He blew it. Two days before the United States was officially set to default on its debts on August 2, President Barack Obama had the Republicans where he wanted them.

All he had to do was announce that he’d trudged the last half mile towards a deal, but that there is no pleasing fanatics who reject all possibilities of compromise. Fanatics who are ready and eager to shut down the government, to see seniors starve and veterans denied their benefits.

Obama could have proclaimed he was invoking the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states that the “validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned.”

Obama could have done that, but he didn’t. At the 11th hour and the 55th minute, he threw in the towel and gave the exultant Republicans 95 percent of what they wanted: cuts in social programs and a bipartisan congressional panel to shred, at its leisure, what remains of the social safety net.

As America plummets into phase two of the double-dip recession, Obama’s deal has stripped the country of all available remaining defenses: no job program and no hope of stimulus money for stricken states and cities across the country.

It’s as bad as the Republicans’ onslaught on Franklin Roosevelt’s Great Depression programs—an onslaught that launched the terrible downturn of 1937, from which America was extricated only by the vast war spending after Pearl Harbor.

Why did Obama do it? Like all first-term presidents, he thinks first and foremost about re-election. The thinking in the White House is that the all-important, independent voters are eager for deficit reduction, however ruinous it may be for the economy.

If Obama and his advisors think that this sell-out will yield rich political rewards, current polling is not encouraging. Eighty percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and a majority think Obama is doing a bad job. This is scarcely surprising since 30 million Americans are without work or work part-time.

But beyond coarse political calculation, it’s plain enough that Obama is a quitter by nature. As someone joked bitterly last week, he turns up for a strip poker session already down to his shorts. In the crunch, the weapon he snatches from its scabbard is the white flag, which he flourishes at the bankers, the Pentagon and America’s billionaires.

It was clear in 2006—the first time I looked at his record—that Obama was gutless and devoid of principle. By 2008, before his victory, he was already reassuring the establishment that he was set to “reform” Social Security and Medicare – i.e., to hand these entitlement programs over to Wall Street and the insurance industry.

Indeed, the best outcome for the left in 2008 would have been a victory for McCain, Obama’s Republican opponent. Under Bush’s two terms the spirit of opposition throve; the antiwar movement was flourishing; the labor movement fierce in its organizing; African-Americans militant. Bush’s hopes to privatize Social Security were dead within months of the start of his second term in 2004. But since 2008, a Democratic president has neutralized all these constituencies.

Even after last week’s frightful betrayals, there’s been barely a fretful bleat from Democrats about running a challenger to Obama in the primaries. Much like the late Ted Kennedy mounted against Carter, another Obamian sell-out, in 1979.

The time to launch a third party left challenge to Obama was back in January of 2010, when the writing was on the wall. In these very columns I remember imploring ousted progressive U.S. Senator Russell Feingold to do just that. Now, it’s far too late.

In 2013, we could be faced with Republican majorities in both houses and the prospect of Obama spending four years catering obediently to their requirements—defusing all liberal and left opposition. We need a Republican in the White House. But who?

Michele Bachmann is popular mostly with Tea Party ultras, Jon Huntsman with the Washington elites. Governor Rick Perry of Texas has yet to enter the race and is loathed by the Bush clan. The only candidate within reach of Obama is Mitt Romney, the Mormon millionaire businessman whose nomination bid fizzled in 2008.

Romney kept quiet through most of the recent brouhaha about raising the deficit ceiling, aside from a pro forma nod to Tea Party ultras near the end. He plans to placate them in early primary states like Iowa.

On casual inspection, Romney doesn’t seem to be marked for greatness, but greatness is not required of him. He just needs the tenacity to win the White House, therefore driving Obama out of national politics and destroying his appalling vision of bipartisanship as the way forward for America.