With the former president recently making public comments triggering to the radical left — including that all that hashtag “woke” activism isn’t actually activism — The Washington Post felt compelled to give Americans on the left side of the aisle a little more “perspective” on the man whose legislative legacy Donald Trump has almost completely wiped out. The reason Democratic presidential candidates have been struggling so hard to figure out how to discuss Barack Obama, David Swerdlick writes for the Post, is that Obama isn’t what they think he is.
“Perspective: Democratic presidential candidates still can’t figure out how to talk about the most popular figure in their party, [Swerdlick] writes, and there’s a simple reason,” the Post tweeted Sunday. “Barack Obama is a conservative.”
Perspective: Democratic presidential candidates still can’t figure out how to talk about the most popular figure in their party, @Swerdlick writes, and there's a simple reason.
Barack Obama is a conservative. https://t.co/45gsMfhQ2c
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) November 22, 2019
As Swerdlick highlights, Obama has tweaked some of his fellow progressives in recent public comments about the flawed assumptions and approaches of Democrats and their supporters.
“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly,” the former president told a group of young activist at an Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago in late October. “The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”
As if that wasn’t enough to outrage the permanently outraged, Obama added a sobering reality check to those increasingly steering the party toward more overtly socialist policies: The Democratic presidential candidates would be wise to come back more to the center because “[t]his is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement.”
It’s becoming increasingly clear, writes Swerdlick, that the leading Democratic contenders “can’t quite figure out how to talk about the most popular figure in their party,” which poses a major problem because he “casts a long shadow over the 2020 primary campaign”:
Preserving Obama’s legacy is the heart of former vice president Joe Biden’s pitch to voters — which has allowed his rivals to mark him as complacent. More left-leaning candidates, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), say the next president needs to do more to push for health-care reforms and combat income inequality — but lately, she’s struggling to sell her proposals. Onetime Obama Cabinet secretary Julián Castro has ripped his former boss’s record on immigration and deportation. Meanwhile, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg raced to have a reporter correct a story that misquoted him citing “failures of the Obama era.” Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.) said in Wednesday’s debate that it’s crucial to “rebuild the Obama coalition” because “that’s the last time we won.” Picking and choosing which parts of Obama’s tenure to embrace, and how firmly to embrace them, has become a delicate game in the primary season.
So why are they struggling to much to frame both their praise and criticism of The One? Because none of them have accepted what Swerdlick believes to be the hard truth about Obama.
“It’s because the former president, going back at least to his 2004 Senate race, hasn’t really occupied the left side of the ideological spectrum,” he insists. While he was of course no Republican, “Obama never dramatically departed from the approach of presidents who came before him.”
“There’s a simple reason: Barack Obama is a conservative,” Swerdlick declares. His “evidence,” that while Obama embraced left-wing positions like the Paris climate accords, Dodd-Frank, pro-choice policies, and same-sex marriage (after opposing it), his “constant search for consensus” ultimately made him be “conservative” on key domestic initiatives, like Obamacare and gun control, and foreign policy…
The underlying concept for his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, with its individual mandate, was devised by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and first implemented at the state level by Mitt Romney, then the Republican governor of Massachusetts. Obama wanted to protect Americans from the effects of a prolonged recession, so he agreed, in one of his defining votes as a senator, to a bailout of banks — and as president, he prioritized recovery over punishing bankers for their role in the financial crisis. In his first inaugural address, he affirmed the power of the free market “to generate wealth and expand freedom.”
Until the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, Obama studiously avoided any push for gun control. Indeed, in his first term, he signed laws that loosened restrictions on bringing firearms to national parks and on Amtrak. Though cast as a “dithering” peacenik who led “from behind,” he stuck with his thesis that the imperative “to end the war in Iraq is to be able to get more troops into Afghanistan,” and he prosecuted a drone war in Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Obama was a “conservative” in the end, suggests Swerdlick, because he “believes, fundamentally, that the American model works — even if it hasn’t been allowed to work for everyone.”