Obama Nails It

Ezra Klein recently interviewed Barack Obama on his New York Times sponsored podcast, and as you might imagine, Obama had a number of intriguing things to say about the hardening of political polarization, the backlash spurred by efforts to come to terms with the country’s racial history, and the structural advantages Republicans enjoy thanks to the composition of the Senate and the Electoral College. But here was the observation–and the question that elicited it– that struck me as a “dead on” explanation of  American divisions right now.

Klein: In 2012, you won noncollege whites making less than $27,000 a year. Donald Trump then won them by more than 20 points. He kept them in 2020. What advice do you have to Democrats to bring educational polarization back down?

Obama: I actually think Joe Biden’s got good instincts on this. If you’re 45, and working in a blue collar job, and somebody is lecturing me about becoming a computer programmer, that feels like something got spit out of some think tank as opposed to how my real life is lived.

People knew I was left on issues like race, or gender equality, and L.G.B.T.Q. issues and so forth. But I think maybe the reason I was successful campaigning in downstate Illinois, or Iowa, or places like that is they never felt as if I was condemning them for not having gotten to the politically correct answer quick enough, or that somehow they were morally suspect because they had grown up with and believed more traditional values.

The challenge is when I started running in 2007-2008, it was still possible for me to go into a small town, in a disproportionately white conservative town in rural America, and get a fair hearing because people just hadn’t heard of me. They might say what kind of name is that? They might look at me and have a set of assumptions. But the filter just wasn’t that thick.

The prototypical example is I show up in a small town in Southern Illinois, which is closer to the South than it is to Chicago, both culturally as well as geographically. And usually, the local paper was owned by a modestly conservative, maybe even quite conservative usually, guy. He’d call me in. We’d have a cup of coffee. We’d have a conversation about tax policy, or trade, or whatever else he cared about. And at the end of it, usually I could expect some sort of story in the paper saying, well, we met with Obama. He seems like an intelligent young man. We don’t agree with him on much. He’s kind of liberal for our taste, but he had some interesting ideas. And you know, that was it.

So then I could go to the fish fry, or the V.F.W. hall, or all these other venues, and just talk to people. And they didn’t have any preconceptions about what I believed. They could just take me at face value. If I went into those same places now — or if any Democrat who’s campaigning goes in those places now — almost all news is from either Fox News, Sinclair news stations, talk radio, or some Facebook page. And trying to penetrate that is really difficult.

They didn’t have any preconceptions about what I believed. That’s what has changed–thanks largely, as Obama notes, to the rightwing media ecosystem.

Self-identified “conservatives” (whose definition of “conservative” is  increasingly limited to protecting White Christian privilege) think they know what “liberalism” is–it’s “woke” and supercilious, and its adherents are entitled globalists who sneer at them. Pointing out their misuse of terms like “socialist” or their misconceptions about “cancel culture” or their wildly inaccurate criticisms of Critical Race Theory only confirms that image.

The result is that the only coherent “policy” these folks exhibit is more an attitude than a position–they just want to “own the libs.” They just want to get a rise out of the people they believe are sneering at them. What is ironic is that the “libs” are overwhelmingly the ones counseling mutual understanding and recommending “reaching out”…but people who have internalized grievance have long since abandoned considering evidence contrary to those grievances.

The question, of course, is the same one I keep posing: What do we do? I will readily admit that–beyond working our tails off to keep these people out of power– I have no idea.

It’s clear that we are past the point where acting on well-meaning but tone-deaf pieties about “inviting dialogue” and trying to “understand their perspective” will ameliorate the resentment–or modify the racism that  in most cases has generated it.

I strongly recommend clicking through and reading the entire transcript. It’s depressing, but enlightening. (And no, it doesn’t answer my question…)


  1. My mind returns to the HOPE that corporate American will at some point STOP FUNDING the HATE. That might help. The disinformation on Fox and Sinclair is PAID for by American Corporations. They are not all as nuts as the Pillow Guy. Some of them MIGHT feel that America is worth saving and that they should stop funding the insurrections. It just a hope for now. How does one impact that part of the equation? Can a few of the rational big money folks set up a movement to defund the hate?

