Is Barack Obama imparting wisdom in his Snapchat interview with Peter Hamby, or only restating the obvious? Don’t bet on it being the latter, at least not among the audience Obama hopes to reach with this advice. “The key is deciding,” Obama says, “do you want to actually get something done — or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with?”
Chanting “Defund the police” and attacking law enforcement rather than sticking to policies of reform is very much the latter, Obama tells Hamby:
Former President Barack Obama suggested in a new interview that “defund the police” was little more than a “snappy slogan” that polarized many Americans and was ineffectual at producing broader reforms to the criminal justice system in the United States. …
“If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it’s not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan, like ‘defund the police,’” Obama said. “But, you know, you lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done.”
“The key is deciding, do you want to actually get something done, or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with?” he added. “And if you want to get something done in a democracy, in a country as big and diverse as ours, then you’ve got to be able to meet people where they are. And play a game of addition and not subtraction.”
That’s called Politics 101, isn’t it? Heck, even Lennon and McCartney got that much right: “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.” Chanting divisive slogans is bad enough, but Democrats didn’t just chant — they put “defund the police” policies in effect in cities like Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, and others. The impact of those policies has been disastrous, which means this isn’t just a rhetoric issue.
But even in the electoral context, it’s pretty clear that the lesson isn’t obvious to the chanters:
We lose people in the hands of police. It’s not a slogan but a policy demand. And centering the demand for equitable investments and budgets for communities across the country gets us progress and safety. https://t.co/Vu6inw4ms7
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) December 2, 2020
The murders of generations of unarmed Black folks by police have been horrific. Lives are at stake daily so I’m out of patience with critiques of the language of activists.
Whatever a grieving family says is their truth.
And I’ll never stop fighting for their justice & healing.
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) December 2, 2020
With all due respect, Mr. President—let’s talk about losing people. We lost Michael Brown Jr. We lost Breonna Taylor. We’re losing our loved ones to police violence.
It’s not a slogan. It’s a mandate for keeping our people alive. Defund the police. https://t.co/Wsxp1Y1bBi
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) December 2, 2020
All of these Squad members and wanna-bes miss Obama’s point. Protesting the treatment of George Floyd is one thing, but declaring autonomous zones, burning cities, and mindlessly defunding law enforcement rather than wisely choosing better policing policies is quite another thing. One might have thought that these Democrats would have looked at their shrunken House majority and figured that much out for themselves. Instead, Obama has to play Captain Obvious to the oblivious.
The most intriguing part of Obama’s interview with Hamby wasn’t on this obvious point. It was on another obvious point about attracting young people to the Democratic Party. It’s tough to do that when the encrusted septuagenarian/octagenarian leadership at the top refuses to make room for them, Obama says, as Hamby flashes pictures of Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein on the screen. “We stick so long with the same old folks,” Obama observes, “and don’t make room for new voices.” Maybe Obama can bring that up with Nancy Pelosi before she officially runs for House Speaker, and before Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn cling to their caucus leadership positions.