DANIEL VAUGHAN: Obama can only see half the problem – and none of the solution

September 10, 2018

I grant former President Barack Obama this: as a speechwriter, he ranks among the best. But the problem isn’t the speeches he gives — it’s the ideas undergirding his words.

Every time he speaks of the need to work toward progress, Obama’s words lift us higher. But his ideas drag us back down to the ground because they’re wrong and half-blind.

No doubt you’ve heard about the former president’s recent speech at the University of Illinois, which he used to encourage Democrats to vote in what he called the “most important” midterms of his lifetime.

But electoral matters aside, I had some major problems with Obama’s fundamental ideas in that talk.

First, Obama used his speech to blame a sizeable portion of our current problems on tribalism, saying that we’re in a time when everyone is “appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another.”

He blames these various forms of tribalism for taking us off the track of progress, toward what he says is a path of resentment politics.

“Of course, there’s always been another, darker aspect to America’s story,” Obama said. “Progress doesn’t just move in a straight line. There’s a reason why progress hasn’t been easy and why throughout our history every two steps forward seem to sometimes produce one step back.”

Generally speaking, I think it’s easy to agree with Obama on these two points. He spends time arguing that we should look back on our founding principles to work our way forward, and I agree.

But from there, Obama goes from blaming the rise of tribal resentment politics to a far more specific target: The Republican Party.

“I’ve got a lot of good Republican friends here in Illinois,” he said. “But over the past few decades, the politics of division, of resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party.”

This is where we reach an impasse.

I’m more than happy to discuss problems within the Republican Party. And I’m more than capable of going chapter and verse on that point.

But to claim that the GOP is the home of all resentment and paranoia in American politics isn’t just wrong, it’s engaging in the very tribalism Obama so eloquently described. Furthermore, his examples of “resentment and paranoia” politics have little to do with tribal politics, and more to do with policy disagreements.

To Obama, Republican positions on issues like campaign finance reform, tax cuts, and climate change are evidence that the GOP is encouraging outright paranoia.

It’s an old tactic Obama used again and again on the party throughout his presidency; he’d raise the specter of racism, ignorance, and paranoia to attack simple policy disagreements between the two parties. When he was president, there could never be an honest disagreement between political factions — dissenting ideas were merely labeled as prejudiced or paranoid.

Obama says that Trump isn’t a cause of all these problems, but rather, a symptom. And I’d agree with that wholeheartedly. Trump reflects much of our politics at large. But that was also true of Obama.

When Obama got elected, America was in the throes of the Great Recession. People were losing jobs, the economy was tanking, and the country was war-weary from Afghanistan and Iraq. The simple platform of “Hope and Change” was powerful.

Obama was the symptom of a nation needing a change. But that change was never delivered, and Trump’s election in 2016 was partially a result of former Obama voters feeling outright betrayed by the Obama administration.

Which brings us to the next point that Obama always misses: he describes everything he likes as “progress,” and everything he doesn’t like as “moving backward.”

There are evil forces in this country, for sure. There are even people who consider themselves to be actual neo-Nazis. And it is essential to evict these segments from major parties.

But the Republican Party isn’t alone in experiencing a populist moment, or a bout of resentment politics. The Democratic Party is experiencing a surge from the far-left, the socialists, who are focusing solely on resentment and class politics.

Socialists explicitly evoke Marxist language that places anyone with money against the poor. Obama even used some of this language in his speech when he suggested that the Republican tax cuts were too generous to the rich.

These are true blue socialists in the Marxist mold.

Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Democratic Socialists of America all espouse beliefs that would fundamentally destroy the founding principles that Obama claims are valuable. Socialism is utterly incompatible with democracy and American values.

The Democratic Socialists play the same racial games, too. They’re flagrantly anti-Semitic. We witnessed the same anti-Semitism in the Women’s March. And none of this is surprising when you read Karl Marx’s works, in which his rage and hatred of Jews can only be compared to that of the worst monsters in history.

Look around at the Democratic Party right now. Where are the leaders who should be calling these people out? Where are the party guardrails that stop Democrats from reverting to their immoral impulses?

Just because you describe your party as progressive in pursuing progress doesn’t mean it’s seeking a moral good. Every evil dictator in history has claimed they were continuing progress. Cuba and Venezuela are testaments to the “progress” socialism has made since the fall of the Soviet Empire.

And yet, here we are again, debating with people who hold evil ideologies in a major American party.

Even when he was president and had access to all the world’s intelligence, Obama could only ever see half the picture. The world is undergoing a great upheaval — but it’s not just in one party.

The only way to remake the world into a better place is to confront all evil where it stands — regardless of whether it comes from the right or the left.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.