Jewish World Review May 12, 2012/ 19 Iyar, 5772
'Money primary' pushes Obama to the left
By Jonah Goldberg
For most of 2012, President Obama has been running in the Democratic primary. I know that seems odd given that he's essentially running unopposed. Though don't tell that to
But that's not what I'm talking about. It's important to remember that primaries serve other functions than just picking the nominee. Primaries force party bosses, activists and strategists to test their messaging, update their databases and, most especially, get the party's fundraising apparatus going.
During the real Republican primary, all of that stuff was going on behind the curtain, but everyone was busy watching the actual contest. The Republicans didn't need to fake anything in order to switch on the party machinery. They had a primary season that made a wacky Mexican soap opera seem like "Masterpiece Theatre" by comparison. Republicans, for good and ill, were paying a lot of attention. And so was the press corps. There were enough
Meanwhile, Obama was politically sidelined. Sure, he got attention; presidents always do. But the rank and file wasn't engaging in the contest enough.
Nearly everything we've seen from Obama in the last five months has been an attempt to re-create the institutional benefits of a primary season without having an actual opponent.
Peddling "stop the war on women" propaganda, visiting college campuses with enough frequency to get on the meal plan, making the "Buffett Rule" into the centerpiece of his domestic policy, trying to bribe students with breaks on their student loans, inserting himself into the
And to raise cash, of course. There's a "money primary" for incumbents, too, as evidenced by Obama's unprecedented fundraising efforts. Indeed, according to data compiled by
And that's where the irony of Obama's entirely disingenuous about-face on gay marriage really kicks in. Oh, I don't think Obama is disingenuous about his support for gay marriage. (If anything, he supports it far more than he admitted to
Obama had to admit he was in favor of gay marriage because he was, in effect, forced to by an unexpected money-primary opponent:
Obama's fundraiser at George Clooney's house promised to be a tense and less-than-lucrative affair if he continued to let his vice president make him look like a politically vacillating wimp and/or a bigot in the eyes of his supporters. And so he 'fessed up to supporting gay marriage. His claim that he considers it a states' rights issue is surely hogwash. (If he believed that, his administration would still be defending the Defense of Marriage Act.) But he said the words, which is all he needs to get the money spigots turned back on.
The question now is whether he moved too far left in the virtual Democratic primary to get back to the center in the real general election. In 2008, Obama never really pivoted to the center, because he didn't need to. As a post-partisan higher being, he could claim to be above the old-fashioned politics of triangulation. Now he's an incumbent president with a very shaky record, running as the authentic left-winger his critics always believed him to be. Indeed, he may have no interest in moving to the center at all.
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