Obama tells Democrats: Don’t give up on politics


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Obama tells Democrats: Don’t give up on politics

It’s no surprise former president Barack Obama sharply attacks Republicans as he stumps in battleground states barely a week before the midterm elections. Of course he does. Democrats want Nov. 8 to be a contest of contrasts, not a referendum on President Biden.

It’s no surprise Obama’s stump speech touches on inflation, crime, the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade and the prospects for more conservative rulings. Of course it does — stump speeches can be a way to get talking points on major issues to your supporters.

  • But one thing that struck The Daily 202 from the former president’s recent stops in Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin is the way he’s imploring Americans not to let the noise and nastiness of politics in 2022 drive them out of participating in democracy.

“I get why people are anxious. I get why you might be worried. I understand why it might be tempting sometimes just to tune out, to watch football or Dancing with the Stars,” he said in Georgia. “But I’m here to tell you that tuning out is not an option. Despair is not an option.”

“I’m here to tell you that tuning out is not enough. Moping is not enough,” he said in Michigan. “We don’t have time to mope.”

“If you’re scared, if you’re anxious, if you’re frustrated, don’t complain. Don’t boo. Don’t tune out. Don’t get distracted. Don’t get bamboozled. Don’t fall for the okey-doke that says nothing you say or do matters. You go out and what?” he asked. “Vote” was the answer.

About more than the usual ennui

Here’s Obama in Wisconsin: “I understand why you might sometimes just want to tune out, just watch football or HGTV, or the Great British Baking Show, which is a cute show.” But “things won’t be okay on their own. We have to fight for it.”

In some ways, this is a variation on get-out-the-vote messages that are as old as politics. Obama’s much (much, much) repeated “don’t boo — vote!” certainly fits the bill.

Obama spokesman Eric Schultz told The Daily 202 Obama’s “tuning-out riff” aims to counteract the “natural tendency to get frustrated and angry” and deciding “to opt out.”

Still feels different somehow, as though it weren’t just about trying to overcome traditional Democratic ennui in midterm elections but something more.

  • Or, as Obama himself put it: “Sometimes going out on the campaign trail feels a little harder than it used to, and not just because I’m older and grayer, a little stiffer” but because the “basic foundation of our democracy is being called into question right now.”

The former president is, in some ways, paying President Biden back for his campaign work as vice president in the 2010 midterm elections. One Politico headline from October of that year summed up the situation: “Biden boldly goes where Obama can’t.”

My colleague Annie Linskey tracked Obama’s campaigning in a piece that ran over the weekend.

The former president is regarded as the Democratic Party’s top communicator to base voters, more in demand than President Biden, who has not been the sought-after surrogate in the top races amid a dismal approval rating. The president spent one of the busiest campaign weekends of the cycle at his home in Delaware, where he attended his granddaughter’s field hockey game and, separately, cast his ballot.”

“Democratic strategists say Obama is the sole party leader able to draw major base-motivating crowds without simultaneously angering the other side.”

Annie quoted David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist in the White House, as saying the former president “has the ability to talk at the same time to base Dems the party needs to mobilize and suburban swing voters they need to persuade in these closing days.”

Obama’s midterm baggage

As The Daily 202 noted in a previous look at Obama’s 2022 campaigning:

“Obama comes to the table with some personal midterm baggage. The GOP picked up 64 seats in the 2010 midterm elections — the largest swing since 1948.”

  • “And on his watch, Democrats saw their numbers in governorships and state legislatures hollow out. During his two terms, the party lost more seats (816) at the state level than either party did under any of his predecessors since Dwight D. Eisenhower.”

Obama will be campaigning in Las Vegas on Tuesday, and in Phoenix on Wednesday. On Saturday, both he and Biden will stump in Philadelphia for Pennsylvania Democrats.

And then the voters will decide.

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Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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