In an online conversation this past weekend, someone reminded me of something I hadn’t thought about in years – the Reagan Presidential campaign of 1980. Some of the most effective campaign commercials used by the Reagan team during that election cycle were ones which utilized audio and video clips of Senator Ted Kennedy bashing incumbent President Jimmy Carter during his abortive primary challenge.
“Wanna know what the Democrats think about President Carter? Just listen to what a leading Democrat has to say.”
We all know what happened in the 1980 election. We’re still feeling the repercussions from the defection of the Reagan Democrats today. But, really, this goes back further.
After having spent the first two years of the Obama Administration, nit-picking, finding fault, gratuitously criticizing, and, when all else failed, inventing reasons to despair of the Democratic President, in the run-in to another general election, various people, pundits and politicians are still calling for this President to be primaried.
Some people making this plea may be very young and, therefore, wouldn’t be aware of what happens when a serving President is primaried, but others should know better. Here’s a quick recap: Lyndon Johnson was primaried by Eugene McCarthy in 1968. After coming close to losing in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, Johnson decided he wouldn’t run for re-election, which opened up a race for the nomination between McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy. After Kennedy was assassinated, McCarthy and then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey duked it out all the way to the Chicago Convention. Humphrey won the nomination and lost the election to Richard Nixon.
In 1976, Gerald Ford was primaried by Ronald Reagan, then considered the scourge of the Right and far too conservative ever to be considered seriously. Ford retained the nomination and lost to Jimmy Carter, who was primaried, himself, by Ted Kennedy four years later, losing the election to Ronald Reagan. So much for being too far to the Right to be elected. Reagan got two terms.
Then, in 1992, George H W Bush was primaried by lovely, cuddly Pat Buchanan – he, who still wishes he were in the land of cotton, sitting on the verandah watching the slaves frolick in the fields. Buchanan wasn’t a joke. He came close enough in some primaries to make the Brahmin Poppy Bush distinctively uncomfortable. Result? Bush lost the chance of a second term.
I know. Someone’s bound to point out that whilst history is instructive, it’s in no way determinative; but it does have a rather unpleasant way of repeating itself, and if you scratch the surface of the history of primaried Presidents, you’ll uncover a pretty nasty truth: that when a Democratic President is primaried (and loses the subsequent election), the fallout is far worse than when a Republican is primaried and loses.
Look at 1968. That election gave us Richard Nixon, and although Nixon left in disgrace two years into his second administration, due to the Watergate scandal, he left us the legacy of Roger Ailes, Karl Rove and ratfucking – all of which are very much with us and causing grief today.
Now look at 1980. That election gave us trickledown, credit and financial deregulation, a serious defunding of the Department of Education, Reaganomics, and the first Gulf War. Now tell me every bit of that isn’t impeding upon our lives today.
It wasn’t enough that, from the getgo, we’ve had celebrity talking heads, the 21st Century equivalents of Tom Wolfe’s infamous radical chic, ranting that Obama was a corporate sell-out, that he was a traitor for not implementing single-payer health insurance (he never did), that he’s no different from Bush, that he doesn’t care about the Middle Classes, we had some of those selfsame people encourage voters to stay away from the Midterm polls in protest.
I think the recent events in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan bear proof of the perils of not voting.
Since the Midterms, we’ve had media voices, as well as Democratic politicians refer to the President, variously, as a quisling or a Nazi collaborator, regarding the temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts. We are still hearing from them how the President caved to the Republicans on this measure, never mind the fact that the Republicans had effectively shut the door to any negotiations regarding the repeal of DADT, or the passing of START or the First Responders’ Bill, until the tax cuts were extended. As things went, the so-called “cave-in” accomplished an entire year’s extension of unemployment benefits and a moratorium on payroll tax, amongst other things, as well as DADT being repealed and the other two bills enacted. Funny, how the Democrats and their well-heeled punditry neglect to mention the compromise which effectively bettered the plight of the working class.
But then, this Democratic party doesn’t even recognise the working class, per se.
And recently, pundits have stomped feet and demanded the President join the picket lines in Wisconsin, openly issuing a rhetorical threat that if the President wanted to see a second term, he’d better get his ass to Wisconsin. Since then, Congressman Anthony Weiner has gone on record as saying the President had no values, and Senator Bernie Sanders and perennial Presidential wannabe Dennis Kucinich have called for a primary challenger “to make the President stronger.”
Now, Kucinich is even calling for the President’s impeachment in view of the recent and very reluctant participation in the Libyan no-fly zone. Darrell Issa must be doing cartwheels.
Considering all this, Karl Rove and friends must have a virtual library of sound bytes and film clips stored up for whoever finally gets the Republican Presidential nomination.
More than any other President in my memory, and I was born midway through Eisenhower’s first term, I can’t remember any President so vilified, so de-legitimised and so excoriated by both sides of the political equation as this President.
Primary Obama, and he’ll still get the nomination; but he won’t be stronger, nor will the Democratic party. In case they haven’t noticed, there’s a very real chance they might lose the Senate, this time around. The sheeple on the Left, and some politicians from safe Democratic districts, seem to forget that the only thing, at this point in time, separating us from a Republican Armageddon, is four Senators and the President.
Primary Obama, and he will lose the general election. It doesn’t matter if his Republican opponent be Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin or Donald Trump, he’ll lose. A primary challenger to a serving President tells the voting public that the President and his party are weak, shallow, vapid, divided and unfit to govern; and whilst that might be true of the Democrats, in general, it’s not true of the President. He really is the only adult in the room.
The 1968 primary challenge brought us 8 years of Republican rule and a pardoned Richard Nixon. The 1980 challenge took 12 years to reconcile. Primary the President, and we’ll be well on the route to Karl Rove’s goal of an unbroken hegemony of Republican Presidents. Give up the Senate and the House, and the Democratic party, with union funds seriously depleted, risks becoming a non-entity, a token opposition.
Given the Citizens United decision and the Kochroaches crawling from the corporate woodwork, and Karl Rove’s unbroken hegemony takes on the distinct image of 21st Century fascism, imbeded in dominionist theocracy.
The irony of this peculiar situation will be the fact that many within the President’s own party willfully aided and abetted not only his downfall, but the political suicide of the Democratic Party, itself. Many of us are doing the Republicans’ work for them. I guess many of us really have moved that far to the Left, that we’ve now found ourselves on the Right.