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A different take on Obama’s speech to students

Former U.S. President Barack Obama
REUTERS/John Gress
Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaking at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Illinois, on Friday.

Former President Barack Obama, who has stayed pretty quiet since handing over the White House keys to Donald Trump, gave a speech Friday at the University of Illinois. It is generally being portrayed as a major assault on Trump. But, as with Obama’s remarks last week at the John McCain memorial service, I had a different take.

Yes, Trump was criticized. But, c’mon, compared to the way Trump goes after everyone who ever criticized him, and even many who never did but didn’t obey his whim, or didn’t do either of those things but just said something Trump didn’t like, Obama’s direct references to Trump were oblique, and the indirect references were mild and incredibly justified.

To my hearing, Obama seemed mostly to want – as he did during his active political career – to encourage young people to get in the habit of voting and to keep that habit. He also (cleverly, I thought) introduced the audience to a handy reminder. It’s the thought that is intended by the old saying “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” But Obama’s version, which I liked, goes: “Better is good.” The quote on that is near the bottom of this post.

But on the first point, the voting part, Obama said:

As a fellow citizen — not as an ex-president but as a fellow citizen – I’m here to deliver a simple message. And that is that you need to vote because our democracy depends on it.

Not too controversial. Obama has been encouraging voter turnout his whole career. Young people have lower turnout rates than older people. What could be less obnoxious or more laudable than encouraging young people to get in the voting habit?

I’ll provide a few other excerpts below. Yes, you can find quite a few references to Trumpism that don’t include a mention of his name. But let’s get the two direct references out of the way and see if they are anywhere near as nasty or brutal as most treatments have suggested. Here’s one:

Of course, there’s always been another, darker aspect to America’s story. 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 seems to sometimes produce one step back. Each time we painstakingly pull ourselves closer to our founding ideals—that all of us are created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, the ideals that say every child should have opportunity and every man and woman in this country who is willing to work hard should be able to find a job and support a family and pursue the American dream, the ideals that say we have the responsibility to care for the sick and infirm and we have a responsibility to conserve the amazing bounty, the natural resources of this country and of this planet for future generations — each time we have gotten closer to those ideals, somebody somewhere has pushed back. The status quo pushes back.

Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change. More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and the privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo, and keep their power, and keep their privilege. And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments.

It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He is just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years. A fear and anger that’s rooted in our past but is also borne out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.

Give me a break. This is mild, backhanded criticism of Trump who, rather than being skewered for singlehandedly threatening the great American experiment in democracy, is portrayed as merely fanning the flames of divisiveness that others started.

The second direct reference likewise borders on indirect. If you blink, you won’t notice it in this passage, which, again is mostly focused on encouraging the students to get involved, even if it means voting for imperfect candidates who will nonetheless work to make things better (and don’t blink or you’ll miss the actual mention of Trump):

You cannot sit back and wait for a savior. You can’t opt out because you don’t feel sufficiently inspired by this or that particular candidate. This is not a rock concert, this is not Coachella. We don’t need a messiah. All we need are decent, honest, hardworking people who are accountable and who have America’s best interest at heart. And they’ll step up and they’ll join our government and they will make things better if they have support. One election will not fix everything that needs to be fixed. But it will be a start.

And you have to start it. What’s going to fix our democracy is you. People ask me what are you going to do for the election? Now, the question is, what are you going to do? You are the antidote, your participation and spirit and determination, not just in this election but in every subsequent election, and in the days between elections. Because in the end, the threat to our democracy does not just come from Donald Trump or the current batch of Republicans in Congress or the Koch brothers and their lobbyists or too much compromise by Democrats or Russian hacking.

The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference. The biggest threat is cynicism. Cynicism led too many people to turn away from politics and stay home on Election Day. To all the young people who are here today, there are now more eligible voters in your generation than in any other. Which means your generation now has more power than anybody to change things. If you want it, you can make sure America gets out of its current funk. If you actually care about it, you have the power to make sure we seize a brighter future. But to exercise that clout, to exercise that power, you have to show up.

OK, those are the only two mentions of Trump’s name. (By the way, this clown, writing a commentary on Obama’s Illinois speech for Fox News, headlined “ Obama attacks successful Trump in bitter swan song,” mentions Trump six times, which is three times as often as Obama did. So who, exactly is obsessed with Trump?)

Nonetheless, Obama seems to have declared that after maintaining virtual radio silence about politics since leaving office, he is ready to use his voice to help Democrats in the 2018 midterms. Last I looked, his right to do so is covered by the First Amendment.

