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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Obama and the Democrats

STEPHANOPOULOS: What has to be a disappointment on the home front is that-- it looks like the Democratic Party got pretty hollowed out on your watch, about 1,000 seats lost in the Congress, Senate, governors, state houses. Is that on you?
 OBAMA: I take some responsibility on that. I-- I think that some of it was circumstances. If you look at-- what happened, I came in in the middle of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. And unlike FDR who waited-- well, didn't take office until about three years into the Great Depression, it was happening just as I was elected.
...
So-- so some of this was circumstances. But what I think that what is also true is that partly because my docket was really full here, so I couldn't be both chief organizer of the Democratic Party and function as Commander-in-Chief and President of the United States. We did not begin what I think needs to happen over the long haul, and that is rebuild the Democratic Party at the ground level.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Part of your job now?

OBAMA: Well, I think that it's something that I have an interest in. As-- as you know, George, my entire career, I started as a community organizer. Every one of my campaigns was premised on getting new people involved. And if there's a theme in my public career it's that if ordinary people get involved then good things happen. So I want to see the Democratic Party move in that direction. And what that means is that we aren't just micro-targeting to eke out presidential victories; it means that we're showing up in places where right now we're not winning a lot.

And if you look at sort of how politics has divided itself here in this country, the big divide right now is between urban areas, which have become increasingly Democratic, and rural or exurban areas that feel as if they're being ignored. And if Democrats are not showing up in those places, even if you-- even if you're not gonna win right away but if you're not in there at least making an argument that, "Hey, you know what? It's the Democrats who are trying to raise your minimum wage.

"It's the Democrats who are trying to make sure you got health care or that your health care costs aren't killing ya. It's Democrats who were making sure that your kids aren't drinking polluted water. It's Democrats who are trying to reign in the banks if they engage in excesses so that you don't end up having a problem." If we're not there making the argument then the-- the cultural gulf that Republicans try to exploit saying, "Ah, these city slickers: they're all looking down on you, they don't care about you. They're just trying to help out their various special interest constituencies," that argument ends up being successful. And so we've got to do a better job of showing up. And I was able to do that when I was the candidate. But I have not-- I've not seen or-- or presided over that kind of systematic outreach that I think needs to happen.
 At The Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby appraises Obama:
As a candidate for president, Obama promised to soothe America’s bitter and divisive politics, and to replace red state/blue state animosity with cooperation and bipartisanship. But the healer-in-chief millions of Americans voted for never showed up.
According to Gallup, Obama became the most polarizing president in modern history. Like all presidents, he faced partisan opposition, but Obama worsened things by regularly taking the low road and disparaging his critics’ motives. In his own words, his political strategy was one of ruthless escalation: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” During his 2012 reelection campaign, Politico reported that “Obama and his top campaign aides have engaged far more frequently in character attacks and personal insults than the Romney campaign.” And when a Republican-led Congress wouldn’t enact legislation he sought, Obama turned to his “pen and phone” strategy of governing by diktat that polarized politics even more.
To his credit, Obama acknowledges that he didn’t live up to his promise to reduce the angry rancor of Washington politics. Had he made an effort to do so, perhaps the campaign to succeed him would not have been so mean. And perhaps 60 percent of voters would not feel that their country, after two terms of Obama’s administration, is “on the wrong track.”