Former President Barack Obama thinks Democrats can be a bit of a “buzzkill,” too easily offended over accidental slights and the complicated scenarios of modern life, he said in a podcast interview late last week.
“How does politics even – how is it even relevant to the things that I care most deeply about? My family, my kids, work that gives me satisfaction, having fun, not being a buzzkill, right?” Obama said in an interview with “Pod Save America.” “And sometimes Democrats are, right? You know, sometimes, people just want to not feel as if they are walking on eggshells. And they want some acknowledgment that life is messy and that all of us at any given moment can say things the wrong way, make mistakes.”
Obama is publicly addressing a concern voiced by Democratic strategists privately for quite some time now – that the liberal base of the party is so focused the possibility of offending certain interest groups that they lose the broader thread of speaking to what voters actually care about.
James Carville, a longtime Democratic strategist, has been more blunt – certainly than Obama – in denouncing the focus on “wokeness.”
“We’re letting a noisy wing of our party define the rest of us,” Carville said last summer. “And my point is we can’t do that. I think these people are all kind of nice people. I think they’re very naive, and they’re all into language and identity. And that’s all right. They’re not storming the Capitol. But they’re not winning elections.”
And then, when Republicans won the Virginia governorship last November and scored other wins across the country, Carville laid the blame at the feet of the woke warriors within his party.
“Don’t just look at Virginia and New Jersey,” Carville told PBS’ Judy Woodruff at the time. “Look at Long Island, look at Buffalo, look at Minneapolis, even look at Seattle, Washington. I mean, this ‘defund the police’ lunacy, this take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools. I mean that – people see that.”
He added: “Some of these people need to go to a ‘woke’ detox center or something. They’re expressing a language that people just don’t use, and there’s backlash and a frustration at that.”
While there may be some debate within Democratic circles about the focus on wokeness, there’s no question that Republicans see opportunity.
Ad after ad running in hotly contested midterm campaigns is focused on attacking Democrats over crime and policing. (Though as CNN’s Daniel Dale has noted, some of these ads are misleading.) One commercial running against Wisconsin Democratic Senate nominee Mandela Barnes opens with fiery image of rioters accompanied by the words “Do you feel safe?” The ad ends by saying ominously: “Mandela Barnes: He stands with them, not us.”
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has built a successful national brand around his opposition to so-called woke culture. DeSantis signed a bill into law earlier this year called the “Stop Woke Act” that seeks to limit conversations about gender and race in the workplace and classroom.
“We believe an important component of freedom in the state of Florida is the freedom from having oppressive ideologies imposed upon you without your consent,” DeSantis said of the legislation. “And we decided to do something about it.”
House Republicans have picked up on that messaging. One part of their “Commitment to America” plan, for example, is aimed at “ensuring that only women can compete in women’s sports.”
To be clear: Obama isn’t saying that Democrats are entirely wrong in their approach. Instead, he’s suggesting that they operate from a place of understanding for those who are still evolving in their thinking – and not assume the worst motives of them.
Obama cites his own mother-in-law as a case in point. “She’s 86, you know, and sometimes trying to get the right phraseology when we’re talking about issues, Michelle’s like, that’s like her trying to learn Spanish. It doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try to learn Spanish, but it means that sometimes she’s not gonna get the words right. And that’s OK, right?”
It’s that attitude of understanding that is “a little more real and a little more grounded,” according to Obama, that would help Democrats. He said it “goes a long way in counteracting what is the systematic propaganda that I think is being pumped out by Fox News and all these other outlets all the time.”