There is a difference between those days and these days: No-one now says "Let Obama be Obama."
Okay, a few people have used the phrase -- mostly ironically. For the most part, though, liberals and moderates have congealed around the view that the Obama we see now is, god help us, the real guy. As Politico points out, as far back as 2004 Obama talked about playing footsie with Republicans. The result was entirely predictable.
Let's get back to Kornacki's piece:
What Chait doesn’t acknowledge is that of the three Democratic presidents elected since 1976, only one – Obama – can accurately be described as the choice of his party’s base. The other two, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, were viewed with suspicion by liberals from the earliest days of their campaigns, and for good reason.I'm old enough to recall liberal suspicion of Carter, which was indeed palpable and deep. Democrats nevertheless made their peace -- at first -- with the idea of a Carter presidency, if only because everyone thought that a moderate leader might be what the country needed after a period of turmoil.
What happened, of course, is that the Republicans erected a formidable propaganda machine to demonize Carter as a socialist/Marxist/ultra-liberal/conspiratorial monster. Meanwhile, Carter kept pandering to the right, leaving his foreign policy in the hands of people like the vile Zbigniew Brzezinski. (Is the phrase "proto-neo-con" permissible? In his case, perhaps.)
This dynamic set the pattern for all Democratic presidencies to come: The Dems, scrambling for moderate votes, would find the most conservative candidate that the base could tolerate. Meanwhile, the Republicans would convince the country that Mr. Conservative Dem was actually Karl Marx Reborn.
I would question, though, Kornacki's claim that Obama was the choice of "the base" in 2008. On most issues, Hillary ran to his left -- and she got the majority of working class Democratic votes. In fact, she got the majority of Democratic votes period; Obama won by gaming the caucuses. Alas, throughout 2008 there was an inane propaganda campaign which tried to convince the country that working class racism drove the Hillary vote. I thought then -- and I think now -- that workers simply saw Obama for what he was: The Democratic Romney. He's a slick, value-free front man without convictions and without a clue.
Hillary, by contrast, was a fighter.
In rejecting her, the Democratic leadership made the same miscalculation they've been making since the days of Jimmy Carter. Independent voters don't respect mushy moderate candidates who allow themselves to wear the bootprints of blood enemies. Americans respect warriors willing to battle for principle.
As for the Republican base and its occasional disaffection for its leadership: This is a real phenomenon, albeit one that remains invisible to most liberals, because the fights are mostly kept private. Richard Viguerie, who hoped to mount a challenge to Reagan, has more recently threatened to lead the Tea Partiers away from the GOP and toward an (unspecified) independent candidate.
But he didn't do it. He will never do it. Nobody holding a position analogous to Viguerie's will actually go so far. You may see a baring of fangs and you may hear a few growls -- but nothing further will occur.
There will never be a conservative Ralph Nader.