Bernie Sanders spoke for eight and a half hours on Friday. Believe it or not, it wasn’t a filibuster. There weren’t any votes until the next day. He didn’t start reading the phone book because he wanted to talk longer. It was a speech. For eight and half hours, Sanders shared his concerns and passions regarding every topic that he could think of.
He addressed it directly at President Obama, reminding him that there were issues he should be dealing with and that the over 100 billion dollars going to the wealthy could be better spent. Most progressives would say that Sanders was right. Unfortunately, being president isn’t about being right.
Sanders was irked about the tax cut deal that Obama cut with the GOP. He couldn’t stand that it paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to controversial wall street CEOs while it didn’t do anything to help the long term unemployed. Sanders sought to remind the president that he owed his election to his progressive supporters. Sanders thought he should have played hardball.
Obama, who didn’t want to play games with the other 98% of America’s future, decided instead to compromise. He said that he liked parts and didn’t like parts. It may be accurate, but it seems a little bland. The Republicans were happy and Obama wasn’t noticeably upset about anything until his base complained. Then he scolded them. Calling the tax cuts for the wealthy a ‘necessary evil’ would’ve been a wise way to go about this if Obama wanted to energize his base. With the election almost two years off, it appears as though he doesn’t.
Obama should be glad that Sanders spoke up. Someone had to address the frustrations of the progressives after the Bush tax cuts for billionaires were set to be extended for two more years. In the process of governing, Obama had to make a sacrifice. That’s what presidents do. Sanders, a senator from liberal-friendly Vermont, doesn’t.
That doesn’t make his opinion any less relevant (in fact, its probably more genuine). It just means that Sanders can focus on ideology and moving the country to the left without having to worry about Republicans getting on board.
While there were many powerful quotes in his speech, one really grabbed my attention. Sanders named Obama then said “if he is the Democratic candidate (in 2012).” This is the first real mention of a primary challenge from anyone outside the blogosphere, and it got people talking.
Ismael Reed wrote in the New York Times that its unlikely a democrat would win in 2012 if Obama were challenged in the primary. He’s probably right. He also said it would cost the Democrats the black vote. On that point, I think he’s crazy. Calling Obama out for moving to the center doesn’t make Democrats seem like Republicans for a largely liberal section of the population just because the president is black. It does, however, make them seem delusional because he hasn’t pulled a Lieberman on us, or at least not willingly. The country made a sharp right, and now Obama needs more than two Republicans from Maine to give him permission to govern.
President Obama has reason to be upset by his increasingly frustrated progressive supporters. He’s done a lot for the nation in just two years, and he’s not getting enough credit. Yes, the legislation has been watered down. In congress, where neither Obama nor the Democrats have any control because of the GOP’s rampant filibustering.
A primary challenge would, in all likelihood, end Obama’s political career. Luckily for him, it won’t happen. Most Democrats just want to fix problems and will accept even imperfect solutions. There are, of course, those more interested in playing politics than participating in them. And after seeing that strategy earn the GOP a spot at the negotiating table suspiciously devoid of Congressional Democrats, some progressives are starting to think that hollow threats are the only way to grab Obama’s attention.
That attitude isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. Progressives aren’t going to feel like they’re being represented by the great negotiator if the only other people at the table are the Republicans. As long as Obama continues to define bipartisanship as himself compromising with Republicans radical and moderate alike, the liberal wing of his own party will feel left out in the cold.