Anyway, I always thought Obama was eloquent and classy, and seems even more so now that we’ve met his successor, who is somewhat less eloquent and classy. So here are a few of my other favorite outtakes from Obama’s  remarks (see if they don’t further support my argument about what was Obama’s main point, namely, please vote):

Even though your generation is the most diverse in history with a greater acceptance and celebration of our differences than ever before, those are the kinds of conditions that are ripe for exploitation by politicians who have no compunction and no shame about tapping into America’s dark history of racial and ethnic and religious division. Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security will be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us or don’t sound like us or don’t pray like we do—that’s an old playbook. It’s as old as time. And in a healthy democracy, it doesn’t work. Our antibodies kick in and people of goodwill across the political spectrum call out the bigots and the fear mongers, and work to compromise to get things done, and promote the better angels of our nature.

When there’s a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, when we turn away and stop paying attention and stop engaging and stop believing, and look for the newest diversion, the electronic versions of bread and circuses, then other voices fill the void.

A politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold, and demagogues promise simple fixes to complex problems. You know, promise to fight for the little guy even though they cater to the most wealthy and powerful. Promise to clean up corruption and then plunder away. They start undermining norms that ensure accountability and try to change the rules to entrench their power further. And they appeal to racial nationalism that’s barely veiled, if veiled at all. Sound familiar?

(Speaking of what Republicans have done with their control of Congress and the White House over the past year and a half):

This is supposed to be the party of fiscal conservatism. Suddenly, deficits don’t matter, even though just two years ago, when the deficit was lower, they said, I couldn’t help working families or seniors because it was the deficit was in existential crisis. What changed? What changed? They’re subsidizing corporate polluters with taxpayer dollars, allowing dishonest lenders to take advantage of veterans and students and consumers again.

They’ve made it so that the only nation on earth to pull out of the global climate agreement — it’s not North Korea, it’s not Syria, it’s not Russia or Saudi Arabia — it’s us. The only country! There are a lot of countries in the world. We’re the only ones. They are undermining our alliances, cozying up to Russia. What happened to the Republican Party?

Its central organizing principle in foreign policy was the fight against communism, and now they are cozying up to the former head of the KGB, actively blocking legislation that would defend our elections from Russian attack. What happened? Their sabotage of the Affordable Care Act has already cost more than three million Americans their health insurance. And if they are still in power next fall, you better believe they are coming at it again — they’ve said so. …

It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say that we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don’t like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down, or call them enemies of the people. It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say we don’t target certain groups of people based on what they look like or how they pray. We are Americans. We are supposed to stand up to bullies, not follow them. We are supposed to stand up to discrimination. And we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?

And let me tell you something, particularly young people here, better is good. I used to have to tell my young staff this all the time in the White House. Better is good. That’s the history of progress in this country—not perfect, better. The Civil Rights Act didn’t end racism, but it made things better. Social Security didn’t eliminate all poverty for seniors, but it made things better for millions of people. …

In the last midterm elections in 2014, fewer than one in five young people voted. One in five. Not two in five, or three—one in five. Is it any wonder this Congress doesn’t reflect your values and your priorities? Are you surprised by that? This whole project of self-government only works if everybody’s doing their part. Don’t tell me your vote doesn’t matter. … Don’t retreat. Don’t binge on whatever it is you’re binging on. Don’t lose yourself in ironic detachment. Don’t put your head in the sand. Don’t boo. Vote. Vote!

The full text is available, via the Atlantic, here.

All the other coverage of the speech that I can find treats it as a harsh attack on Trump. Is this perhaps a case of reverse discrimination by people who have called so many things Trump has said as harsh attacks that they feel obliged to exaggerate the harshness of the Obama speech?

Comments (37)

  1. Submitted by Jon Austin on 09/10/2018 - 10:48 am.

    How refreshing it was to be that the presidency, reminded that the presidency, the government, democracy, our relations with other countries, our role in the world and the future of the planet is more than an expression of one man’s towering – and unjustified – ego. I cannot imagine a more stark contrast than between Donald Trump and Barack Obama.

    After eight years, Mr. Obama had earned the right to retire from the arena and I wish he’d been able to do so. Even so, I’m glad he’s back and his message seems spot on.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/10/2018 - 10:55 am.

    Obama’s speech was… Obama. He’s a eloquent speaker, but he’s doesn’t attack people, so yeah, it was lame in that respect. I think the reason it’s being played up as a “harsh” speech has more to do with the media narrative of polarization than anything Obama actually said. The media has this ongoing narrative (which I believe is a false narrative) of “polarization” and they have to place everything that happens within that context. This has the effect of portraying everything anyone says as demonstration of “extremism”.

