We may scoff at the rabble of Democrat challengers for the US election next year: fake squaw Elizabeth Warren, boring Joe Biden, woke contenders such as Kamala Harris and the ‘last saloon’ socialist Bernie Sanders. Take a step back, and see how they pale in comparison to Barack Obama.
Yes, I know, conservatives are not expected to appreciate Obama. His presidency was fiercely attacked by the Right, generating the Tea Party movement and laying the foundations for the great disruptor Donald Trump. Simultaneously revered by the Left as the face of the future and of the decline of America as a superpower, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for not being George Bush. Yet despite being at opposite poles personally and politically, Obama shares some significant similarities with his White House successor: –
- He is not Hillary Clinton. Unexpectedly, Obama defeated the dynastic favourite for the Democrat candidacy in 2008. Trump likewise beat Clinton against the odds in 2016. Her sense of entitlement was clear in both contests, but she is a wooden campaigner with deficient insight and charisma (unlike her husband Bill). Her opponents were able to reach across to traditional voting patterns: Obama overcame Clinton’s complacency and went on to win several red states; Trump snatched the Democrat heartlands of Pennsylvania and the Great Lakes. Hillary throve in moneyed Manhattan but was uncomfortable on the road or off script.
- He cut the head off the Islamist snake. Obama extinguished Osama bin Laden, Trump al-Bakr Baghdadi and his use of drones against the Islamists tipped the balance of the war against Isis. These were not merely military bonuses but top priorities for both presidencies, in a way that the current crop of Democrat candidates (and some Republican challengers to Trump in 2016) wouldn’t understand.
- He regards woke ideology as divisive and counterproductive, just as Trump sees it as un-American.
Early in his presidency, Obama was mocked by Republican ‘hockey mum’ Sarah Palin for his optimistic sloganeering: ‘How’s that hopey-change thing working out for y’all?’ But Obama did not need to ride in on naïve youthful movements such as gender fluidity or climate alarmism that has now swept over Western society.
Last week, in an incisive speech at the Obama Foundation in Chicago, Obama criticised the attitudes of the woke generation. As Charlotte Gill wrote in The Sun, ‘despite being something of a messianic figure among the progressive young, Obama attacked the very culture they aspire to’. He observed that millennials on social media are obsessed with purity, believing that ‘the way of making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people’. There is no room for redemption from ideological puritans who, like children, cannot accept that the world is ‘messy’, and that ‘people who do really good stuff have flaws’.
Obama’s presidency was a post-racial success story. Inevitably promoted by progressives and left-wing media as the first black president, Obama rarely played the race card. Inspired by the Christian oratory of Martin Luther King, Obama had no truck with the idea of victimhood. Like Kanye West, Obama he spoke some inconvenient truths. He challenged the notion perpetuated by the intelligentsia that the disproportionate number of black men in jail is simply a result of racial discrimination. Citizens must take responsibility: the ghetto mentality is as much a choice as is striving for a better life.
After the massacre of nine congregants at the Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by a white supremacist, Obama showed admirable constraint. In his eulogy he spoke of the importance of the church to black communities, but he emphasised common humanity: ‘If we find grace, anything is possible’. He refused to exploit YouTube clips of police over-zealously apprehending a hoodlum in the violent urban enclaves of Watts or Fergusson as evidence of institutional racism. A ‘them against us’ outlook is a zero-sum game.
Obama was not merely produced as a black alternative to the first female presidential candidate. He fought his way in Chicago politics, a tough terrain that would have made 1980s Glaswegian Labour look like a picnic in the park. He was acutely aware of the nearby Rustbelt and its deprivations, while Hillary was at home with the metropolitan elite. After studying law at Harvard, Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004, so he had direct experience of campus culture. He was conscious that the middle-class virtue-signallers among students and lecturers had no genuine interest in the seemingly interminable carnage on the nearby streets of south Chicago.
Obama was a positive role model for compromise and harmonious community relations, but sadly the progressive Left and Black Lives Matter agitators find it easier to hate. Typifying the reaction to Trump is the book The People are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore, in which liberal writer Jared Yates Sexton cannot see past his prejudices that anyone wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap is a racist bigot. Democrats seem likely to make the same mistake in choosing a challenger who will exacerbate a polarised and poisoned political atmosphere. Obama would have read the situation and reached out.
Forget the Twittersphere, CNN, MSNBC and the Washington Post, Democrats must connect with ordinary Americans again. Otherwise, their unwoke, populist nemesis is a shoe-in for four more years. Contrasting the perpetual cycle of Trump rallies in sold-out stadia with the bickering goons at the Democratic convention, Obama must sit back and sigh. Winning is easy when you know how.
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