  2. The hardest thing for the black community has been the destruction of the family. Policies are the the problem here. Most black ministers see that families aren’t given the same incentives vs staying single

    Also many economists looking into black teen unemployment as a result of the minimum wage. Historically we see a discrepancy in the hiring of black teens. In 1948 black teen unemployment was less than white teen unemployment, now its greater at multiple. Black economists such as Dr Walter Williams points out how the welfare state causes more damage to the black community in its policies. In regards to giving aid to the poor we need be compassionate, but yhe engineering of society thru ones ideals meeds to be clearly thought out with the goal of creating a better working incentive.
    How welfare destroys black families by radioapologia gives an explanation of how things historically has gone for the black community since LBJ.
    Ideas ate important but what data is there that we can look to get a better look into where we should go. Obsmacare is a great idea, but it destroyed union cadillac plans that black and white families had putting them in to PPOs because Obama wanted to pay for it thru a 40% tax on those plans. Im one of those who promised his breastcancer surviving wife she’d never see another PPO. Government disrupted my plan for that because Obama wouldnt reach accross the aisle and in part was as arrogant as some say about Trump

  3. I am hoping, and believe, that at some point, true Conservative Republicans will realize how much they have been manipulated and lied to, and will turn with great anger and resentment against the people who have been lying and manipulating them. The question is, when will that happen? Will it be too late to save what is left of American democracy? How far will they pull the country down before realizing what has been done?

  4. I agree with Patmcc this morning. But since the funding of the lie machinery is not going to stop any time soon, it seems the specter of Marx’s prophecies are looming large. What do I mean by that?

    Well, corporate/banking America is so totally involved with the downside of capitalism that they fail utterly to see past the bottom lines of their quarterly reports. The “thinkers” in the ivory towers do, however, see profits as their only motive and reason for existence. In short, they care not a whit about the national fabric, the good that can be done nor anything that might threaten their ability to maximize their profits at the expense of the entire country, the Constitution and the rule of law. Sorry about the run-on sentence, but corporate/banking America is all about run-on greed.

    Their immorality is summed up nicely in the must-read book by Rebecca Costa: “The Watchman’s Rattle”. She points out the stark reality that all social decisions, ultimately, are made with regard to cost, benefit and tax avoidance. If it doesn’t pay, it doesn’t get done. The perversion of the electoral college is but one example of the corporate/banking long game, and there are no shortages of talking heads who will whore themselves to the corporate edicts on any media they can get to.

    So, Sheila is right. There is no answer… or real solution without a major upheaval in how the Constitution is interpreted. It’s being weaponized by the “conservative” courts and I think our days as a true democratic republic are coming rapidly to an end. The corporate moguls/oligarchs are compelled to destroy democracy for what they think will improve profits.

    I’m glad I’m old.

  5. Copied and pasted from the History web site; “The New Deal was a series of programs and projects instituted during the Great Depression by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that aimed to restore prosperity to Americans. When Roosevelt took office in 1933, he acted swiftly to stabilize the economy and provide jobs and relief to those who were suffering. Over the next eight years, the government instituted a series of experimental New Deal projects and programs, such as the CCC, the WPA, the TVA, the SEC and others. Roosevelt’s New Deal fundamentally and permanently changed the U.S. federal government by expanding its size and scope—especially its role in the economy.”

    “Obama: I actually think Joe Biden’s got good instincts on this. If you’re 45, and working in a blue collar job, and somebody is lecturing me about becoming a computer programmer, that feels like something got spit out of some think tank as opposed to how my real life is lived.”