    Beyond that I have to observe that Obama’s centrist nature is also reflected in his comments. The idea that we’re demanding some kind of “perfection” instead of effective leadership and genuine representation when choose not to vote for candidates who don’t represent us, or even promise to represent us, is just a call to vote for whoever gets on the ballot. This is how Democrats lost to Trump, and it’s how they lost all over elsewhere during Obama’s presidency. You can’t just tell people to vote, you have to give them someone to vote for… that’s basic basic political reality. And once elected you have to represent the people who elected you, if they don’t feel represented, they won’t keep voting for you, again, basic political reality.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 09/10/2018 - 01:02 pm.

      There might be “basic political reality,” but there’s also common sense. I’m beyond tired of purists blaming Clinton voters for voting for her, but somehow abdicating any responsibility to those that voted for Stein or simply didn’t vote because they were pouting over Bernie. Hillary Clinton might have been the most qualified candidate for president in the last forty years. Trump is in office because of 78,000 votes spread over three states. Frankly, anyone that couldn’t connect the dots as to the possible damage a Trump presidency would do to civil rights, heath care and the justice system needs some help.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/10/2018 - 11:31 am.

    Forgive some of us who remember that there was, in 2016, a “better” candidate than Donald Trump or Jill Stein. Her name was Hillary Clinton, who has not committed crimes (the FBI couldn’t find any, nor could Trey Goudy, hard as he tried for more than two years of Benghazi hearings!) but she had the disadvantage of being both smart and female.

    Obama’s voice to young people is important. His capability to put fifty to eighty words together in a coherent sentence, and without exclamation points, makes me want to cry with nostalgia for his term in office.

    • Submitted by Misty Martin on 09/10/2018 - 04:36 pm.


      I agree. To realize how far this country has fallen in these years between the 2016 election and where we are today, just makes me want to weep too. What a contrast between what we had with President Obama, what me might have had with Hillary Clinton, and what we have – now. It’s really sad.

      And no one – NO ONE – can deliver a speech like Former President Obama, can they? He is simply the BEST when it comes to eloquent and intelligent speeches – and they motivate people!!! And that’s what this country needs now – motivation and faith that things CAN change for this country, for our politics in general and for our citizens of this great nation that we are fortunate enough to be a part of. But as Former President Obama said, we have to VOTE!!!

  4. Submitted by Roy Everson on 09/10/2018 - 01:33 pm.

    Complaining about the quality of the candidates is too often a rationale for that 3-4 out of 5 voters have for not voting in midterm elections. There is a reason why the slogan “lesser of two evils” never goes out of style, distasteful as the thought is. A flawed candidate may be the one who at least upholds our democratic values.
    Whether or not we continue taking the democracy for granted will answer Franklin’s famous quote about keeping our republic.

  5. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 09/10/2018 - 04:31 pm.

    I heard President Obama’s speech. It definitely was not a Trumpian speech. It was coherent sentences that didn’t get sidelined with statements of self-ego soothing. President Obama’s references were nothing more than statements of fact of what Trump says and does. If Trump doesn’t like it then he has to change his ways. No high expectation of Trump doing that. If Trump hands it out he needs to be able to take it too. Trump is only capable of handing it out because of his paper thin skin is so easily abraded. Trump brags about his economy like it is all due to him. He reduced regulations, too soon to know the impact of that, and he cut taxes. We already have seen the very first wave of tax cut effects because Trump has taken pay raises away for all federal employees next year because “we can’t afford it”. Of course Trump can’t afford it because he cut revenue. That will just be the start of more cuts coming. Of course when Trump’s economy falls apart it will be because of Obama.

  6. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/10/2018 - 05:50 pm.

    “You’re stupid if you don’t vote for me. Just look at what a clown that other guy is.”

    Gosh I wonder why that doesn’t work. Y’all are missing the point. A president is a leader, who needs the ability to motivate and inspire people. Tip toeing up to a $12/hour minimum wage and telling people “I’d rather under promise and over deliver” is not the way a leader talks. If you can’t motivate and inspire people, you are not a leader or a great or even good presidential candidate.

    Qualified presidential candidates don’t say, “…we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?” That’s just dumb, and if you don’t know that will be taken out of context and used against you, you’ve got no business being in retail politics.

    Can you imagine Hillary Clinton getting elected in 1932? Instead of “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” and ordering the banks closed to stop a panic, we’d have had pablum and groveling to Wall Street.

