Why Nader and West’s Plan to Challenge Obama Won’t Work

September 21, 2011  |  

I really think the Obama Administration should rename the Buffett Tax Bill the “We, -the-people-, have-been-telling-you-Obama-to-raise-taxes-on-the-rich-for-two-damn-years-now-and-now-you-decide-to-listen-only-because-Warren-Buffett-wrote-a-half-way-decent-editorial-in-the-New-York-Times, -basically-saying-what-we, -the-people, -have-been-demanding-for-two-damn-years” Tax Bill.  Just a thought.

But it is quite odd that Obama’s core base of voters have been screaming to the raptures about the need to raise taxes on the rich, only to be dismissed by the Administration as “whiners.” But some billionaire comes around, and basically says, “sure Administration. It’s okay to raise taxes on us. We really don’t mind.” And now the Administration has decided to see the light and become more aggressive and principled.

But so goes politics.  One minute you are a whiner, the next you’re a valuable registered voter in a heated election season. Which is exactly why I’m not quite jiving with this latest scheme, cooked up by Ralph Nader, Cornel West and over forty other progressive leaders, which seeks to use the momentum of the upcoming election to push Obama back to the left.

The proposed plan, which was introduced earlier this month in the form of an open letter, seeks to enlist a slate of six progressive candidates to run against President Obama during the primaries.  According to Nader, West and the other signers of the scheme, each of the six candidates will represent a field in which Obama has never clearly staked a progressive claim or where he has drifted toward the corporatist right.

The letter has been sent to a list of elected officials, civic leaders, prominent members of academia and various non-profit and civic groups in hopes of recruiting prominent leaders within the progressive moment to join the slate of potential candidates. The letter also declares that with the inclusion of primary challengers, President Obama will be forced to seriously articulate and pay attention to many more issues affecting many more Americans.

On the surface, this sounds like a great idea but if the overall goal is to  “rigorously debate” his policies than how exactly might this be effective in pushing him to the left?
But before we get into why it won’t work, let’s first dispel the myth that a third party candidate would weaken President Obama chances at reelection (because I know that’s what many of you have already began thinking).

The most common political troupe, which seeks to warn voters about taking third party candidates seriously, is the potential for their inclusion to really screw up the outcome of an election. Many democrats like to cite the 2000 presidential election, where George Bush narrowly etched out a win against Al Gore in the highly contested Florida race.  Many diehard Democrats have openly and wrongly declared Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader the reason that Gore lost the election.

For one, there were numerous other factors, which played into the Florida vote-counting debacle including: (1) The seven other third party candidates on the presidential race ballot; (2) the number of voters, who had been disenfranchised by Florida voter’s purging list; (3) voting systems and procedures that failed; (3) the United States Supreme Court, who declared George W. Bush the winner; and (4) Democrats, who weren’t inspired enough by Gore to get out and vote at all.

Therefore, the assertion that Nader’s marginal vote hurt Gore is not only unrealistic but not even borne of any polling data. Yet, Nader, along with other third party candidates, have become easy scapegoats by many Democrats for failure of their candidate to inspire voters to vote for him.  And that’s what we are really talking about here: voter inspiration.

It’s no secret that Obama is far from closing the deal with voters of any persuasion. And the reality is that many voters, who had been inspired in 2008, will be probably be so depressed by Obama’s submissiveness to the Republicans in his first term that they might be willing to consider a candidate outside the two-party system.

But Nader’s scheme appears to be more about symbolism, which will amount to more debate and less about actual transformation.  Of course, Obama, whose sole goal during an election cycle is to win your vote, will be more likely to mimic the words of  the progressive six if it means that he has a chance to win the primaries. But what guarantees are there after the primaries, that he won’t shift again, to appease undecided voters of maybe the more moderate sphere in the general election?

This is not to suggest that dialogue doesn’t need to happen or have validity but at some point, true progressives will have to stop trying to bend Obama to our will and begin to start thinking seriously about the next level of action.

I mean, let’s forget the six candidates and concentrate of developing one candidate, who knows all his/her Isht.  One of the biggest criticisms of any third/independent party, particularly on the left, is the inability to put up candidates, who stand a chance of winning elections.  As such I would really prefer to see progressives spend the energy building their ground troops for a real campaign to nurture and support candidates, who could help push the progressive agenda. And of course, there is the matter of forcing debates with the incumbents and the only way that could happen is if they are able to get on the ballot. And the last I checked, many states within the union have made that task damn near impossible.

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.

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