Obama is stump­ing for Democrats

The former U.S. pres­i­dent cam­paigns for the Demo­cratic Party.

Vocable (All English) - - Sommaire - DICK POLMAN

Barack Obama has re­turned to pol­i­tics. Just a few weeks away from the midterm elec­tions, the former pres­i­dent has rolled up his sleeves and started cam­paign­ing for the Demo­cratic Party. He gave a notable speech at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois on 7 Septem­ber, call­ing for Amer­i­cans to vote against the present ‘po­lit­i­cal dark­ness’. Will Obama’s pop­u­lar­ity give the Democrats a de­ci­sive edge in these elec­tions?

When Chance the Rap­per ap­peared last Novem­ber on Satur­day Night Live and sang a tune ti­tled “Come Back, Barack,” he spoke for all the bereft Democrats who be­lieved that only Barack Obama had the req­ui­site cre­den­tials and charisma to lead the fight against Trump­ism. Now nearly a year later, their wish has come true. He has in­ter­rupted his ex­cel­lent re­tire­ment to stump in the midterms for a Demo­cratic Congress, to stoke anti–Don­ald Trump turnout with with­er­ing cri­tiques of the man­i­festly un­pop­u­lar pres­i­dent.

2. The irony is that Obama will be de­vot­ing much of this au­tumn to one of his least fa­vorite pur­suits: cam­paign­ing for down-bal­lot can­di­dates. The irony of Obama wad­ing into the 2018 con­gres­sional midterms is that, as pres­i­dent, he dis­dained the kind of grass­roots party build­ing and par­ti­san en­gage­ment that might’ve blunted the mas­sacres Democrats suf­fered in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. At the dawn of the Obama era, the ma­jor­ity Democrats held 257 House seats; dur­ing his fi­nal two years, the mi­nor­ity Democrats held 188 seats. When he was first sworn into of­fice, Democrats en­joyed a near-fil­i­buster-proof Se­nate ma­jor­ity; when his time ran out, their Se­nate seats had dwin­dled to 44.

3. Demo­cratic strate­gists are pleased that Obama is cur­rently team­ing up with his ex– at­tor­ney gen­eral Eric Holder to tar­get state leg­isla­tive races, try­ing to re­coup what has been lost, but there’s also a wide­spread feel­ing that the ex­pres­i­dent’s ef­forts are a tad late.

PAINFUL PAST

4. Obama has ac­knowl­edged that he al­lowed the party to wither; shortly be­fore Trump was in­au­gu­rated, he told ABC News: “I take some re­spon­si­bil­ity on that. I couldn’t be both chief or­ga­nizer of the Demo­cratic Party and func­tion as com­man­der in chief of the United States.”

5. Democrats are de­ter­mined to look for­ward— in­deed, the prospects for a blue wave are bullish, es­pe­cially with Obama cam­paign­ing against Repub­li­cans in the 23 House dis­tricts where Hil­lary Clin­ton won the 2016 pres­i­den­tial vote—but the re­cent past is too painful to ig­nore. Steve Rosen­thal, a vet­eran Demo­cratic or­ga­nizer and a former po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tor of the AFL-CIO, tells me: “We’ll be dig­ging out of it for some time to come. Too fre­quently, Pres­i­dent Obama tried to stay above the fray, and that didn’t help.”

6. Granted, he says, most pres­i­dents don’t spend much en­ergy build­ing the party that helped elect them: “Maybe with the ex­cep­tion of Ge­orge W. Bush dur­ing his first term [the 2002 midterms that fol­lowed 9/11], I don’t think there’s been a pres­i­dent in ei­ther party in re­cent mem­ory [who] in­vested prop­erly. They have gen­er­ally viewed the par­ties as wholly owned sub­sidiaries of their per­sonal brand for re­elec­tion pur­poses.”

The prospects for a blue wave are bullish.

NO BA­SIC PO­LIT­I­CAL TASKS

7. But, pri­vately, a num­ber of Demo­cratic strate­gists are still grum­bling about the ba­sic po­lit­i­cal tasks that Obama re­fused to per­form. The fate of down-bal­lot Democrats never greatly con­cerned him; many in the party at­tribute that to his “soli­tary” na­ture,” and his “brand” as an out­sider in­dif­fer­ent to the ways of Wash­ing­ton. Once in of­fice, he rarely forged ties to Democrats on Capi­tol Hill. He spent most of the 2014 au­tumn-midterm sprint on the golf course—not just be­cause he pre­ferred to be aloof from the fray, but be­cause his ap­proval rat­ing hov­ered at 43 per­cent.

8. As one strate­gist tells me, there is “a gen­er­a­tion of cam­paign op­er­a­tives who came out of the Obama ex­pe­ri­ence and thought they had de­vel­oped the ‘se­cret sauce,’ ig­nor­ing the fact that they had a [uniquely] gifted and charis­matic can­di­date.” That jibes with what Con­gress­man Scott Peters of Cal­i­for­nia told The New York Times last year, when he ar­gued that ev­ery­one should share the blame: “We got a bit lazy and found our­selves re­ly­ing on Barack Obama’s charisma, and it left us in bad shape.”

THE MOST POP­U­LAR DEMO­CRAT LEADER

9. But while these mem­o­ries are still fresh for those who work on the in­side, and while there are new com­plaints that his post-pres­i­den­tial foun­da­tion is com­pet­ing with the party for do­na­tions, most Democrats are anx­ious to move on. Obama now has a golden op­por­tu­nity to make amends for his flaws, and be­sides, the av­er­age per­suad­able voter has no in­ter­est in the party’s in­tra­mu­ral com­plaints.

10. Lin­den­feld tells me: “His voice to­day seems to be both pow­er­ful and com­par­a­tively ap­peal­ing not just to Democrats, but most im­por­tantly to in­de­pen­dents”—only 31 per­cent of whom now sup­port Trump, down from 47 per­cent last month—“and to those who voted for Trump and now have buyer’s re­morse. Re­gard­less of what any­one says, and I may have my crit­i­cisms … our party has no lead­ers who are more pop­u­lar and ca­pa­ble and com­pelling than Obama. I would dis­miss the belly­ach­ing and ap­pre­ci­ate the value.”

11. Obama won’t be wel­come ev­ery­where, of course—he won’t set foot in states like Trumpfriendly West Vir­ginia, where he’d likely hin­der the Demo­crat Joe Manchin’s bid for a new Se­nate term—but the map is stud­ded with op­por­tu­ni­ties for Obama to help turn the House blue, not just in the Repub­li­can dis­tricts that Hil­lary Clin­ton won, but in nor­mally Repub­li­can sub­ur­ban en­claves where white col­legee­d­u­cated women de­test Trump.

12. Midterms are typ­i­cally a ref­er­en­dum on the cur­rent pres­i­dent, and Trump’s mo­ment of reck­on­ing seems close at hand. The tim­ing is pro­pi­tious for Obama to stump with the wind at his back, and for Democrats to show­case his strengths and let by­gones be by­gones.

(SIPA)

Former U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama golf­ing with former NBA basketball player Alonzo Mourn­ing in the midst of the 2014 midterm cam­paign, Au­gust 23, 2014.

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