    Here’s another test of whether or not someone is “one of the most qualified presidential candidates in history”: If you campaign in Michigan, and your support goes down, you are a terrible candidate for president. Because no one votes for a resume. And if you can’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business.

    If your primary campaign consists of meeting only voters who you know are supporters and they’ve been hand picked, you’re a hot house flower with no sense of retail politics. And a highly UNqualified presidential candidate.

    Votes have to be earned. Good luck trying to guilt people into voting for you. It’s never any one’s “turn”.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/11/2018 - 08:12 am.

    I understand why Clinton and her supporters want so desperately to blame someone other than themselves for Clinton’s defeat, but the fact remains you can’t put the most unpopular and distrusted candidate you have on the ballot and expect a high turnout in their favor. Anyone who expects otherwise simply has not business pretending to share their political wisdom.

    Every presidential election has more than two candidates on the ballot, and there are always a lot of American’s who don’t vote. Yet, someone always manages to win. This idea that when you win you’re a political genius but when you lose it’s the voters fault is just intellectual garbage.

    Sure, Clinton would have been a better president, that’s why I voted for her. Nevertheless any Political Party that doesn’t realize they need to put popular candidates on the ballot will fall into the dustbin of history if it doesn’t accept reality.

    It is beyond bizarre and absurd for Democrats to claim that voters who expect a candidate that can defeat Trump are asking for too much, expecting perfection, and purity. And it is downright toxic and suicidal to claim that the point of democracy is to produce ineffective and unpopular leadership by electing ineffective and unpopular candidates. The whole point of democracy is NOT to have a political system that can’t produce candidates people want to vote for.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/11/2018 - 08:34 am.

    And I hate to say but while Obama was always a great speaker, he was never a particularly popular president. By September of his first year in office his popularity had sunk to around 50%, where it stayed for most of his presidency. In fact, he spent years below water. Obama was never as unpopular as Trump, but Trump is an historically unpopular president.

    Obama the DNC leadership nearly led Democrats into powerless obscurity by snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory on a unprecedented scale for 6 years. By 2017 Republicans emerge as the most powerful political party in the world.

    The vast majority of Obama’s “accomplishments” have now been reversed and wiped away because they took the form of executive orders than have all been signed away by Trump and his big-boy pen.

    So don’t just stand around telling people they gotta vote, that’s NOT leadership.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/11/2018 - 10:10 am.

      I question the value of Obama’s participation in the mid terms, given his track record as POTUS.

      How about trying someone who has a winning track record? Obama didn’t do squat for down ballot Dems over his 8 years. What’s he going to do now?

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/11/2018 - 09:07 am.

    AND… Let’s not pretend Obama is breaking the sound barrier here. The fact is that Sanders’s, Our Revolution, and progressive’s haven’t just been telling people to vote, they’ve been out there registering millennial voters and getting them to the polls for two years now. It’s nice that Obama has finally showed up to the party, but let’s not pretend he’s the first to arrive. Young people are registered and promising to vote at near record levels in the upcoming midterms, that’s not happening because Obama just made his first political speech since leaving office.

  10. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/11/2018 - 10:29 am.

    Let’s not confuse, as Paul Udstrand would like us to do, a qualified candidate with a popular candidate.

    The only qualified candidate in the 2016 general presidential election was Hillary Clinton. And, it turns out, she also was the most popular candidate, winning the total vote count across the nation.

    Can we stop slamming Clinton for some campaign glitches, like supposedly not campaigning hard enough, or with frequent enough visits there, in places like Michigan and Wisconsin and parts of Pennsylvania? C’mon: She lost the election by a total of about 77,000 votes over more than three states (not in one or the other state, over several!).

    Or, for not being Bernie Sanders? Or for beating Bernie Sanders in the hardscrabble of party politics?

    What we got, via the electoral College, was perhaps the least qualified presidential candidate in our national history. Donald Trump. Popular, among people who are filled with hatred and resentments and/or who are personally benefiting from the actions he ran on and is delivering (huge tax cuts for the wealthy and demolition of environmental regulations, for example).

    Not that Trump has made even the slightest effort to be president for us all. Far from it.

    And all we need is for there to be one real crisis, one that his White House full of Secret Patriots can’t forestall by taking papers off his desk or “talking him down” or “walking back” his ignorant words and threats.

    Obama is heads and shoulders above Trump. Hillary Clinton is head and shoulders above Trump. And it’s sour types like Paul who can’t get beyond the Bernie/Hillary clash and blur the problem that Trump is.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/11/2018 - 12:59 pm.

