BY ALEXANDER COCKBURN
“What do the next two years hold?” I asked in my column in The Nation, right after the Nov. 2 elections. “Already there are desperate urgings from progressives for Obama to hold the line. Already there are the omens of a steady stream of concessions by Obama to the right. There’s hardly any countervailing pressure for him to do otherwise. In the months ahead, as Obama parleys amiably with the right on budgetary discipline and deficit reduction, the anger of the progressive left will mount. At some point a champion of the left will step forward to challenge him in the primaries. This futile charade will expire at the 2012 Democratic National Convention amid the rallying cry of ‘unity.'”
One person who has now stepped forward in answer to my call is the billionaire George Soros, the former currency trader and dispenser of billions to favored causes, most recently California’s failed pro-marijuana initiative. Last week, Soros confided at a private gathering in Washington, DC, of a group of progressive movers and shakers known as the Democracy Alliance that Democratic donors direct their support somewhere other than the president. Soros told those in attendance that he is “used to fighting losing battles but doesn’t like to lose without fighting.”
“We have just lost this election, we need to draw a line,” he said. “And if this president can’t do what we need, it is time to start looking somewhere else.”
The description of Soros’ sensational remarks appeared in the Huffington Post, citing unnamed sources who were presumably at the private meeting. The story cited Michael Vachon, an adviser to Soros, as not disputing the story, though “Vachon also clarified that the longtime progressive giver was not referring to a primary challenge to the president. ‘Mr. Soros fully supports the president as the leader of the Democratic Party. … He was not suggesting that we seek another candidate for 2012.’”
So if Soros doesn’t favor a Democratic primary challenge against Obama and supports the president as head of the Democratic Party, but also says “it’s time to start looking somewhere else,” what exactly does he want? When he denies seeking another candidate for 2012, is he referring only to a rival Democratic candidate?
As I stressed in my Nation column, any primary opponent to the president inside the Democratic Party is doomed: Obama would survive any such challenge.
Moreover, the White House deserves the menace of a convincing threat now, not some desperate intra-Democratic Party challenge late next year by Michael Moore or kindred mutineer. There has to be an independent challenge.
My view is that we have a champion in the wings and one whom I am sure Soros would be only too happy to support.
This champion of the left with sound appeal to the sane populist right was felled Nov. 2, and he should rise again before his reputation fades. His name is Russ Feingold, currently a Democrat and the junior senator from Wisconsin. I urge him to decline any job proffered by the Obama Administration and not to consider running as a challenger inside the Democratic Party. I urge him, not too long after he leaves the Senate, to raise – if only not to categorically reject – the possibility of a presidential run as an independent; then, not too far into 2011, to embark on such a course.
Why would he be running? Unlike Teddy Kennedy challenging Jimmy Carter in 1979, Feingold would have a swift answer: to fight against the Republicans and the White House in defense of the causes he has publicly supported across a lifetime. He has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His was the single Senate vote against the Patriot Act; his was a consistent vote against the constitutional abuses of both the Bush and Obama administrations. He opposed NAFTA and the bank bailouts. He is for economic justice and full employment. He is the implacable foe of corporate control of the electoral process. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January was aimed in part at his landmark campaign finance reform bill.
A Wisconsin voter wrote me in the wake of the election, “Feingold likely lost because his opponent’s ads, including billboards with pictures of him and Obama, as well as TV and radio ads, and last-minute phone bursts, convinced many voters that he has been a party-line Democratic insider all these years.” What an irony! Feingold has always been of an independent cast of mind, and it surely would not be a trauma for him to bolt the party.
Ralph Nader, having rendered his remarkable service to the country, having endured torrents of undeserved abuse from progressives, should hand the torch to Feingold as a worthy heir to that great hero of Wisconsin, Robert La Follette.
The left must abandon the doomed ritual of squeaking timid reproaches to Obama, only to have the counselors at Obama’s elbow contemptuously dismiss them, as did Rahm Emanuel, who correctly divined their near-zero capacity for effective challenge. Two more years, then four more years, of the same downward slide, courtesy of bipartisanship and “working together”?
No way. Run, Russ, Run!
– Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils, available through www.counterpunch.com.