Former President Barack Obama has been largely silent as a crowded Democratic field jockeys for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. In recent weeks, however, Mr. Obama has offered a few public thoughts on today’s political climate — and his sensible comments, if Democrats take them to heart, could foreshadow difficulties for President Donald Trump next November.
Democrats still puzzle over how they lost the 2016 election to a coarse, pugnacious neophyte who disdains traditional political norms. It didn’t help, of course, that they nominated Hillary Clinton, an entitled, overconfident candidate with sky-high unfavorables. Since his stunning victory, Mr. Trump hasn’t made much progress when it comes to expanding his loyal base, so some Democrats fret that the president’s most promising road to re-election is for them to once again offer him the gift of an opponent who repels too many independent voters.
Such a scenario is not merely academic. Two of the party’s leading candidates are Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, both of whom are openly hostile to the American traditions of capitalism, free enterprise and individual liberty. Their apparent popularity has pulled other, more moderate Democratic hopefuls to the left, as they look to appeal to party extremists by advocating vast expansions of the administrative state, a thorough overhaul of the U.S. economy in the name of fighting climate change and a federal takeover of the health care industry.
Will it even be possible for the eventual nominee to follow the traditional course and backtrack toward the middle during the general election in search of moderate voters?
Enter Mr. Obama.
Appearing in Washington this month before the liberal Democracy Alliance, the former president made clear that he believes his party risks being drowned as it submerges into the progressive depths.
“The average American,” he said, “doesn’t think that we have to completely tear down the system and remake it. There are a lot of persuadable voters, and there are a lot of Democrats out there who, they just want to see things make sense. They just don’t want to see crazy stuff.”
This is particularly true in vital swing states in the South and Midwest, far removed from the party’s elite, leftist coastal strongholds — you know, where that strange species of unenlightened “deplorables” who don’t know what’s good for them go about their daily business.
Mr. Obama’s comments came shortly after he called out authoritarian progressivism masked as tolerance — known as “woke” or “cancel” culture in today’s parlance — during an October speech at the Obama Foundation Summit in Illinois.
“The idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff,” he said, “you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and share certain things with you.”
He continued: “I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people — and this is accelerated by social media — there is a sense sometimes of the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people and that’s enough. Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or use the wrong verb, then I can feel pretty good about myself, ’cause man, did you see how woke I was? I called you out. That’s not activism. … If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far.”
Not surprisingly, the fervent revolutionaries on the left dismissed Mr. Obama’s remarks — one disparaged him on the pages of The New York Times as too old to understand. After all, what does the former two-term president know about appealing to a broad base or winning national elections?
It’s a notable indication of just how deranged so much political discourse has become so quickly today that arguably the most liberal U.S. president in history feels compelled to urge the party faithful to tap the brakes. The question becomes: Will Democrats recognize the value of Mr. Obama’s guidance or will they risk waking up next Nov. 4 to their worst nightmare?