      It’s the centrists who have not gotten beyond 2016. They keep telling us to court a vanishing center, while ignoring the far more numerous non-voters whose turnout can provide a winning margin.

      And I’ll never slam Clinton for not campaigning more in Michigan. If anything, I’d slam her for campaigning there at all, given her appearances resulted in her numbers going down.

      The results in MI, WI, and PA are very instructive. She was a no show in WI, appeared in PA numerous times, and in MI it was somewhere in between. But the results were similar. That tells me there was another flaw at work.

      But lets go a level deeper. The Democratic party has done absolutely nothing for labor unions for decades. And as labor strength was on the wane, they looked to Wall Street for salvation. We know labor turns out it’s own members and other voters as well. When the GOP knee capped labor in MI & WI, it was predictable that it would hurt turn out for Democrats, and easily accounts for Don Trump’s winning margin, especially when coupled with voter suppression, which only now Democrats have begun to fight (a little). The GOP bashes labor every chance they get. From the Dems, it’s mostly crickets.Witness the unmistakable message John Kerry sent in 2004 when on Labor Day he deliberately avoided speaking to a labor crowd, or Obama’s inability to find those “comfortable shoes” he had promised to wear while labor was under attack in WI. He didn’t lift a finger to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, an extremely modest labor law reform.

      So the guy on the shop floor sees his union emasculated by one party and his job under siege by another party that has been pushing corporate-negotiated friendly free trade, and like Claude Rains we’re shocked! to find voters staying home or voting for the first major party president since 1992 that says, “Hey buddy, you’re getting screwed by NAFTA. And that lady there wants more of it.”

      “Vote for me because he’s bad” never elected anyone, especially when you’ve been on the side of Wall Streeters that crashed the economy and have been exporting jobs while driving down wages for decades.

      • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/11/2018 - 04:21 pm.

        So, you voted for the hot-headed ignoramus, instead? You know, the guy who lies all the time?

        I’m not convinced Trump is pro-labor or pro-worker. And the Republican party has NEVER been in favor of any labor rights. In its history.

        Sometimes, you have to vote for “better,” as Obama said, because the perfect is not out there anywhere. And in 2016, Hillary Clinton was “better.”

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/12/2018 - 09:14 am.

      Ms. Sullivan, the fiasco of 2016 was not a contest between an unpopular but qualified candidate and popular but unqualified candidate. The contest of 2016 was between two historically unpopular candidates, Clinton won that contest and lost the election. Democrats simply need to recognize that fact if their going to lead us out of this crises.

      Yes, we know Clinton supporters expected an historically unpopular and distrusted candidate would win the election… they were obviously wrong. Trump is our president. Clinton’s campaign was based on her qualifications and experience, but it failed because when people don’t like or trust a candidate, they don’t believe those claims are credible or reliable.

      You seem to be doubling down on the claim that “qualified” candidates can or will win elections despite being wildly unpopular. This claim is a delusion we pursue at our peril; we already have Trump in the White House, let’s not make it worse.

      As for Sanders and HIS supporters: 90+% of us voted for Clinton. Who didn’t vote for Clinton? White women and Obama voters… but I don’t see Clinton dead-enders blaming THEM for Clinton’s defeat. Whatever.

      I’m way past the last election results. What we really need to get past is the toxic and self defeating belief among some Democrats that they’ll win elections with unpopular and incompetent candidates. This isn’t a demand for “perfection” or “purity”, it’s a demand for common sense.

      • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/12/2018 - 12:26 pm.

        “You seem to be doubling down on the claim that “qualified” candidates can or will win elections despite being wildly unpopular. This claim is a delusion we pursue at our peril; we already have Trump in the White House, let’s not make it worse. ”

        Striking, how in this discussion there is no mention of how hard the Russians tried to vilify Hillary Clinton in 2016. For some Bernie folks who insist that gathering a majority of the votes cast does not mean that Clinton won the popular ballot (not my phrase, just the common one), the fact that their pretty irrational hatred of Hillary Clinton might be based on lies and misinformation just doesn’t seem to enter the equation.


        As if the 2016 election was all just a Democratic party mess-up because Hillary Clinton is a [w]itch. Please.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/12/2018 - 08:48 pm.

          Speaking for myself but I suspect also for many others, I do not and never have hated Hillary Clinton.

          I opposed her candidacy because she has proven to be hawkish, lukewarm at best on rising the minimum wage, cozy with Wall Street, un-supportive of Labor, and unconcerned about wage stagnation, and eager for more corporate negotiated free trade agreements, among other things. And that had nothing to do with Putin. Those aren’t lies. Those are facts that point to a politician who isn’t a liberal. Pushing Hillary Care wasn’t a liberal thing, it was a centrist thing.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/13/2018 - 09:23 am.

