Obama’s Disappointing Return

“Moderate mush” appears to be the essence of Lili Loofbourow’s argument in her Slate piece titled “Barack Obama Sat Out the Past Four Years and It Shows”.

“But in these recent appearances, the most surprising thing might be that his political remarks about this moment feel stale. Maybe his absence from the fray over these past four years has cost him. Maybe he’s using a different timescale to measure progress (as he sometimes explicitly says he is). But even his harshest remarks about the right don’t capture the hysterical party we’re watching try to steal an election. His recent criticisms of ‘snappy’ leftist political slogans like ‘defund the police’ reflect an abiding faith in a theory of politics that seems passé—as several Black intellectuals and activists have pointed out. Boiled down to its essentials, Obama’s argument is that one shouldn’t ‘alienate’ people who might be converted to your cause if you say things in just the right way. In practice, that means tucking the political self into a package that a ‘reasonable person’—that usefully unmeasurable political fiction—cannot help but find acceptable and persuasive.”

Loofbourow doesn’t like his music either.

“Obama’s commitment to not alienating people is fascinating to the precise extent that it becomes a principle in its own right. It explains, I think, why there’s something so mystifyingly generic about his self-presentation when you take him out of the right-wing fever swamp. His music selections could be a Starbucks album, they’re so mainstream. Asked what someone should read to understand this bizarre, unprecedented moment in contemporary America, he recommends the fresh unplumbed perspectives of de Tocqueville and Thoreau. In other words: Obama sat the last four years out and it shows. He might be appearing on ‘Snapchat political shows,’ but his ability to adapt to new media forms does not extend to his political thinking. He isn’t bringing new tools or interpretations to the table and he seems to be overlooking the extent to which older tools do not work.

Okay, let’s concede LL’s point, the historical moment has passed Obama by. But why then, does she end this way?

“Obama stayed away during the Trump years. Maybe he deemed it tactically wise. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he wanted to work on his foundation. But we could have used him during these four awful years.”

Loofbourow earns lots of points for critiquing a political icon, but I’m also deducting a few for a lack of internal consistency.

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