Memo to the left: Hands off Obama

colbert I. King
Saturday, December 11, 2010; A17

Since the Democratic Party's "shellacking" in last month's midterm elections, speculation has been growing about a possible 2012 presidential primary challenge to President Obama launched by his party's disgruntled left. Talk of a primary challenge has only ratcheted up since Obama's announcement of the tax deal that he cut this week with congressional Republicans.

Warning: If the Democratic left does to Obama in 2012 what it did to incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980 via Ted Kennedy's damaging Democratic primary challenge - or what the Republican right did to incumbent President George H.W. Bush in 1992 with Pat Buchanan's entry into the GOP primary - the Democratic Party as a whole will find itself paying a steep price for years to come.

That's a promise, not a threat.

It's a pretty safe bet that Obama could beat back a contender or contenders for the 2012 Democratic Party nomination. But, as with the experiences of Carter and Bush in their damaging primary struggles, President Obama would be forced to devote organization, energy and money to winning renomination - three precious resources best reserved for a general election.

It's unlikely Obama could emerge from a time-consuming and costly primary fight strong enough to run a competitive race against a Republican Party that is expected to be energized, united and determined to take back the White House in 2012.

Republicans would have the Democratic left to thank for that.

Make no mistake, however: If the left costs Obama his presidency in 2012, the Democratic Party as a whole will lose out.

Sabotage the nation's first black president and the Democratic Party might as well bid farewell to its most loyal base of supporters: African Americans.

In 2008, the turnout of young black eligible voters was higher than that of young eligible voters of any other racial or ethnic group, according to the Pew Research Center. Consider them gone in future congressional and presidential elections if the left dooms Obama in 2012.

The 2 million more blacks who voted in 2008 than in 2004 because of Barack Obama? Say bye-bye to them, too. As for African American women, the group with the highest voter turnout rate in the 2008 presidential election? Don't even ask.

And why should they stay with a Democratic Party that turns tail on a president who's trying to lead a fractious country through one of the roughest patches in its history?

Obama's racially and ethnically diverse supporters know full well - even if the Democratic left wishes to forget - that if John McCain and Sarah Palin were in the White House instead of Obama and Joe Biden, there would be no laws or programs on the books that:

l Extend health insurance coverage to 30 million Americans, prohibit insurers from dropping cancer patients and others with serious illnesses, and prevent children with preexisting conditions from being turned down by insurance companies.

l Provide billions for early learning programs, elementary and secondary education, and $30 billion to make college more affordable for youth who otherwise wouldn't be able to attend.

l Reform Wall Street, rescue the auto industry and, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, produce 3 million jobs that helped stop the U.S. economy from falling off the cliff.

l Assist millions of Americans in avoiding foreclosures, and produce billions to fight homelessness and hunger.

They know that a McCain-Palin administration would not have added funding for food stamps; food banks; and nutrition programs for women, children and infants. Obama did, and they know it.

Would a McCain-Palin administration have appointed Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court? Obama did. Would the United States be on its way out of lraq under a McCain presidency? Or pursuing a strategy to disengage from Afghanistan, even while thrashing al-Qaeda and rounding up home-grown terrorists?

Perhaps those on the purist Democratic left - not one of whom could have won the presidential general election in 2008, and not one of whom can make it to the White House in 2012 - refuse to recognize what Obama has accomplished in two short years, even in the face of rock-solid Republican opposition. His supporters know better.

And make no mistake, those Obama supporters - not those faux Washington friends, but the rank and file around the country - will take note of his treatment by the left. And they will, if necessary, repay.

A promise, not a threat.

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