          Clinton lost the election. I know Clinton dead-enders would like to proceed as-if she won, but she didn’t. Sure, Clinton had a laundry list of assorted problems, flaws, and liabilities, but we don’t really need to discuss them because that’s just another way of recognizing how incredibly weak her candidacy was. A strong, popular, trusted candidate simply wouldn’t have had so many problems, and could not have lost to Donald Trump. This is why there’s point in discussing the Russians, the Comey letter, the e-mails, etc.

          I never hated Clinton. Hatred had nothing to do with my support for Sanders, and again 90+% of Sanders supporters including myself ended up voting for Clinton. Sanders himself campaigned vigorously for Clinton. Clinton supporters can talk about why white women and Obama voters “hated” Clinton if they want, but I would suggest that’s a waste of time.

          Sure, there is a significant level of widespread hatred for Clinton, she remains one of if the most unpopular politicians in America. Dead-enders can complain about that hatred if they want, but that’s just another way of making the bizarre claim that a widely hated candidates can be expected to win elections.

          In some ways this complaint about “hatred” betrays the fatal flaw of identity politics. At the end of the day Clinton and her supporters simply assumed that it was her turn, and watching Hillary BE Hillary in the White House was enough to get her elected. This is why Clinton and supporters were/are so willing to ignore her historically low popularity and levels of trust. From that perspective no observations or criticisms can be about anything OTHER than “hating” Hillary. This mentality precludes any empirical or fact and evidence based critique because any criticisms can be dismissed has personal bias or hatred of some kind.

          Of course you don’t have to hate Clinton to recognize that her campaign was a disaster. However, if your political consciousness is dictated by personal loyalty or affinity that cannot extend beyond the candidates identity (i.e. “I’m with Her”), you cannot recognize the candidates weakness.

          Anyways, for people like myself, and I suspect Mr. Phelan, the issue isn’t Clinton, the issue is the political Party and process that puts candidates like Clinton on the ballot. This isn’t the first time a Democrat has won the popular vote and failed to get into the White House. Democrats have been cultivating these blind spots for decades, we just want people to open their eyes. The nation simply could not afford to have Democratic Party handicapped by such a massive blind spot in 2016, but that’s what we got.

          So the Democratic Party is faced with two massive but critical challenges. 1) It needs to become a liberal party. 2) It needs to abandon identity politics and focus on issues and agendas that drive voters to the polls.

  11. Submitted by Charles Thompson on 09/11/2018 - 07:52 pm.

    The worst thing about the left in America is that there isn’t one.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/12/2018 - 10:22 am.

      There is a left, but right now it’s too busy squabbling over why it lost the election in 2016. That’s SO much more productive than focusing on how to win in 2018 and 2020.

      Speaking for myself, I’m torn between the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/12/2018 - 10:35 am.

        I know there a lot of Democrats who would like to move forward as if Clinton had won, and no mistakes were made, and it doesn’t matter whether or not we have a popular liberal agenda and candidates that motivate voter turnout and support. This would be the same irrational and self defeating impulse that put Trump in the White House, and Republicans in office all over the country. It’s not squabbling to recognize mistakes and fight for better electoral outcomes. The whole point of democracy is work towards a more perfect union, not simply trade places in power with the other Party.

        As for the American “left”, with any luck it’s now emerging after decades of centrist suppression.

  12. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/13/2018 - 10:22 am.

    So, who should the Democrats have put up for President in 2016?

    Hillary Clinton beat Bernie Sanders in the Democratic party battle, because she played hardball. Imagine! a woman manipulating the party apparatus–how dare she?

    When I look at the policy disagreements Frank Phelan says he had with Hillary Clinton, I wonder at how he views Donald Trump’s positions on those issues, and I wonder if he thinks America is better off because a policy-wonk Democrat with a deep stable of policy developers behind her failed to win the Electoral College. She wasn’t “left” enough? That’s all you got, Frank?

    She was not unpopular enough to lose the popular vote. Let’s be clear on that: More of us preferred Clinton to Trump in 2016, even those millions who thought she was a shoo-in, so why vote at all?

    One plea: Can we abandon the use of that ugly verb, “hate”? I don’t use it, and find that its use by anyone immediately raises the emotional, irrational level of any discussion, no matter the topic.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/13/2018 - 12:37 pm.

