If Michael Moore were to run for president in 2012, it could be a game changer in American political life. For starters, it would likely shorten the war in Afghanistan by at least six months, and the American and Afghan lives that would be saved would alone justify the effort.
If Moore announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination now, and followed up that announcement with a vigorous campaign focused on the struggles of rank-and-file Democrats, it would remobilize rank-and-file Democratic activists. It's possible that he might even win; but win or lose, the campaign could arrest and reverse the current rightward, pro-corporate trajectory of our national politics, which is the predictable consequence of the failure of Team Obama to deliver on its promises from 2008, which in turn was the predictable consequence of the doomed effort to try to serve two masters: Wall Street and Main Street.
Like few people with his political views, Michael Moore needs no introduction to the Democratic primary electorate. To most rank-and-file Democrats, the name Michael Moore stands for a set of progressive populist ideas: health care for all, workers' rights, opposition to Wall Street's stranglehold on Washington, closing down the wars of empire and bringing our troops home.
In 1984 and 1988, the Jesse Jackson campaigns showed what could be accomplished running a populist, issue-based, movement campaign in the Democratic primaries and caucuses. In 1984, Jackson got more than three million votes, a fifth of the total, and won five primaries and caucuses. In 1988, he got almost seven million votes and won seven primaries and four caucuses; at one point, following his victory in the Michigan caucus, he was ahead in delegates.
Of course, the progressive Jackson campaigns had a particular starting point: their base in the African-American community. But a Michael Moore campaign would also have a starting point: his status as an international, progressive, populist rock star. The moment that Michael Moore says, "I am a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2012," it's a live proposition. And Moore would have tools for getting out his message - videos and the Internet - that the Jackson campaign didn't have in 1988.
Like few American progressives of his prominence, Moore has the ability to connect with and mobilize working-class anger at Washington and Wall Street.
In the Jackson campaign, picket lines were campaign stops. That's the kind of campaigning that could be happening now. You get out the campaign message, but you also shine a spotlight on local struggles, nationalize them and magnify their power.
In Michael Moore's last movie, there was a long sequence about the struggle of the UE workers in Chicago. Those are the stories around the country that the Moore campaign for president would be telling to a national Democratic audience: Studs Terkel with a video camera and an RSS feed.
A Moore campaign for president announced today could be active in this Congressional election cycle: campaigning for progressive Democrats in the 2010 primaries, and thereby mobilizing the national progressive base in these contests, campaigning for progressive Democrats in the November election, building its national organization at the same time. A Moore campaign for president would compete for the endorsement of every organization of progressive Democrats, including Progressive Democrats of America, MoveOn and Democracy for America. A Moore campaign would compete for the support of labor unions, which would put the Employee Free Choice Act and fair trade right back at the top of the national agenda. And a Moore campaign would work to build the base of the endorsing organizations.
If Obama's advisers knew for certain that they would face an effective progressive challenge in the 2012 primaries and caucuses, it's likely that they would start making different political choices immediately, because everything they fail to accomplish by spring 2012 would be on the table in the primaries and caucuses: health care for all, putting America back to work, ending the war in Afghanistan. Most analysts seem to think that there was a strong correlation between Obama's announcement of July 2011 as the beginning of US troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and the 2012 election cycle; but an effective primary challenge would bring that calculation forward by six months. It's likely that if Obama's advisers knew they faced a spring 2012 deadline for showing that the war was ending, they would stop undermining Afghan efforts to start peace talks. A Moore campaign could save thousands of American and Afghan lives. In contesting Democratic primaries and caucuses against Michael Moore, Obama's advisers wouldn't be able to prevail by deploying mere rhetoric, because now they're in power, and would have to answer for what they are actually doing.
In many ways, the stage is set perfectly. There will not be a crowded field; if career advancement is your goal, you generally don't run in a primary against a sitting president. When "the Democratic Party is in power" is the ideal time to mount a progressive Democratic challenge, because that's when the inability of Washington Democrats in thrall to Wall Street to deliver on progressive promises is thrown into sharp relief.
And for Michael Moore, I think it's a logical next step. He may be near the limit of what he can accomplish politically by only making movies. It's time to make a new documentary: the documentary of a campaign to rally rank-and-file Democrats to take back America from Wall Street, Wal-Mart and the military industry.
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