Barack Obama Still Doesn't Get It

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At a rally last night in Las Vegas, former President Barack Obama urged the crowd to overcome their “cynicism” and vote this November. He told the audience that “the threat to our democracy does not come from one person in the White House or Republicans in Congress or big money lobbyists. The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference.”

This is simply not true. It is not true that indifference is a bigger threat to our democracy than Trump, or Republicans, or “big money lobbyists.” I mean, it’s technically impossible to quantify or measure threats to democracy, but come on, dude.


But the question when it comes to voting and turnout isn’t whether there’s incontrovertible empirical evidence that lobbyists matter more than indifference, but whether the voting public is justified in feeling that way. And you would have to be a straight-up loon to think they aren’t.

Lobbying spending hit $3.37 billion in 2017. A former coal lobbyist runs the EPA, which is scaling back rules to help the chemical industry after “heavy lobbying,” according to The New York Times. Lobbyists also helped score a rollback on air pollution standards. The Saudi Arabian government, which appears to have green-lit the brutal murder a Washington Post journalist whose body was dismembered with a bone saw, spent $27 million on lobbying last year, and has had half this fetid town on its payroll even before Trump. Speaking of Trump, who just called himself a “nationalist” last night, he constantly lies and spends most of his time trying to demonize the media to his rabid supporters. Also, someone just tried to kill George Soros because Republicans—again, like Trump—keep saying he’s evil.


Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, would stand by and give no comment if Trump took a shit on the Lincoln Memorial and said Abe had “very bad views on slavery,” as long as he kept delivering wins to Big Industry. Republicans across the rest of the country continue to attack voting rights: making it as hard as possible to vote, disenfranchising Native Americans, purging voters from the rolls. Will the Supreme Court ever step in and stop this? Haha, no. Remember just weeks ago when the Senate confirmed a man with multiple credible sexual assault allegations against him to the Supreme Court—even after he repeatedly and obviously lied to Congress—because he’s a good Federalist Society boy? The system works! Oh, and one last thing: We’re all going to die from climate change, and Republicans won’t even talk about it, let alone say anything about fixing it, to say nothing of Democrats’ unwillingness to address it on the scale we need. So yeah, get to the polls, you lazy fucks!

You might say, well, Obama was just trying to rile up the crowd—even if he doesn’t really believe indifference is a greater threat to democracy than a party openly dedicated to eroding the right to vote, he’s just saying that because it will encourage the crowd to vote. But this is not a good way to get people to vote, either. Lecturing people about how the cynicism and alienation they feel is actually the problem and how it’s their fault for feeling that way is not the best way to get them to vote, because it doesn’t fix those feelings. It just tells them they’re wrong for having them.


The way to get people to vote is to offer them candidates who actually give people hope that politics could make things better for them—which is what Obama did for many people of my generation (how wrong we were). If voters have reason to believe that the person they’re voting for might do something to erode the system that makes them feel so alienated—voter suppression; intimidation and oppression of immigrants, people of color and the poor; the outsize influence of corporate dollars on politics—then you won’t have to lecture them.

Let’s just look at the candidate Obama was campaigning for last night, Jacky Rosen. She’s better than the Republican, who’s a snake demon, as they all are, and I desperately hope she wins because of that. But, you know, she’s just fine. She’s alright. What does she have to say about, for example, about healthcare? From her campaign site:

Jacky knows our healthcare system has real problems that we need to work together to fix. That’s why she is working to develop bipartisan solutions to improve health care access and bring down costs by stabilizing the marketplaces, lowering premiums, and addressing Nevada’s doctor shortages. She signed on to and helped pass bipartisan legislation in the House to repeal the medical device tax. Jacky has also introduced forward-thinking legislation to cap the rising costs of life-saving prescription drugs and limit monthly out-of-pocket costs for individuals and families.


Who on Earth is inspired by this shit? “Bipartisan solutions” brokered with a party that wants to stomp out your healthcare entirely—how exactly are you going meet them halfway? By only killing half as many poor people? “Lowering” and “limiting” costs sounds like an ad for a debt consolidation loan, not a bright vision for the future. “Real problems that we need to work together to fix” is exactly the kind of focus-grouped, message-tested, Washington consulting firm-ass, tossed-off bullshit that means nothing and tells voters nothing and has no effect on anyone. 

Along with offering candidates who are not merely yesterday’s Starbucks’ croissant warmed up on the dusty dashboard of a 2006 Camry, you can identify the true enemy: Republicans, and the rich. By telling voters that cynicism and indifference are the true enemy, you are essentially telling them to wage war with themselves. What should be done, instead, is to unite voters against the actual source of their oppression. Tell voters, hey, I understand why you feel like there’s no point, and it’s these guys’ fault. It’s these guys who don’t want you to vote, who want you to feel like there’s no point, because that’s how they win. Demonize Republican politicians, because they are demons. (Most Democrats are deeply unsuited to doing this, because most of them are paid by many of the same oppressive forces that pay the Republicans. Only Democrats who genuinely swear off corporate money and super PAC help can do that.)


You can try guilting people into voting for Jacky Whatever, to take time out of the day between shifts at their shitty low-wage jobs and looking after their kids to go to the polls, where they might be told they’ve been purged from the rolls or don’t have the right ID—and again, that it’s their fault—anyway. Or you can offer candidates who make them actually want to vote, and tell them the truth about what’s stopping them from voting: Not their own lack of character, but a systemic, corporate-funded, elite-led campaign of domination that will hurtle us into climate apocalypse, with healthy doses of top-down class warfare along the way, all aided by a campaign of voter suppression.

Anyway, can’t wait to watch his Netflix show.