In The (Unlikely?) Event Of An Obama Primary Challenge, Who Would Run?

Robert Kuttner, the co-founder of The American Prospect, was the special guest in today's Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation.

This won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows Kuttner or has read his stuff: He is, shall we say, disappointed in President Obama.  Very disappointed.

He wrote a piece in the Huffington Post the other day, completely dismissive of the guy in the White House:

Let's stop pretending. Barack Obama is a disaster as a crisis president. He has taken an economic collapse that was the result of Republican ideology and Republican policies, and made it the Democrats' fault. And the more that he is pummeled, the more he bends over.

Kuttner, like many progressives, was livid after learning of the president's compromise with the GOP that extends for two years the Bush-era tax cuts that would include those with incomes over $250,000.  He was further incensed watching Obama at yesterday's news conference, where he seemingly went after his fellow Democrats with as much vigor as he did the Republicans.

It's a sell-out of principles, Kuttner argued, something diametrically different from what Obama campaigned on in 2008.

What to do?

One possible solution, Kuttner muses, is putting grass-roots pressure on the president.  Get him to "see the light."  But for the most part, he thinks that is a fruitless exercise:

Though progressive pressure can produce an occasional decent appointment, it is not capable of compelling Obama to grow a spine.

The other alternative, which he also talked about on today's program, is to run a progressive against Obama in the 2012 Democratic primaries.

But to what degree?  Would/should it be a symbolic candidacy, sort of like what then-Rep. John Ashbrook (R-Ohio) mounted in his 1972 challenge to President Nixon, just to express dissatisfaction from the "base" and send a message?

Or would/should it be serious, like Ted Kennedy's challenge to President Carter in 1980, or Ronald Reagan's run against President Ford in 1976?  Both insurgencies, serious but ultimately unsuccessful, helped knock off the respective incumbents both times in the general election.  (Pat Buchanan's primary challenge to the first President Bush, in 1992, while not nearly as serious, also played a role in Bush's defeat that year.)  Wouldn't losing the White House to a Republican be worse than having a Democrat who disappoints you?

Not really, say a growing number on the left.

And who would step forward?  Kuttner mentioned former DNC chair Howard Dean and the soon-to-be-former-senators Russ Feingold and Byron Dorgan (Byron Dorgan??).

In an op-ed in Saturday's Washington Post, Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of the magazine Tikkun, went a little further; he came up with a somewhat bizarre list that included names very few even thought about:

Sens. Russ Feingold, Bernie Sanders, Barbara Mikulski or Al Franken; Reps. Joe Sestak, Maxine Waters, Raul Grijalva, Alan Grayson, Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, Lois Capps, Jim Moran and Lynn Woolsey. Others include Jim McGovern, Marcy Kaptur, Jim McDermott or John Conyers. We should also consider popular figures outside of government. How about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.? Why not Rachel Maddow, Bill Moyers, Susan Sarandon or the Rev. James Forbes? All suggestions need to be part of this critical conversation. What's clear is that we need such a candidate, and the finances to back her or him, very soon.

Some of these names are, shall we say, a bit ridiculous.  But it certainly shows rising exasperation from the left.

Let's go back to Kuttner's original premise.  I told him after today's program that it still seems far fetched to me to envision a real challenge to Obama's nomination in 2012.  He said perhaps, but who would have thought that mild-mannered Eugene McCarthy would have taken on LBJ in '67-68?

(You can listen to today's show here.)

Ultimately, of course, it's way too soon to figure out what's going to happen in 2012.  But what say you?

I'm going to throw a lot of questions out here in my latest unscientific/fake poll.  Let me know what you think.

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