Word to the Unwise: Black Voters Will Reject Any 2020 Democratic Candidate Who Trashes Obama to Appease the Far Left

Former President Barack Obama speaks onstage during the 2019 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple Of Hope Awards on December 12, 2018 in New York City.
Former President Barack Obama speaks onstage during the 2019 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple Of Hope Awards on December 12, 2018 in New York City.
Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Some people don’t learn, even after losing the hard way in 2016. Despite not being able to convince black voters that Sen. Bernie Sanders was the ideal, perfect, pure-as-driven-snow candidate during the 2016 Democratic primaries, despite arguing that black people were essentially voting against their own interests because we weren’t choosing the senator from Vermont over Hillary Clinton, many on the far left are back at it again.


Instead of recalibrating their thinking or their message, those on the far left seem poised to double down on the same strategy that led to their favorite candidate, Sanders, getting his ass whopped in 2016. They are deluding themselves, believing Sanders’ ability to (barely) beat Hillary Clinton two years ago among young black voters will trump the enormous gap that existed between Sanders and Clinton among all black voters.

They’re even further deluding themselves by going after President Barack Obama for being a “bad president”:

Others, like journalist David Sirota, are taking it even a step further, claiming that the last thing we need is another Obama:

Why another Obama would be a tragedy

Replicating an Obama presidency would be better than what we have now. But it would still be a tragedy. That’s because the fundamental premise of Obamaism - and its predecessor, Clintonism – is that there is always a policy that can at once serve the people and the powerful. And recent history has showed that is both false and dangerous.

Any Democratic candidate taking that view is just, well, dumb. They’re tin-eared and devoid of critical thinking skills, especially given that Barack and Michelle Obama were just named the country’s most admired man and woman.

But let me be blunter: If this keeps up, the far left will make it harder than necessary to retake the White House in 2020.


No doubt, black voters have thick skin. You can’t survive or maintain your sanity in a world that holds you in contempt for the “sin” of wearing dark skin without developing the ability to let some shit slide even when you don’t want to. That’s why black voters were able to back Hillary Clinton in 2016 despite the racist crap she pulled against Obama during the 2008 primary and her past “super predator” comments. That’s why black voters likely would have voted for Bernie against Donald Trump if that was the final choice because we recognized the harm Trump would cause far sooner than most others. But there is a limit to our kindness and pragmatism. If folks on the far left aren’t careful, they are gonna find out just what those limits are, and that’s something none of us can afford. In other words, those on the far left need to watch their mouth. And that starts with how they speak about the Obamas.

Look, Obama, like every president who came before him, was imperfect. I personally wanted him to go bigger during the height of the financial crisis and spend billions, not just shoring up Wall Street—a necessary evil, given the state of the economy in 2009—but directly bailing out individual homeowners. And I wanted some high-profile perp walks of corporate executives, which we never got. Those were Obama policy failures, and they weren’t the only ones. He made mistakes on immigration and in foreign policy. His biggest regret is how he handled Libya. I questioned his drone war, knowing it was negatively affecting and killing too many innocent people, although I never saw someone describe an equally-effective alternative in the war on terror. I am partial to the idea of universal health care, given what I know about a system that still leaves too many people behind. And I didn’t appreciate some of the language in his speeches about absentee fathers.


We all know Obama isn’t Jesus. And we never wanted nor expected him to be.

But too many far-left liberals, many (but not all) of them white, seem so focused on his imperfections that they have all but ignored his enormous accomplishments, which include his helping stave off a second Great Depression; a health reform law that has literally been saving tens of thousands of lives every year, while improving millions of others, since it was adopted in 2010; saving a couple of million jobs by saving the domestic auto industry; establishing a consumer protection bureau that has saved everyday Americans billions of dollars; commuting more prison sentences than all previous presidents combined while beginning criminal justice reform efforts that are beginning to bear more fruit; and overseeing an economy that went on the longest monthly job creation streak in history and produced the largest annual increase in income in the nation’s history, with most of that increase going to the poor and middle class. Those are among the reasons he was one of the most progressive presidents this country has ever known. And he did more to fight inequality than most of his predecessors.


From Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

A new examination from the Council of Economic Advisers credits the Obama presidency for the most aggressive and successful attempt to reduce inequality in half a century. “President Obama has overseen the largest increase in federal investment to reduce inequality since the Great Society,” the economists write.One might immediately think to dismiss such a report as shameless self-promotion from the White House. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reached the exact same conclusion in June. It found that the federal government is doing more to reduce inequality right now than any time on record, going back at least 35 years. The gap between the rich and poor is as wide as ever judging by before-tax income (e.g., wages and capital gains). But judging by after-tax income, the CBO found that income inequality is no higher than it was in 2000, and Obama’s policies have done more to reduce inequality in the last few years than any other time on record.*


Black voters know this, as well as what his winning the presidency—and being so damn on point while in the White House, along with our Forever First Lady Michelle—meant and still means. How in the hell can you have experienced what we all have these past two years and not appreciate how the Obamas represented the U.S. for eight years? Obama’s opponents had to manufacture conspiracies and scandals because he wouldn’t give them any real ones. They had to falsely assert Obama “gave” Iran billions of dollars, for instance, even though all he did was return the country money it had long been due (and he didn’t even give them all of it) as part of efforts to stop it from becoming a nuclear threat. (Compare that to Ronald Reagan’s very real scandal of secretly selling arms to Iran; Bill Clinton’s inability to keep his junk in his pants; George W. Bush’s launching a full-scale war on false pretenses and Trump’s ... well ... the list of current scandals is too long to list.)

We shouldn’t want another Obama in 2020? Why the hell not?

Look, despite all the talk about the need to reach more white blue-collar voters, black voters remain the most indispensable voting bloc in the Democratic Party. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out beyond the base. Democrats clearly know this, which is why it has already put together the most diverse coalition of any political party in U.S. history. But if you can’t win the black vote, you can’t become the Democratic nominee for president. Period. And if you shit on Obama, rather than soberly critiquing his legacy, you shit on black voters.


Someone should remind far left critics who keep insisting both parties ignored poor whites that Obama-era policies have saved a lot of poor, white lives. At the same time, middle-class household income rose to its highest level ever under Obama as the black poverty rate dropped to its lowest level on record while the rate of Americans with health insurance soared. For some strange reason, none of that good news for the poor and middle class registers with the far left. They are too busy lamenting what we’ve yet to achieve. Black voters know the brother wasn’t perfect. That’s why we can embrace blunt, straightforward critiques like the ones made by the likes of Ta-Nehisi Coates. What we can’t get with is a refusal to acknowledge how the first black president stared a whitelash in the face of it all and still got shit done.

That’s why any 2020 Democratic candidate who takes the advice of those urging them to be less like Obama or to proclaim Obama a “bad president,” will smother their aspirations for the presidency in the crib.


It’s OK to criticize Obama, just as it’s OK to criticize any man. But if Sanders, or any other Democrat, is serious about defeating Trump in 2020 (if Trump makes it that long), talking down or ignoring Obama’s accomplishments and what he has meant, and means, to black voters, is the worst move they could make.

Bailey is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and author of the book, "My Brother Moochie: Reclaiming Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty and Racism in the American South." He's a husband and father.


Hyperbolic Idiot Chamber

No one should think of Obama as a perfect president because one doesn’t exist. We should think of him as a man who did his best but still stumbled a few times. Instead of rejecting him for his faults we need to instead think of ways the next Obama can avoid those pitfalls.