The joke goes thusly: If Barack Obama were running in the 2020 Democrat primaries, he’d be too far to the right for most of the activist base to consider him a viable candidate.
I mean, three years ago, we were all busy grumbling about the onerous provisions of the Affordable Care Act. If things go south in 2020, we won’t have to worry about private health insurance at all since it’ll be abolished in favor of “Medicare for All,” a program that will cost untold trillions of dollars and leave all of our health care in the capable hands of the people who couldn’t even get the website for Obamacare right.
You know who agrees with that joke now? Barack Obama.
On Friday, The Washington Post reported, the former president was in Washington attending a meeting of the Democracy Alliance. That’s a donor network that’s about as establishmenty as three minor Kennedys meeting with four minor Kennedys, so take what came next as you will.
However, Obama said in his remarks — delivered in conversation with everyone’s favorite failed gubernatorial candidate, Stacey Abrams — that 2020 Democrats should pay attention “to where voters actually are.”
Translation: They’re not where the 2020 candidates are.
“This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement,” Obama said, according to CBS News.
“They like seeing things improved, but the average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it. And I think it’s important for us not to lose sight of that.”
Before we continue with Obama’s remarks, I want to remind you that this is the man who said, on Oct. 30, 2008, “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” He’s the dude telling 2020 Democrats to slow their roll. You don’t even need to let that sink in. It should sink in for you.
Instead of the kind of ultra-transformational change that the 2020 field seems to be promoting, Obama said candidates should be pursuing “modest” results.
“I want proposals that are bolder with respect to reducing inequality and giving people more opportunity and allowing us to make more investments in our infrastructure and our education systems and others,” he said.
“Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality and the fact that voters, including the Democratic voters and certainly persuadable independents or even moderate Republicans, are not driven by the same views that are reflected on certain, you know, left-leaning Twitter feeds. Or the activist wing of our party,” Obama continued.
“That’s not a criticism to the activist wing. Their job is to poke and prod and test and inspire and motivate. But the candidate’s job, whoever it ends up being, is to get elected.”
I’m not willing to give the guy responsible for eight years of Obamaness laudatory mic-drop status, but that at least deserves to be deemed a solid clapback.
All right, so ignore the whole part about being “bolder with respect to reducing inequality.”
This is Barack Obama. In the period between Jan. 20, 2017, and now, I’m just going to assume he hasn’t become an acolyte of Thomas Sowell. What he basically said is that the vast majority of 2020 candidates are at a place where their electoral chances aren’t exactly stellar.
Among the individuals who still have a chance for the nomination, Obama’s vice president is the only one who shares this vision. That’s another takeaway from Obama’s comments as well, if you want to read into them — he’s essentially giving you his assessment of Joe Biden’s chances and how much he thinks of the man who was, at a point in time, one blockage of the left anterior descending artery away from being the most powerful man on earth.
When talking to “60 Minutes,” Biden said he told Obama not to endorse him in the primary. I’ve asked the former president not to endorse me in the primaries either, and both queries were about as necessary.
As for whom Obama meant, well, The Washington Post had roughly the same ideas we all had — although the newspaper provided a bit of analysis that was actually perceptive for the Democracy Dies in Darkness™ folks.
“Obama did not name any candidates. But some Democrats associate the characteristics he described with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), staunch liberal candidates advocating sweeping change who are running near the top of the polls,” Sean Sullivan wrote in the Saturday piece.
“Beyond those two candidates, the contest has often been dominated by a discussion of ideas that were long seen as untenable, even in Democratic circles. Candidates have called for mandatory buybacks of certain firearms, decriminalizing border crossings and forgiving most or all student debt. In some cases, the proposals have come at a cost of tens of trillions of dollars, vast sums of money that would dwarf what Obama’s administration spent and require historically steep tax increases on wealthy Americans. While some voters and activists have cheered this trend, President Trump and his allies have been eager to highlight these themes.”
Yes, Trump and his allies certainly have been — in the same way Johnny Cochran was eager to highlight that, if the glove didn’t fit, you must acquit.
For an activist base that’s unusually riled up in the age of Trump — and is also young and urban-centric enough that canceling student debt and hell yes, taking your AR-15s seem like good ideas — Sanders, Warren and whoever else isn’t, say, Steve Bullock, seem perfectly reasonable. Have fun trying to make this work in swing states.
The marvelous thing about Obama’s warning is that absolutely nobody’s going to listen to the only electorally successful progressive president since FDR. At the same time that Barack Obama was telling the party to hold its free-range horses, Sen. Warren was telling voters she would “fight to pass legislation that would complete the transition to full Medicare for All” in three years.
Can’t get that through a filibuster? Don’t worry about that sort of balderdash — Warren says she’s going to push to do away with the filibuster for all legislation, meaning all her administration would need is a simple majority in both houses to do away with the entire private insurance industry and eliminate 2 million jobs.
That whole thing about Barack Obama being too conservative in 2020 — not just for the liberal base but for the candidates — isn’t just a joke anymore. If you take away one thought from this piece, I want it to be this:
At this point in 2015, Democrats thought Donald Trump was a joke. They’re not laughing now. We shouldn’t be either.