As another Democratic debate melted into campaign sloganeering and content-deprived repetition of staid stump talking points in Manchester, NH, on Feb. 7, one began to ponder how much all of this was a reflection of the most recent Dem White House occupant and his highly personal redemption-arc brand of politics.
Barack Obama, who championed his “transformative” presence and bearing as sweeping change, may have stamped his legacy on the debate and overall campaign performances of 2020 Dem presidential candidates.
Watching seven Democratic candidates on stage in Manchester deflect opportunities to engage in meaty back-and-forths on specific issues and slip instead into generic rehashing of asserted personal qualities was an exercise in frustration to any viewers seeking informed debate. Did the rivals understand the purpose of the forum they were participating in? Rather than articulate detailed policies and confront challenges to them, the various aspirants were content to circle back again and again to vapid campaign-speak focused on benign individual attributes.
Politics of Me
In this way Dems are very much the children of Obama. Their change dynamic is the antithesis of that being heralded by President Donald Trump, yet flailing progressives and their myopic media allies cannot grasp the essential difference.
“I believe that President Obama thought of himself in a heroic context,” Washington Post editor David Maraniss, a fierce Trump critic, recently said in an interview with Salon. “He came to think of himself that way when he started getting into politics. It was a type of savior mentality. I have talked to several people who know Obama and they told me they have seen him come close to saying such a thing a few times in unguarded moments.”
The way Obama handled himself while in office may give credence to this statement. It was there to see from the beginning. A prescient remark was made as far back as February 2008, as the unheralded Illinois senator was in the midst of his first run for president, by a writer for the progressive magazine Mother Jones. “Obama’s rhetoric makes an undeniable suggestion: that his election, not an eight-year administration that successfully implements his vision for America, would represent a moment in America of the grandest, most transformative kind. And that’s a bit much,” Jonathan Stein wrote at the time.
Contrast this with Trump, who exemplifies change with specific policy agendas that differ markedly from the reigning orthodoxy of establishment politics from 1989 to 2016. Whether it is the use of tariffs as a weapon in foreign trade negotiations, the dedication to fighting illegal immigration and building a wall on our southern border, or the effort to pull the United States out of entangling military adventures abroad, Trump is an authentic change agent backed by a particular set of defined goals that he pursues with vigor.
In the spirit of Obama, however, the 2020 Dems hoping to topple Trump attempt to embody change on preen and pose, offering their personages as New Direction itself. Thus we get Mayor Pete Buttigieg serving up a never-ending array of generic platitudes with little to no specific content. “We need to recognize that the time has arrived for a different kind of politics, to turn the page, leave the politics of the past in the past, and deliver a better future before it is too late,” Buttigieg babbled in closing remarks in Manchester, saying absolutely nothing in the process.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) frequently projects herself as some kind of feminist action hero, as if her gender was all the proof needed that she represents something Big and New. Long-faded candidates Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) got too caught up in this narrow construct as well, and their campaigns never developed a clear and coherent policy message to the American people.
“At the end of the day when people start picking who they want for a president, it’s got to be somebody they trust. It can’t just be somebody who looks like what presidents looked like in the past. In 2020, we can and should have a woman president,” Warren said at a CNN town hall event in New Hampshire on Feb. 5. Her gender alone is transformative change. This is Warren’s message. This is why her campaign is unraveling.
The redemptive-messiah narrative that Obama pioneered 12 years ago is also front and center in the progressive shibboleths that dominate the 2020 primary process. Climate change and “criminal justice reform” are two issues infused with stark moralism on the left. As such, devotion to these causes is weighed by moral-purity grading that tends to boost more egocentrism among the candidates. The discussion on “systemic racism” touched off by feckless billionaire Tom Steyer in Manchester serves as an example. It led to a succession of rivals trying to outdo each other in stating their puritan bona fides on an established party line.
And so Americans watching at home witness lesser versions of the two-term Moralizer in Chief who loved to wag his finger at the nation and point out its spiritual failings. Even veteran top-tier contenders such as Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) dutifully assume this annoying posture when such issues are brought up, as they are with stupefying regularity at Dem debates.
Cheap moralizing and personal peacocking have seriously marred the Dem 2020 presidential primary process since it unofficially kicked off in early 2019. By all accounts this toxic tenor will continue right up to the party convention floor this summer. Democrats horrified over the ever-increasing prospect of another four years of Trump have one man to thank for the twin flaws careening them toward November disaster.
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.