    Both FDR and Obama were presidents who never lost sight of the realities of humanity and that this country is comprised of real people living real lives and that government must find progress and solutions to problems within that reality. FDR had to go against Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin; Obama had the Bush dynasty and the newly developed White Committee working specifically against HIM as a Black man. Joe Biden is fighting against Trump’s Twilight Zone Americans and the fractured Republican party…with Manchin working with them against democracy. I am still with President Barack Obama and his “The Audacity Of Hope” to save this nation from itself.

    “The question, of course, is the same one I keep posing: What do we do? I will readily admit that–beyond working our tails off to keep these people out of power– I have no idea.”

    Ditto, Sheila!!!

  6. I like Obama, but not a fan of his presidency. Maybe he will recognize the opportunity lost later in life, maybe not.

    He had two years where the Ds controlled everything, and the best he could do was a healthcare option created by the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation. Complete waste.

    What’s notable is he ran on progressive ideas that ignited those folks in Southern Illinois and the Midwest. Still, once he won the general election, Citibank took over and screwed Americans. As Vernon eloquently explained, the financial oligarchy created the 2008 mess, and all the inequality before that was allowed to fix the problem.

    Just imagine where we’d be today had he installed those progressive policies he promised during his race against Hillary Clinton. He ran as a progressive in the primary but abandoned them after he won the general election.

    I know many of those people in the Midwest and South that voted for Obama and then voted for Trump because they were angry at the politics of Washington. They wanted a populist who would work for the people and not the oligarchy. What did the DNC do?

    They sabotaged Bernie Sanders, and the country voted for Donald Trump–or they refused to support another corporate-owned stooge. They fully invested their identity (ego) in Trump, who would “drain the swamp” of all the greed and corruption.

    That was the idea.

    Also mentioned above, they got duped due to right-wing propaganda. Instead of admitting they got duped, they are doubling down on it. Biden has already lost the progressives despite the left-wing media. He’s done. He’s toast. His so-called FDR persona is dead in the water. Expect the GOP to blast the Ds in the mid-terms.

    Even The Young Turks are getting blasted as corporate stooges, which isn’t a good sign for Biden. The younger progressives are aligning with those who got screwed by the Obama/Biden years.

    The independents haven’t figured it out yet and are watching too much television. Their reality is shaped by the pundits who are paid to lie their faces off nightly 24\7.

  7. We have one chance to change the right wing up-welling of working people against the system: reverse the growing inequality and inequity. If we don’t democracy is toast. Many working people have watched the government and rich people fuck them over for generations. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness has not worked for them. Too many of them keep going backward. Liberals with their complicated programs just hurt more than help. Better wages and a more equitable society is what working people want not fancy-ass Ivy League solutions.

  8. There is only one way out. We have to give them landslide defeats in the next two elections. That would seal the deal for the needed agenda and the policies of the current administration are, when looked at without the party filters, exactly what most Americans want.

    Will it happen? I doubt it.

  9. The devil on one shoulder keeps humming the 1970’s chant/bumper sticker: “America, Love it or Leave It”. For America to “be” America it must be democratic, not autocratic, diverse not one color/one religion/one culture. Maybe we should just suggest/incent some folks who want the opposite to move to Brazil, Turkey, etc..

    Cynical Monday….

  10. Listening to NPR and reading the NYTimes about the political turmoil in Israel has been interesting and somewhat scary. I knew the current PM was a hard line “conservative”, but what I am now seeing from the political turmoil is that Netanyahu‘s real skill is political division. This has created a weird coalition if everyone else and the hard line right wing party of Netanyahu. Just like our Senate today, they new anti-division party has just the barest majority and with just one defector will loose out against the hard line right wingers. At the same time Netanyahu is struggling to cling to power. All of his followers are on the verge of radicalized and protesting because they firmly it will be the end of the world if the “other side” wins.

    There seem to be many parallels here between Israel and the US, but the real message is that right wing politics seems to be poisoning democracy.

