And so the disastrous US debt ceiling deal passed - fairly easily in the end - with most House Republicans voting in favour, while the Democrats were split down the middle. I think Paul Krugman is right: the deal conceded far too much to the Republicans, and it's time for the Democrats to start playing much more hardline. If that leads to dysfunctionality and default - then, as so often, Han Solo is my political hero. "Bring it on! I'd prefer a straight fight to all this fooling around."
Basically, Democrats - who control the Presidency (if we can still classify Obama as a Democrat - that is doubtful) and the Senate - should have said, no debt deal with less than a 50/50 balance between tax rises and spending cuts is going to pass. It's no good talking tough after the event, like Joe Biden. He said that the Tea Party were "behaving like terrorists" - yes they have, but the Democrats have tamely capitulated to that terrorism. Which gives the Tea Party an incentive to behave even worse the next time... simply terrible political strategy from the Dems on every level.
Anyway, having thought about it for a couple of days, a key question I want to address in this post is: should there be a presidential challenge to Obama from the left? I think yes, there should be, and it should come from outside the Democratic primary system, not inside it.
Obama's move to a mainstream Republican position in recent months has meant that next year's presidential election will most likely be fought between a mainstream Republican (in all but name) and a Tea Party right winger - leaving a huge vaccuum on the left. Remember that, like the UK, the US uses the idiotic "First Past the Post" system for its elections. For the presidency, an electoral college operates whereby the votes in each state are tallied and then the electoral college votes in each state (which are roughly weighted by the number of voters in each state) are awarded to the winner. This means that in a three person contest it is not necessary to have anything like 50% of the votes to win a state: if your opponents' vote is evenly split you can win with a lot less. This is the reason that (for example) Caroline Lucas won in Brighton Pavilion in the UK in 2010 despite only having 32% of the vote.
A convincing left-wing challenger could hoover up most of the votes on the left of the US political spectrum, leaving the real Republican and fake Republican (Obama) candidates fighting it out for the right. Remember Bill Clinton in 1992? He won with only 43% of the vote because 20% of the vote went to the independent candiate, Ross Perot. What we could be looking at in 2012 is something very similar.
So who should run as that left-wing independent? Sadly, my ideal candidate - Hunter S Thompson - is dead. This is a real shame, because Hunter would have been a natural for this gig. He almost pulled off something very similar at town level when he was running for Sheriff of Aspen, Colorado, in 1970 with a shaved head on the "Freak Power" ticket. The only reason he was beaten was because the GOP candidate stopped campaigning and told people to vote for the Democrat to stop Thompson getting in.
The rebirth of Freak Power in 2012 would have been an all-time highlight of American politics, but Hunter shot himself in 2005, so in his place I'm going to suggest Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, an independent "democratic socialist". Bernie is a fantastic speaker (see this speech on economic civil war in the US, for example - absolute classic, telling it like it is) and would absolutely kill both Obama and whatever moron the Tea Party nominates in the televised debates.
Fundraising would of course be a problem, but my guess is that, given that Obama has sold out so comprehensively to the right, the Obama fundraising tactic of huge numbers of small donations, which worked so well in 2008, could now be co-opted for a Bernie Sanders campaign. There must be millions - tens of millions - of people in the US who are so fed up with the path the country has taken over the last 30 years that there is a huge well of pent-up frustration and anger to draw on. A Google search for "Bernie Sanders for President 2012" produces some very interesting material - for example this post on the Irregular Times, where Sanders is closer to majority polling in the US on a number of key issues than either the new Republican incarnation of Obama, or the Tea Party.
So really, if it were to happen, there seems a very good chance that a Sanders bid for the presidency would be successful. Now of course, if Bernie did win it, he wouldn't be able to do that much except veto all GOP measures. But that in itself would be a huge advance on Barack Obama, who is the man who capitulates to the GOP. So the question for Bernie Sanders and the US left is: are you prepared to sit back idly while your country is destroyed? Or are you going to do something about it?
I will be sending a link to this blogpost to Bernie Sanders's office and I'll let you know if I get a reply.