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Has the Left Lost its Nerve?

11:38 AM, Aug 5, 2011 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Jay Cost argues convincingly that “No serious Democratic official would dare challenge Obama for the nomination.” But Ralph Nader says that “I would guess that the chances of there being a challenge to Obama in the primary are almost 100 percent.” Nader says that challenger could be “an ex-senator or an ex-governor” or “an intellectual leader or an environmental leader.”


Both Cost and Nader can be right. There could be a challenger to Obama, but he (or she) wouldn’t be a “serious” opponent of the caliber of Robert Kennedy (1968) or Ronald Reagan (1976) or Ted Kennedy (1980). He would be more like John Ashbrook (1972) or Pat Buchanan (1992). But that’s not nothing. Ashbrook arguably helped keep the conservative flame alive in the age of Nixon, a flame that Reagan re-lit in 1976 and brought across the finish line in 1980. Buchanan’s campaign in 1992 was distorted by his own peculiar brand of conservatism. But his exposure of George H. W. Bush’s weakness probably helped induce Ross Perot into the general election contest, and both to some degree laid the groundwork for the Gingrich takeover and renewal of 1994. And of course the Tea Party challenges of 2010 were crucial to the liberation of the GOP from the legacy of the doldrums of George W. Bush’s second term.  

So what of the Democrats? Surely they’ll produce a primary challenger to their Wall Street coddling, Afghan war prosecuting, drone assassination ordering, and debt ceiling deal-signing occupant of the Oval Office! That opponent might perhaps not be “serious,” but his effort could be attention getting, issue raising, and meaningful for the future. Far be it from me to give advice to the professional left. But it has been a sign of the health and vitality of the right over the last forty years that it could at least produce primary challengers to moderate and establishment Republican officeholders. For the left to roll over totally for Obama, after giving Clinton a pass in 1996, would be a sign of a massive failure of conviction and imagination and nerve.

So, Russ Feingold or Dennis Kucinich, Robert Reich or Paul Krugman: Won’t one of you be willing to raise the progressive banner high? Across the ideological chasm, THE WEEKLY STANDARD will salute you!

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