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Progressives call for primary challenge against Obama

by Damon Eris, published

The fate of the California Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus remains uncertain following its passage of a resolution calling for a primary challenge to President Obama late last month.  Could the growing rift within the Democratic Party signal the emergence of an Independent progressive movement in California and nationwide?

On July 30th, as the White House and Congressional leaders were engaged in last minute negotiations that ended the first round of the debt ceiling debacle, the Executive Board of the California Democratic Party was meeting in Anaheim.  At that meeting, roughly 75 members of the California Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus passed a resolution stating that they would begin exploring the possibility of backing a primary challenge against President Obama for the nomination of the Democratic party in the 2012 presidential election.  The negotiations in Washington DC were clearly on their minds.

The resolution criticizes President Obama for "negotiating away Democratic principles to extremist Republicans." At the top of their list of grievances stands the "unilateral closed-door budget offer to slash Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, thus endangering The New Deal and War on Poverty safety nets."  Additionally, the CDP Progressive Caucus resolution decries the Obama administration's "unauthorized wars," its extension of the Bush tax cuts and Patriot Act, its refusal to include a public option in the health care reform act, and the privatization of public education and housing, among other things. 

Needless to say, not all members of the CDP's Executive Board agreed with the resolution.  "This was kind of seen to some people as pretty seditious, to others, they completely agreed with it," said Karen Bernal, a delegate in the California Democratic Party and Chair of the Progressive Caucus, in a telephone interview with David Swanson earlier this week.  The response from the leadership of the California Democratic Party was swift.  The Progressive Caucus was singled out and refused recertification at the meeting, even as other caucuses received the routine certifications.  Thus, technically, the California Democratic Party's Progressive Caucus no longer exists, though its status will be reconsidered at an Executive Board meeting this November. 

John Burton, the California Democratic Party chair, was clearly not pleased by the measure.  Asked by the San Francisco Chronicle's Politics Blog whether a primary challenge would help the President's chances of reelection, he stated, "F---- no, what is that going to do?"  Burton did not hold back in the interview:  

     "A lot of people are frustrated about the war. People talk about cutting Social Security and they're not talking about paying for the war. People are frustrated about a ton of stuff," he told Joe Garofoli.  "It's how they feel. There's discontent," he continued. "There's a frustration in the country. Look at the f------ polls. So f---, that's news to somebody?"

For her part, Karen Bernal of the Progressive Caucus does not appear to disagree with Burton's assessment, though her language is less colorful.  As she told David Swanson:

     "We are simply a reflection of the unhappiness that everyone knows about, we just brought that heat inside . . . it was definitely a strategic decison on our part that this heat out to exist inside the party as well, and that was one of the reasons why," they determined to pass the resolution. 

Among those who have been the most vocal in calling for a primary challenge against President Obama from the left is former presidential candidate Ralph Nader.  In an interview with the Daily Caller earlier this month, Nader stated that he has no plans to run for president again, whether as an Independent or a Democratic primary challenger.  However, he predicted that a primary challenge against the president was a veritable certainy in the wake of the debt ceiling debacle. 

     “What [Obama] did this week is just going to energize that effort . . . I would guess that the chances of there being a challenge to Obama in the primary are almost 100 percent.”

The CDP Progressive Caucus's resolution may well provide a major boost to the effort.  Reporting on the resolution at Democracy for New Mexico, one progressive activist writes:

     "Similar questions are being asked right here by members of the Democratic Pary of New Mexico, and I imagine similar concerns are being discussed among Democrats all across the country. I'm not the only one who thinks the horrible handing of the debt ceiling "negotiations" was the straw that broke the camel's back."

One person who is often mentioned as a possible challenger to Obama is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  His name tops the list of potential candidates at Stop Hoping, a website devoted to organizing a primary or Independent challenge against the President.  There are likely a great many progressive Democrats who wonder why their party's representatives do not measure up to a dedicated democratic socialist such as Sanders.  The answer is probably quite simple.  Sanders is not a Democrat.  He's an Independent.