President Obama took to a stage at the University of Illinois on Friday, Sept. 7. In doing so, he did what many accuse the sitting president of doing; he violated a norm. For all eight years of Obama’s presidency, George W. Bush sat on the sidelines without saying a word. Now, less than two years into President Trump’s term, Obama is back on the campaign trial stumping for Democrats.
That being said, the former President said a lot of things that are true. Trump is a symptom, not a cause, of many of the ills American faces. What Obama does not do is face what he may have done to drive such sentiment.
For example, Obama said, “…And we won’t win people over by calling them names, or dismissing entire chunks of the country as racist, or sexist, or homophobic”
This is true, and good strategy for Democrats. But what exactly was Obama doing back in 2008 when he said that something very similar?
“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
Obama was doing exactly what he is telling us not to do now. And it’s far from the only time in this speech that he accuses others of doing what he himself has done.
What exactly was the intent of saying that Trayvon Martin, a man who assaulted a neighborhood watchman and was later found by Obama’s own justice department to have been shot in self defense, could have been his own son?
Obama seems by all accounts to be a reasonable good father, and his children seem to be of good character, so the idea that his son would be assaulting people didn’t seem very credible. The answer seems to be that Obama hoped to make the tragedy about race, because Martin was black and the neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman, was a “white hispanic.”
Or again, with the case of Michael Brown, who was also shot in a clear cut case of self defense by officer Darren Wilson. When the verdict of Wilson came down, Obama said he knew people would be disappointed by the verdict and that people “aren’t making these problems up,” despite all of the autopsy evidence supporting Wilson’s account of the events. In other words, Obama is hardly one to be talking in regards to dividing Americans by race.
But all of that aside, does Obama’s participation really help Democrats in the midterms?
Is any of this even good strategy?
There’s a credible case it isn’t.
Obama also campaigned for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and she still had such horrible turnout that Trump was able to pick off several reliably blue states.
In 2010 and 2014, as well, Obama was unable to save the Democrats from losing seats in congress.
It seems like Obama’s political magic only works when he’s on the ballot. Under those circumstances, he can drive such high turnout Republicans can’t win. But when he’s campaigning for someone else, nobody gets that excited and are more likely to stay home.
Obama is a skillful politician, skillful enough where he can get away with all of the behavior outlined above. I don’t think most other Democrats are of the same caliber.
The good news for Democrats is that anger at President Trump will probably more than fix their turnout problem when Obama is off the ballot. But the downside is that the reappearance of Obama could very well galvanize Republicans who would otherwise be apathetic, but are still angry with him.
One of the problems Republicans have had since 2016 is that they spent so much time opposing Obama they glossed over very real differences between themselves that burst out after they took power. Obama could very well meld that coalition back together again, which would not be good for national Democrats.
Obama’s brand of politics works for Obama and only Obama. When other Democrats try it, they lose spectacularly. This is why when Obama left the presidency, the Republicans were in the strongest position they’ve been since the 1920s, an analysis by RealClearPolitics found.
If Obama cares about his party, he should fade into the background and let them move toward something else.