Dithering: Barack Obama Is Stuck In The Past Of The Old Democratic Party

Obama and the centrist Democrats he backs are something like the old “Rockefeller Republicans” of the 70s and early 80s. They didn’t realize how out of step with the times they were until it was too late.

By Bhaskar Sunkara
The Guardian (4/8/19)

Barack Obama is worried about the Democratic party. This weekend, he told a crowd at an Obama Foundation event in Berlin that the party is becoming a “circular firing squad” targeting those “straying from purity” on certain issues.

Leading figures around the party have indeed moved to the left since he left office two years ago. Thanks in no small part to the Bernie Sanders campaign and the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Medicare for All, free public higher education, a $15 minimum wage, and action on climate change have become mainstream positions.

Incrementalism during the Obama years was small steps to nowhere, ones that far from cementing a new progressive majority actually helped open the door to the populist right.

The self-described “political mainstream” hasn’t caught up to this new reality, however. Obama’s former vice-president, Joe Biden, hasn’t announced his presidential candidacy yet, and is getting attacked not just for his behavior toward women but for a decades-long record that includes support for military interventions, mass incarceration, immigrant deportations, and more. The subtext of Obama’s remarks is this undermining of Biden.

Are things getting meaner? Maybe, the internet is a pretty terrible place. But few campaign seasons were more vitriolic than the 2008 Democratic primaries. Hillary Clinton called Obama “elitist and out of touch”, who couldn’t reach “hard-working Americans, white Americans”. For his part, Obama campaign’s negative ads about Clinton were recirculated by Trump in 2016.

The illusionary ‘center’

By comparison, Bernie played softball in 2016. But he certainly gave voice to grassroots anger. People are fed up with the status quo, and they’re starting to demand more of their politicians. Incumbents used to moving to an imaginary center are running up against the fact that their “center” is an illusion. When most Americans support Medicare for All and a jobs guarantee, when they want an end to overseas wars, welcome unions, and even are starting to get comfortable with the idea of socialism, is it really “centrist” to stubbornly oppose all these things? …

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