News and Commentary

Barack Obama: Biden’s And Sanders’ Agendas ‘Not That Different From A 40,000-Foot Level’
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the stage as he attends an Obama Foundation event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 13 December 2019. Obama and his wife Michelle are in Kuala Lumpur for the inaugural Leaders: Asia-Pacific conference, focused on promoting women's education in the region. (Photo by Zahim Mohd/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Zahim Mohd/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama said that Democratic nominee Joe Biden and self-proclaimed socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) had similar “goals.”

Obama’s comments about Biden’s agenda were reported in a profile of Biden’s candidacy published in The New Yorker on Aug. 23. Biden has described himself as a “transitional” candidate toward a more progressive idea of government and has picked Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who has one of the most progressive voting records in the Senate, to run as his vice president.

“If you look at Joe Biden’s goals and Bernie Sanders’s goals, they’re not that different, from a forty-thousand-foot level,” Obama told The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos. “They both want to make sure everybody has health care. They want to make sure everybody can get a job that pays a living wage. They want to make sure every child gets a good education.”

Biden’s campaign during the Democratic primary cast itself as the moderate option, and many reporters and pundits consistently echoed the label. Outlets such as The New York Times and The Associated Press took the characterization a step farther and even cast Harris as a “pragmatic moderate” and “centrist” when she was named to the ticket.

Obama’s former speechwriter, Jon Favreau, called the framing from media outlets “hilarious” and said that the Harris pick was a clear victory for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party during an Aug. 13 episode of the progressive podcast “Pod Save America,” which Favreau co-hosts.

“If you want to call Kamala Harris’ record in the Senate and her policies that she’s supporting now centrist or moderate, great. If that’s where the Overton Window has moved, then congratulations to all the progressive activists because you have f***in’ moved the s*** out of that window, that supporting the Green New Deal and, basically, Medicare For All is now moderate and centrist. Fantastic, I’ll take it,” Favreau said.

Obama acknowledged Biden’s leftward shift but said that the move was less reflective of a change in the Democratic nominee’s ideals and has more to do with the political environment inside the Democratic Party.

“A lot of times, the issue has to do with ‘How do we go about that, and what are the coalitions we need?’” Obama said. “What I think the moment has done is to change some of those calculations, not because necessarily Joe’s changed but because circumstances have changed.”

Obama also compared his own agenda while he was in office to Sanders’ socialist goals, saying that the Obama agenda “was at least as bold and aggressive as many of the young people’s agendas right now.” He blamed Congressional Republicans for derailing his agenda.

“If you asked Joe and I what regrets we might have, or what lessons we learned from my Administration, it’s not that we were insufficiently bold in what we proposed. It’s that we continued to believe in the capacity of Republicans in Congress to play by the rules, and to be willing to negotiate and compromise,” the former president said.

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