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As Obama Administration Negotiates Away Democratic Party Principles - Time for a 2012 Primary Challenge?

Karen Bernal photoOriginally published in the California Progress Report
By Karen Bernal
Progressive Caucus of the CA Democratic Party

We've had enough. The country has had enough.

As elated as we were when President Obama was elected in 2008, after a disastrous eight years under the repressive and war-mongering Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has been a major disappointment to the working class and Progressives of this country.

So much so that on July 30, the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party adopted a resolution criticizing President Obama for negotiating away Democratic Party principles to extremist Republicans, and suggesting that we may explore steps to "effect necessary change, including a possible primary challenge to President Obama." The resolution, overwhelmingly adopted at a meeting of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party July 30, did not say President Obama would not be that candidate.

The officers and members of the caucus are willing to meet with the President if he wishes to discuss our concerns. In fact, we would welcome the opportunity. Our Caucus leadership wishes HOPE BEYOND HOPE that President Obama will rework his priorities to respond to the needs of working class Americans in order to get progressive support in 2012.

Calling for a possible challenge to President Obama wasn't an easy step to take. We keenly understand, and like all Democrats and the majority of Americans, appreciate the historical significance of his presidency. That people from all walks of life worked very hard to get him into office is testament to where we have come as a nation and as a people, when we can all unify behind a candidate regardless of race.

Even now, we can say that despite the difficulties we are facing, the memory of reaching and passing the milestone of electing the first African-American President is still sweet; though, that memory becomes quickly replaced with profound unhappiness when we consider the current state of affairs.

After the President's unilateral offer in a closed door session to slash Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, thereby endangering the New Deal and War on Poverty safety nets, we could no longer remain silent. It was simply too much.

So has been the escalation of U.S. militarism, secret drone attacks, the extension of tax cuts for the wealthy, the bank bail outs - but allowing foreclosures to continue, the assault on our civil liberties through the extension of the Patriot Act, a disregard for the promises to labor, the facilitation of an increased corporatization of our public sphere, and a host of other issues that benefit big business and the wealthy, but ignore the plight of working families and the environment.

Progressives are challenged by President Obama's decisions. Our silence is a price that's too high to pay.

Some have said to me that this resolution questioning our President may weaken his chances in 2012, and possibly lead to a Republican president. But the truth is, as you analyze the Obama Administration domestic and international decisions, we already have many Republican policies.

If there is a primary challenge it is not without precedent. President Lyndon Johnson was challenged over his escalation in the Vietnam War in the 60s by Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy.

And, as we said in the resolution, we do not want to interfere with President Obama’s ability to govern. Will this raise debate on important issues? Yes. Will this mobilize and energize the base of our Democratic Party to stop the far-right agenda to destroy the working class? Yes.

In fact, we do not see ourselves as being against President Obama as much as we see ourselves as defenders of traditional, core Democratic Party principles. And the choice, we believe, has become increasingly clear: Loyalty to founding principles we hold dear in the Democratic Party, or loyalty to a President at the expense of those principles.

In the end, we hope this resolution starts a very honest conversation about the direction of the Party, something we believe is crucial at this moment in time. Of course, the strategy for progressives pushing for a badly needed paradigm shift for our country needs to include making sure we are part of any driving force at the grassroots level with other electoral efforts, as well as actively participating in social movements designed to take on a heartless corporatocracy.

This isn't a choice of either/or; we simply do not have that luxury anymore. If we are to bring our country back from the precipice of total disaster, the pushback will have to happen on multiple fronts, from the bottom, all the way to the top.

Passed July 30, 2011
Anaheim, CA

WHEREAS, the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party recognizes the challenge presented by President Obama’s negotiating away Democratic Party principles to extremist Republicans, we are challenged by President Obama in the following ways:

  • His unilateral closed-door budget offer to slash Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which endangers the New Deal and War on Poverty safety nets.
  • His determination to escalate U.S. militarism through illegal secret CIA drone attacks and unauthorized wars.
  • His willingness to extend the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and bail out big banks without ending the foreclosure crisis that displaces American working families.
  • His insistence on pushing a health insurance bill which enriches private insurance companies while ignoring growing support for single-payer health care or robust public options.
  • His continuance of President Bush’s assault on civil liberties with an extension of the repressive Patriot Act.
  • His failure to restore due process, including the protection of whistleblowers and habeas corpus.
  • His numerous failures to adhere to international law.
  • The continuing practice of nationwide FBI raids of anti-war progressive protestors.
  • His decision to increase the arrests and deportations of undocumented workers.
  • His facilitation of the privatizing of the public sphere, which includes education and housing, among others.
  • His disregard of his promises to the Labor movement.
  • His failure to adequately protect the environment and adequately address climate change.

WHEREAS, the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party recognizes the historical significance of the Eugene McCarthy/Robert F. Kennedy anti-war challenge to President Lyndon Johnson. The challenge followed President Johnson’s decision to escalate U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, betraying his campaign promise to end a war that polarized America. Similarly, we recognize the danger and betrayal that the current “Grand Bargain” represents to the legacy of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signature gift to all Americans, Social Security and the New Deal, a point of pride for all Democrats.

WHEREAS, the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party is committed to the understanding that an interest in a 2012 Democratic presidential primary challenge will not interfere with President Obama’s ability to govern and not limit his ability to do so in ways that include invoking Constitutional options, we recognize that this will, in fact, raise debate on important issues without risking the ability to mobilize and energize the base of the Democratic Party to elect a triumphant leader to counter the far-right agenda.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, to make our views heard, the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party will begin the process of contacting other Democratic organizations, Democratic Party members and public organizations that share our views on the issues and which seek to alter the course of history by exploring other steps to effect a necessary change, including a possible primary challenge to President Obama.


Karen Bernal is the two term Chair of the Progressive Caucus of the California State Democratic Party, as well as a member of the Party's Executive Board. She is also an elected member of the Sacramento County Democratic Party, and Co-founder of the Wellstone Progressive Democrats of Sacramento County.