Thinking The Unthinkable

Right now, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that Barack Obama is a liability to his party. As the economy picks up, this might change, but this is far from guaranteed. He seems to lack the political skills, or the will, to triangulate a path between the GOP Congress and his liberal base. While he blithely betrays his base, he makes it clear to all concerned that this is not out of an attachment to the center but his own weakness. In compromising, he petulantly lashes out his friends while declining to make good with his enemies. His self-belief – inspiring in an upstart candidate – has become a grating arrogance, which lacks the self-deprecating humor of George Bush or Bill Clinton.

If he allows the debate to be about defunding his healthcare program – which the House of Representatives will have at the heart of its agenda – he could spend the next two years discussing the polling millstone he hung around his own neck. By 2012, Democratic candidates may not wish to be seen with him. But what choice do they have?

Party chiefs may press him to be only the second President since term limits were enacted to walk away from an election he is constitutionally allowed to contest. His remarkable belief in his own infallibility is likely to prevent this happening.

He could face a primary challenge, probably from the left of his party, which he has failed, rather than the moderate wing he has deliberately snubbed. Dennis Kucinich is not very credible, but could become a repository of protest votes. Howard Dean lacks the presidential temperament, but could appeal to angry liberals. Jerry Brown could launch his fourth bid, and have one last charge at the prize, but his age would count against him. Russ Feingold is decent and popular, but has disclaimed any interest. On the diminished moderate wing, Joe Lieberman is barely connected to the party. Evan Bayh is respectable, but lacks charisma.

But, even if Obama faces a primary challenge, he would probably survive. And if he was deposed, it seems unlikely that his successor could seriously compete for the presidency. Assume the unlikely: Obama is defeated in the primaries, and by someone who looks like a credible President. One section of the Democratic base is sure to be disappointed: African Americans. They may have been as badly failed as everyone else, but a minority which, in living memory, suffered from segregated schools, miscegenation laws, and often successful ploys to control the franchise, takes understandable pride in the first Black President. Indeed, every American has reason to be proud of a country that can elect a President who is visibly from an ethnic minority. Fellow African Americans will not be detached from Obama, and will be alienated from the Party if it drops him.

If the Democrats disown Obama, they will lose the Black vote for a generation, and they may lose much of it to abstention. This would damage America, but it would destroy the Democrats. Without a strong Black turnout in the big cities, states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania become unwinnable. Though Hispanics are the larger ethnic minority in Florida, the state is marginal enough that a depressed Black turnout would be fatal. And this is to say nothing of Virginia and North Carolina, only won because of Obama’s ability to inspire Black voters.


Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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