      Ms. Sullivan, I only used the word hate after you mentioned “…the pretty irrational hatred of Hillary Clinton might be based on lies and misinformation…” in one of your posts. So when I get accused of hatred, I’ll push back.

      Clinton was only left on some social issues and abortion. On economic issues, she was in no way left. Not even close. Not on taxes. Or Wall Street reform. Or labor law reform. Or taxes. Or income inequality. Or free trade agreements.

      So yeah, other than being center-right on economics (something voters could get from Don Trump), being a terrible campaigner, and just being the wrong candidate for the times, that’s all I got.

      And if you wonder what I think of Don Trump and his policies, again, parse my words carefully. Actually, it’s pretty clear even, with even a cursory reading of my posts.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2018 - 09:56 am.

        Not to quibble but when we say Clinton was to the “left” on some issues, we have as: “To the left of what or whom?” Clearly she was the left of Trump, but that’s rather like dropping the bar on the floor and stepping over it.

        Clinton was a solid centrist on every issue I can think of. As late as 2015 she was willing to consider MORE restrictions on late term abortions. She refused to support gay rights and same sex marriage in 2008. She flipped on gun control from a gun toting church goer in 2008. Clinton did NOT come out of the gate as a leftist in 2016, she drifted that way primarily in grudging response to the Sanders challenge.

        I don’t bring this up to re-litigate the campaign, but we’ve talking about her high levels of unpopularity and lack of trust; Clinton’s well established and documented history of centrist opposition to liberal and progressive agenda’s and constituents was one explanation for her low trust levels among some in THAT group.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2018 - 09:28 am.

      “She was not unpopular enough to lose the popular vote. Let’s be clear on that: ”

      Clinton’s unpopularity, then and now, is and was a documented fact. She was unpopular enough to lose to Donald Trump, that’s plenty unpopular regardless of the “popular” vote.

      What’s done is done, there’s no point in suggesting alternate nominees for the 2016 primary on Sept. 14 of the 2018. Let’s just focus on avoiding the same mistake in now and in the future.

      • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/14/2018 - 11:18 am.

        Again: What about the Russian interferences in that election? No impact on how people viewed Hillary Clinton? I mean, how can you tell, without an investigation that Trump’s congressional OP supporters won’t permit?

        I guess there are about 43 million of us 2016 voters out here, who think that Hillary Clinton would have made a good president. She was popular with us.

        Sorry about that fact, you guys.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/14/2018 - 01:27 pm.

          Clinton’s unpopularity predated any Russian programs, and there’s no indication that her popularity suffered because of Russian propaganda. You would see a downward trend in the polls as the Russian program picked up steam, and you don’t see that. She was below water with a 49% approval rating when she announced her candidacy. The reason Clinton remained so unpopular was that attitudes about her were deep seated and pre-existing. Russians didn’t flip favorable into unfavorable.

          We know that the social media programs ended up targeting likely Trump voters, not undecided voters. And at any rate, a popular and trusted candidate simply wouldn’t have been so vulnerable in the first place. Yeah, people voted for Clinton, I was one of them… people also voted Trump, what’s your point?

  13. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/15/2018 - 10:53 am.

    My point is: That Hillary Clinton was not only the “better” of the two major presidential candidates in 2016–the only one at all qualified for the office–she was the most “popular” candidate, judging by the national vote count. She lost to Trump by about 77,000 votes, spread over a small group of states that unfortunately provided Trump with an Electoral College win.

    Many people thought Clinton was so sure to win that they stayed home and did not vote. Even so, she beat Trump by three million votes.

    Second point: You do not know how or how deeply the Russians impacted our election in 2016 to favor Trump. Trump does know that, and he’s now frantic, as we know from daily news. The facts that our intelligence agencies (plural) have, have not been released to the public. Except in the Information documents accompanying the indictments or plea agreements of Trump’s appointees or campaign officials, and in very late and reluctant admissions by Facebook, Twitter, and other social media who carelessly let the Russians manipulate their platforms.

    The Russians were here, in all kinds of ways, suborning Americans to act on their behalf by sponsoring anti-Clinton rallies, etc. (this factoid taken from the Mueller indictments of a couple of dozen Russians) that targeted much more than a firm Trump “base.” Planting lies that were retweeted or forwarded on Facebook by non-Trump-base folks. Their ads: Did you read any anti-Hillary ads that portrayed her as a witch? All this stuff reached many tens of millions of Americans.

    Paul, I’m afraid neither you nor I know how manipulated you and millions of others might have been by that Russian attack, which was only in minimal part a hacking of Democratic emails.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/16/2018 - 10:55 am.

