Barack Obama officially began campaigning for the Democrats Friday with his most antagonistic speech yet, aimed squarely at President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
Arguing that President Trump is “a symptom, not the cause” of the politics of division and resentment, Obama waylaid the GOP, calling on the #Resistance to vote to “restore some semblance of sanity to our politics.”
But several times in his speech, Obama fired criticisms at Trump that are directly applicable to things Obama did. His teeth-grinding hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness were front and center in moments like these:
Who’s the “demagogue?”
Obama accused Trump and the Republican Party of engaging in a politics of division and “fear and resentment.”
Even though your generation is the most diverse in history with a greater acceptance and celebration of our differences than ever before, those are the kinds of conditions that are ripe for exploitation by politicians who have no compunction and no shame about tapping into America’s dark history of racial and ethnic and religious division. Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do, that’s an old playbook.
It’s as old as time. And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in, and people of goodwill from across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers and work to compromise and get things done and promote the better angels of our nature. But when there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void.
A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold and demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. No promise to fight for the little guy, even as they cater to the wealthiest and most powerful. No promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their power further. They appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all. Sound familiar?
This, from the 2008 candidate who attacked blue-collar Americans as “bitter” and saying they “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.” This from the president who called free speech by groups that opposed him a “threat to our democracy.” This from a president who said his political opponents were “unpatriotic,” or “un-American,” or “crazies.” President Obama was the definition of the politics of resentment and demagoguery.
Taking credit for Trump’s economy?
Obama criticized the booming Trump economy and argued that he should get the credit for the advances made by Trump’s tax cuts and regulatory repeal.
Ten years ago this week a crisis that resulted in the worst recession in any of our lifetimes and caused years of hardship for the American people. For many of your parents, for many of your families. Most of you weren’t old enough to fully focus on what was going on at the time, but when I came into office in 2009, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. 800,000. Millions of people were losing their homes. Many were worried we were entering into a second great depression.
So we worked hard to end that crisis but also to break some of these longer term trends. The actions we took during that crisis returned the economy to healthy growth and initiated the longest streak of job creation on record. And we covered another 20 million Americans with health insurance and cut our deficits by more than half, partly by making sure that people like me who have been given such amazing opportunities by this country pay our fair share of taxes to help folks coming up behind me.
And by the time I left office, household income was near its all-time high, and the uninsured rate hit an all-time low, poverty rates were falling. I mention this just so when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let’s just remember when this recovery started. I’m glad it’s continued, but when you hear about this economic miracle that’s been going on, when the job numbers come out, monthly job numbers and suddenly Republicans are saying it’s a miracle, I have to kind of remind them, actually, those job numbers are the same as they were in 2015 and 2016 and — anyway. I digress.
President Obama presided over the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression. His health care legislation, Obamacare, drove up insurance costs for millions of Americans. His deficits were “halved” only after Obama passed an $800 billion fiscal stimulus for jobs that weren’t shovel-ready in his first year in office, ballooning the deficit to historic new heights. The national debt grew from $11 trillion to $20 trillion under Obama’s presidency. And critics of Obama’s pathetic economic numbers were constantly told his below-average two percent GDP growth was the “new normal,” an idea President Trump is busy proving wrong.
Criticizing Republicans on Russia?
Lecturing Republicans on what it means to be a conservative Republican, Obama said the Trump administration was “undermining our alliances, cozying up to Russia.”
They’re undermining our alliances, cozying up to Russia. What happened to the Republican party? Its central organizing principle in foreign policy was the fight against communism, and now they’re cozying up to the former head of the KGB.
Actively blocking legislation that would defend our elections from Russian attack. What happened?
Obama may not be aware, but “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” And how’d his administration’s “reset” with Russia turn out? Russia annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine, meddled in Syria, and interfered in the United States election in 2016. Don’t forget that Obama’s team was warned about Russian interference in 2014 and did nothing to prevent it.
Restoring “honesty” and “lawfulness” in government?
Making a plea for bipartisan resistance to Trump, Obama said something incredible.
But I am here to tell you that even if you don’t agree with me or Democrats on policy, even if you believe in more libertarian economic theories, even if you are an evangelical and our position on certain social issues is a bridge too far, even if you think my assessment of immigration is mistaken and the Democrats aren’t serious enough about immigration enforcement, I’m here to tell you that you should still be concerned with our current course and should still want to see a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.
It should not be Democratic or Republican. It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents. Or to explicitly call on the attorney general to protect members of our own party from prosecution because an election happens to be coming up. I’m not making that up. That’s not hypothetical.
It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people. It shouldn’t be democratic or Republican to say we don’t target certain groups of people based on what they look like or how they pray.
“Honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.” President Obama was a lawless president. He used his “pen and phone” to circumvent the will of Congress. He sicced his IRS on conservative organizations for opposing his agenda. He ran a gun-running “Fast and Furious” program that put illegal firearms in the hands of violent criminals. His administration spied on Fox News reporter James Rosen. His communications director Anita Dunn said the Obama White House would treat Fox News “the way we would treat an opponent.” Obama lied about keeping your doctor, lied about the Iran nuclear deal, lied about NSA spying, lied about how easy it is to buy a gun, and lied repeatedly throughout his presidency.
Bringing people together?
Here’s Obama trying to portray himself as the elder statesman in the room, reaching across the aisle and bringing America together:
I’ll be honest, sometimes I get into arguments with progressive friends about what the current political movement requires. There are well-meaning folks passionate about social justice who think things have gotten so bad, the lines have been so starkly drawn, that we have to fight fire with fire. We have to do the same things to the Republicans that they do to adopt their tactics. Say whatever works. Make up stuff about the other.
I don’t agree with that. It’s not because I’m soft. It’s not because I’m interested in promoting an empty bipartisanship. I don’t agree with it because eroding our civic institutions and our civic trust and making people angrier and yelling at each other and making people cynical about government, that always works better for those who don’t believe in the power of collective action.
You don’t need an effective government or a robust press or reasoned debate to work when all you’re concerned about is maintaining power. In fact, the more cynical people are about government, the angrier and more dispirited they are about the prospects for change, the more likely the powerful are able to maintain their power.
But we believe that in order to move this country forward, to actually solve problems and make people’s lives better, we need a well-functioning government. We need our civic institutions to work. We need cooperation among people of different political persuasions. And to make that work, we have to restore our faith in democracy. We have to bring people together, not tear them apart. We need majorities in Congress and state legislatures who are serious about governing and want to bring about real change and improvements in people’s lives. And we won’t win people over by calling them names or dismissing entire chunks of the country as racist or sexist or homophobic.
Whenever the opportunity arose to unite the country, President Obama instead offered politicized lectures that divided America. Obama implied those who disagreed with his policies were racist. He told Latino voters to “punish” their “enemies.” He attacked Christians on Easter. His administration ignored or downplayed violence at Black Lives Matter protests. He accused Republicans of being the “most potent recruitment tool” for ISIS. He said a vote for Mitt Romney in 2012 would “turn back the clock 50 years for women, gays and immigrants.” But now he’s “bipartisan” and telling Democrats not to dismiss Trump supporters “as racist or sexist or homophobic.”
President Obama wanted to motivate Democrats to go vote in November and retake Congress to stop Trump’s presidency. Instead, he reminded America just how much better off the country is now that he is not president and why we need to keep Democrats out of power.
Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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