Ilhan Omar's newest target: Barack Obama?

Second look at Ilhan Omar?

No, no, I kid. If you needed any more proof that we all died at some point and have landed in hell, know that Democrats are about to have a fight over whether Obama should have been a much more terrible — read: left-wing — president than he actually was. Which means the right will nominally be forced to side in this dispute with their least favorite POTUS in modern American history. We. Are. In. Hell.

It should go without saying but in the Democratic Party of 2019 Omar’s criticism of Obama is waaaaaaaaay more dangerous to her politically than repeatedly pushing anti-semitic stereotypes is. You want to wonder aloud about the allegiance of supporters of the Jewish state or muse about the many AIPAC “Benjamins” being used to allegedly buy off congressional leaders? Have at it. You want to cautiously observe that perhaps the first black president should have had a less itchy finger on the drone controls, though?

Then you’d best prepare for a primary, chump.

As she saw it, the party ostensibly committed to progressive values had become complicit in perpetuating the status quo. Omar says the “hope and change” offered by Barack Obama was a mirage. Recalling the “caging of kids” at the U.S.-Mexico border and the “droning of countries around the world” on Obama’s watch, she argues that the Democratic president operated within the same fundamentally broken framework as his Republican successor.

“We can’t be only upset with Trump. … His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was,” Omar says. “And that’s not what we should be looking for anymore. We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognize the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.”

Bold! Far, far too bold for most of the party, though. In a sense Omar’s critique of Obama is old news: Since the day he was inaugurated in 2009, progressives have been carping that he didn’t deliver on his promise. The stimulus should have focused more on public projects, not private investment. ObamaCare should have had a public option at a minimum, and Obama should have pushed harder for single-payer. He did nothing on gun control and immigration when he had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The Paris Accord was a useful first step but was never followed up with meaningful legislative action. And on and on. He was a disappointment! The average DSAer could chatter for hours elaborating on Omar’s points here.


DSAers are nowhere near a majority of the party, as much as they’d like to believe otherwise. Except for his wife, Obama is surely still the single most popular Democrat in the country, two years after leaving office. He had a 59 percent job approval rating on the day Trump was sworn in, which is no easy trick when the opposition party almost unanimously dislikes you. He’s a singular figure among black Democrats, a crucial voting bloc for the party next year (and every year), for obvious historical reasons. In fact, here’s a fascinating little graph that’s floating around Twitter today. Even in the era of Trump, with Republicans overwhelmingly supportive of the president, more GOPers continue to think of themselves as “conservative Republicans” than “Trump Republicans.” In the Democratic Party, though, the Obama brand is so golden that more Dems identify as “Obama Democrats” than with any other label.

Most Democrats are quite satisfied with the job he did and even more view him favorably on a personal level. Picking a fight with him is a useful way for Omar to show her progressive bona fides to the left — she won’t pull her punches even for St. Barack — but it carries a real risk of alienating other members of her party. And she won’t get the same cover from some of her left-wing allies on this as she did on the dual-loyalty insanity this week. For instance, it’s unimaginable that Bernie Sanders would validate Omar’s disdain of Obama at a moment when he’s desperate to improve his standing among black voters before the primaries. The best he might do for her is to say something like, “I take her point, but here are 75 things Obama did right. One…”

This morning I said that a primary challenge to Omar is less likely now, after the dual-loyalty saga, than it was before since now she’s become some sort of perverse champion to progressives of having “uncomfortable conversations.” Then I see her taking a shot at Obama and I start to wonder. Josh Barro thinks there may be a connection:

A battle over the Obama legacy in the primary would be more threatening to her than a battle over whether Dems should be allowed to criticize Israel, which is absolutely not what her dual-loyalty comment was about but it’s how her allies would frame the criticism of it during an election campaign. Seth Mandel also sees some promise in primarying Omar based on her Obama criticism:

Right. Some local Democrats, including progressives, who really do have a problem with the anti-semitic stereotypes she uses but don’t want to be seen as siding with her critics on that might seize on her anti-Obama heresies as a different reason for opposing her. All they need is a candidate.

Update: Ah, and here we go.