable calculation.
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