Ron Radosh

The Idiocy of Michael Lerner: His Call to Challenge Obama from the Left

“Rabbi” Michael Lerner, you might recall, was last in the national spotlight during the heady early days of the Clinton administration, when, for a brief time, First Lady Hillary Clinton evidently became a fan of Lerner’s cause of the moment, “the politics of meaning.” You can read about Lerner and his background on Wikipedia here. Or, if you want a really critical account of his past, you can read the posting at Discover the Networks. I have previously written about his fraudulent pose as a true friend of Israel.

It is, frankly, somewhat beyond me to understand why so many people take anything he says with other than a grain of salt. The man has lurched from cause to cause, theory to theory, and movement to movement, always with one common theme: follow Michael Lerner to the path of nirvana. Years ago, before the internet, he seemed to echo the late Kim Il Sung, in buying full-page ads in the pages of the New York Times (at $40,000 a pop) to plug his own articles and books, which were otherwise ignored. The man is a notorious egomaniac, who for some unknown reason has managed to still maintain a band of followers.

Now, the Washington Post saw fit to give him space for his latest effort: to encourage the left to run a candidate against Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries. Of course, the man who used to argue that one had to be candid and proclaim oneself a socialist revolutionary now refers to himself by the usual euphemisms “liberal” or “progressive,” a tactic we have become all too familiar with as the new way of hiding one’s true beliefs in the effort to gain acceptance.

Knowing that Lerner is really a Marxist of the far left, it is rather obvious to see why he chastises Obama for making his once true believers “depressed and angry.” Lerner does not seem to comprehend that those who come from a mix of the Chicago brand of rough politics combined with a Leninist pedigree have always been tactically flexible. As Lenin once put it, it is necessary to take “two steps forward, one step back.” Obviously having no patience for real politics, Lerner sees Obama as giving in on tax cuts for billionaires, demonstrating “spinelessness” in escalating the war in Afghanistan, giving in on a public option, and refusing to prosecute the Bush administration people who sanctioned torture. Lerner is a no-holds barred radical, and nothing less than an immediate enactment of the most radical agenda will satisfy him.

So having accused Obama of betraying his base, Lerner pleads with Obama to become “the candidate whom most Americans believed they elected in 2008.” Aside from asking whether those who voted for Obama agree with what Michael Lerner holds as his agenda, he assumes that the views of the “base” are those of the electorate at large. One must pause to ask the obvious: Does Lerner have any explanation for why the center, the moderates and the working-class independents who voted for Obama in 2008 deserted him in droves in the recent midterm elections?

What Lerner wants is to ignore the people’s will as expressed in elections, and call instead for a “massive public revolt by his constituency,” by which he means the far left. The only way to accomplish this, he argues, is “by challenging him in the 2012 presidential primaries with a candidate who would unequivocally commit to a well-defined progressive agenda and contrast it with the Obama administration’s policies.” He thinks such a campaign would “pressure Obama toward much more progressive positions” thus making his candidacy more viable.

Let’s look at that for a moment. By publicly shifting to a candid far left program — rejected en masse by the electorate this past November — Obama will be able to again win the presidency. Yes, he thinks such a step will “save Obama.” He does not seem to comprehend that it will in fact deeply lessen any chance of gaining the center and moderate vote (something that Obama the politician clearly does understand). Moreover, if the opposition candidate decides to run against Obama if the president still wins the nomination, it will all but ensure the victory of the Republican candidate.

Don’t think, however, that the “progressive” base will not accept Lerner’s logic. Remember that in 1948, when Harry Truman already had to face the opposition of racist Southern Democrats, the Communists and their allies got Henry A. Wallace to run in a third party campaign under the banner of — you guessed it — the “Progressive Party.” The Progressives — a front-group of the CPUSA which ran and manipulated the campaign — having failed to push Truman to the left before the conventions, went all out for the Wallace campaign. The polls which had showed six months before the election that many union members and minorities would vote for Wallace proved to be wrong. When they got to the polling both, they largely voted for Truman, and despite the opposition from three candidates in the general election, Truman still won. The votes in New York City for Wallace put that state in Republican candidate Tom Dewey’s column. The left-wing base, acting out on its own, led Truman to lose the one state that should have been most easily his.

Lerner also calls for the media to give access to all the minority candidates. Can you imagine a presidential debate with the Republican and Democratic candidate having to sit and give equal time to the candidates of the Libertarian Party, the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Green Party, and all the other sects and irrelevant groups that together would not get more than one per cent of the vote and that would greatly interfere with hearing what the only two candidates who count have to say?

That is the kind of “democracy” Michael Lerner proposes in his effort to create a society of — those great words again — “love, kindness and generosity.” That means, he writes, a “progressive push for a new New Deal … the Caring Society.” The candidates should come from people he suggests such as Sens. Russ Feingold, socialist Bernie Sanders, Barbara Mikulski, Al Franken, or Reps. Joe Sestak, Maxine Waters, Alan Grayson, Dennis Kucinich, and others. Just pick among your own favorite on the left-wing of the Democratic Party.  Oh yes, he also suggests Rachel Maddow, Bill Moyers, or Susan Sarandon. (Even Lerner, however, doesn’t put Keith Olbermann on his list.)

Clearly, the man has no concept of politics, and lives in his own starry-eyed radical world. I would bet that those he names are running as fast as they can in the other direction, and won’t be around to answer the phone when Rabbi Lerner tries to phone them.  He also left out John Edwards — the disgraced former populist candidate so favored by the left has, from all reports, little to do. He might be the only one I can think of who might rise to Lerner’s call and take the bait. They might even forgive all his deficiencies and the sad record of his personal life. Lerner was once famous for having inscribed on his wedding cake during his first marriage the clarion call: “Smash Monogamy.” Edwards would gladly accept that radical slogan as his own, and hence would be the perfect candidate.

So go for Lerner’s plan, you in the left-wing base of the Democratic Party. Make a lot of us very, very happy.

Note to Readers: The article Steven Usdin and I co-authored on Victor Navasky’s views of the Rosenberg case is online today at You can read it here.