Former President Barack Obama believes Democrats can be a bit of a “buzzkill,” too easily offended by accidental slights and the complicated scenarios of modern life, he said in a podcast interview late last week.
“How does politics even work – how is it even relevant to the things that matter most to me? My family, my kids, job that gives me satisfaction, having fun, not buzzkill, right?” Obama said in an interview with Pod Save America. “And sometimes Democrats are, right? You know, sometimes people just don’t want to feel like they’re walking on eggshells. And they want a reassurance that life is messy and that we can all say things wrong and make mistakes at any point.”
Obama is publicly addressing a concern that has been privately voiced by Democratic strategists for some time – that the party’s liberal base is so focused on “vigilance” and the ability to offend certain interest groups that they are losing the broader thread of which ones Voters actually care about speaking.
James Carville, a longtime Democratic Party strategist, has been more outspoken – certainly than Obama – in denouncing the wakefulness focus.
“We let a loud wing of our party define the rest of us,” Carville said last summer. “And my point is that we can’t do that. I think these people are all nice people. I think they’re very naive and they’re all into language and identity. And that’s okay. They’re not storming the Capitol. But they don’t win elections.”
And then, when the Republicans won the governorship of Virginia last November and scored more victories across the country, Carville blamed the awakened warriors within his party.
“Don’t just look at Virginia and New Jersey,” Carville told PBS’s Judy Woodruff at the time. “Look at Long Island, look at Buffalo, look at Minneapolis, even look at Seattle, Washington. I mean, this police defund craze, it’s taking Abraham Lincoln’s name out of the schools. I mean that – people see that.”
He added: “Some of these people need to go to a detox center or something. They express language that people just don’t use, and there’s backlash and frustration.”
While there may be some debate in Democratic circles about the Awakening focus, there is no question that Republicans see opportunity.
In hotly contested midterm campaigns, ad after ad is launched accusing Democrats of supporting measures to defund police and abolish bail bonds. A commercial targeting Wisconsin Democratic Senate nominee Mandela Barnes begins with a fiery image of rioters, accompanied by the words “Are you feeling safe?” The ad ends with the ominous statement, “Mandela Barnes: He stand with them, not us.”
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has built a successful national brand around his opposition to so-called waking culture. DeSantis signed legislation earlier this year titled the “Stop Woke Act” aimed at restricting conversations about gender and race in the workplace and classroom.
“We believe that an important component of freedom in the state of Florida is the freedom to have oppressive ideologies imposed on you without your consent,” DeSantis said of the legislation. “And we’ve decided to do something about it.”
House Republicans picked up on that message. For example, part of her Commitment to America plan aims to “ensure that only women can compete in women’s sports.”
To be clear, Obama isn’t saying that the Democrats are dead wrong in their focus on awakening. Instead, he proposes that they operate from a place of understanding for those who are still developing in their thinking – and not take the worst of motives from them.
Obama cites his own mother-in-law as an example. “She’s 86, you know, and sometimes Michelle tries to find the right way of speaking when we’re talking about problems, it’s like trying to learn Spanish. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try to learn Spanish, but it does mean that sometimes she doesn’t get the right words. And that’s okay, isn’t it?”
It’s that attitude of understanding, which Obama says is “a little bit more real and a little bit more grounded” that would help Democrats. He said it “does a lot to counteract the systematic propaganda that I think Fox News and all these other outlets are constantly pumping.”