      “My point is: That Hillary Clinton was not only the “better” of the two major presidential candidates in 2016–the only one at all qualified for the office–she was the most “popular” candidate, judging by the national vote count. She lost to Trump by about 77,000 votes, spread over a small group of states that unfortunately provided Trump with an Electoral College win.”

      On election night Hillary Clinton had an unfavorable score of 55.3% with a 40% of those surveyed claiming to have a favorable impression. Clinton was basically tied with Donald Trump who had 53.4% unfavarable and a 39.8% favorable.

      A year later, in December of 2017, long AFTER the election results and an end to any Russian propaganda campaign, Clinton hit an even lower score of just 36% popularity and a new high of 61% unfavorable.

      The popular vote tally in a general election, isn’t a measurement of “popularity”, it’s a count of the nation wide vote total. This election was a contest between two historically unpopular candidates. When Democrats put Clinton on the ballot they guaranteed that no matter who won, the most unpopular presidential candidate in history would live in the White House. Had Clinton won, she rather than Trump would have been the most unpopular president to step into the oval office. Any claim that Clinton “won” some kind of popularity contest is simply facile. Clinton is more unpopular now than she was when she lost the election, and by some counts she’s actually more unpopular than Trump even now.

      We all remember the election results, those of us who voted for Clinton obviously thought she was the better choice but Clinton lost. You can point to the election results a million times a day if you want, but Trump is still our President.

      As for the Russians, you now seem to be arguing that even though we can’t know what kind of influence they actually had, we should assume they were a deciding factor in Clinton’s defeat. Whatever. The reason we have so much trouble detecting Russian influence is due to it’s minimal effect. If the Russians had any kind of measurable effect… we’d be able to measure it. Strong and popular candidates don’t lose elections due to small influences. Even IF we accept the proposition that the Russians doomed Clinton’s campaign, we’d also have to accept the fact that such small influences could only doom a weak and ineffectual campaign to begin with.

      MY point in all of this is simply that as a nation we can’t etch-a-sketch the 2018 election results and pretend that Hillary Clinton was just another in a long line of great candidates who happened to lose. One thing it is to move forward, but moving forward and promoting amnesia are two very different propositions. Nor can we afford to promote false narratives based on mentalities that want to move forward as-if Clinton had won, and the Democratic Party picked the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump. Any notion of “progress” based on amnesia and delusion an illusion doomed to fail.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/16/2018 - 11:15 am.

    Getting back to Obama’s speech, while Obama is always eloquent, the problem is that substance tends to suffer at the expense of style. The Obama mantra: “When they go low; we go high” too often has translated into: “When they go low; we go silent”. So here he is, after being basically silent for almost two years he comes out “swinging” with a speech that tells students to get out and vote? For some reason the phrase: “Whoopty doo” comes to mind.

    Fortunately those who aren’t still trying to pretend that Clinton won the last election, and those who recognized the mistakes weaknesses of the last election, have NOT been silent. Progressives and liberals have been working in overdrive to get the largest number of young voters in US history registered and motivated. They’ve also been working to get popular candidates voters are excited to elect on the ballot. But, yeah… get out and vote.

  15. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/16/2018 - 04:40 pm.

    I used to teach at the Urbana-Champaign campus of the University of Illinois, where Obama made his first loud and clear post-Presidency speech. He urged his audience to get out and VOTE.

    Paul, are you aware of the nature of that audience, its demographic make-up? It’s diverse, Illinois being the state’s primary public university where, if you live in Illinois, you can get a great education for non-Ivy-league tuition and fees. The student body contains a lot of blacks, lots of Latinos, and it’s very urban with lots and lots of folks coming either from Chicago or East St. Louis. This is the type of national audience that sat out the 2016 election, in some part because they thought it was impossible that America would elect a dumkopf like Trump.

    Obama is doing what he should to animate the young, diverse, much-more-tolerant-than-old-white-men group of voters that can bring America back to sanity with the 2018 elections. Voters who look to the future.

    The only time the Republican party has won a presidential election with a popular-ballot advantage over their Democratic opponent since the first Bush was elected in 1988, was Bush II in 2004. Democrats won the popular ballot in 1992, 1996, 2000, 2008, 2012, and 2016. Surely we can take Congress back in an off year.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/17/2018 - 10:15 am.

      Obama could have said anything he wanted to that audience, he’s Barack Obama, and this wasn’t a typical college classroom. It’s not like the audience would have dozed off or lost their focus.

      I agree, Democrats could take congress back, let’s hope they do.

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