  11. Dan; Trump and Netanyahu are “buzzards of a feather” feasting on the roadkill of their individual conservative followers. Those two controlling their nations in the same time-frame will leave a “scorched earth” behind them…IF we can ever rid our countries of them.

  12. The hand is writing on the wall as we speak!

    An article from Reuters I believe, showed that this younger group of so-called enlightened ones, have been flocking back to Fox News! That should be a sign of trouble on the horizon right there. Now if you combine MSNBC and CNN, they are ahead of Fox. But, Fox has stepped on the gas, driven by the Gen X and Jen Z groups that sponsors love to reach. This is a reversal of just a year ago.

    When you can’t control what comes out of your mouth, like “Defund The Police” and the the propaganda machine on the right is throwing shade at “Woke” and other issues, including having to wear masks which this younger crowd hates and the right wing nuts claim is a conspiracy, you have a messaging issue!

    Barack Obama was a very successful organizer because he was able to infiltrate everywhere with his message! And if you ever listen to him talk, it always was a message of hope! If he had run for a third term he probably would’ve trounced Donald Trump! Unfortunately, you have the Left constantly running behind the Right playing defense instead of offense.

    I think Joe Biden for the most part is doing what he needs to do, but you have individuals doing things that are sabotaging this current administration, one of them is Joe Manchin deciding to unfurl his peacock feathers! ‘Aahhh, just a taste of power corrupts the stupid.

    Getting out amongst the people this summer, they need to grow a spine! If there vaccinated, ditch the mask and get out there and talk to the people! Show that you’re not some elitist disconnected woke liberal. Demonstrate the concern you have for people’s health and education, their jobs, the benefits of green energy creating massive job growth in production jobs. No college degree required!

    I noticed that there is a large uptake in people doing what they call anger quitting of their jobs. They’re angry about the low wages, and, they’re angry that no one’s doing anything about it! But, if they don’t get that wage increase that has been promised, raising the minimum wage, that’s going to completely let the air out of the left’s tires. That’s why folks need to get out there and talk about these issues and why they’re not being addressed, because people usually cannot see any further than their wallet or their pocket.

    Just get out there and every nook and cranny, Barack Obama called Biden his explainer, well, they need to get out there and explain, but I fear Biden might be too old for that. He needs to be calling weekly news conferences all summer! Especially when Congress is not in session.

    The entire American experiment is at an inflection point! And I fear they are still fiddling while Rome is in flames! Until it changes, the left and right are really the same side of the coin in that regard! The Right has the gasoline and matches, and the left is still running around looking for the firehose! Sad sad sad.

  13. I keep hearing that democracy is toast. Perhaps it should be. Perhaps The Trump win in 2016 proves that a political system in which ordinary people have the major say regarding national policy is flawed. Maybe government of the people, by the people, and for the people is a horrible mistake and based upon a horrible truth—that ordinary humans, at least in America, are not intellectually or emotionally capable of governing themselves.

  14. I do not agree- with those today who are predicting Republican landslides in 22 and 24. Wherever we wind up with Manchin and a teetering democracy we have excellent talking points for both such elections in that Republicans have voted against Biden’s people-helping efforts in toto. They are going to have to answer for that and I hope our campaign warriors are planning just how to do that most effectively.

    Predicting who will win when is shakey at best, but barring some political catastrophe I can’t foresee, I will predict that we Democrats will increase our lead in the House and elect a Manchin-free majority in the Senate, and if so, Biden will have at least a two year period within which to emulate FDR, my all time favorite president; and while I’m predicting, I predict that Trump will not be the Republican candidate for president in 24, assuming there remains a Republican Party in existence. I think, finally, that bread and butter politics will outlast the politics of the aggrieved who, with bread and butter on the table, will be less aggrieved. (Think FDR’s 46-2 win in 1936.)

  15. One of the things that conservatives are “supposed” to do is to hate China and Russia for being Communist states that inflict human rights atrocities on their citizens. Neither is very socialist nowadays but they used to be. What they tend to be now are oligarchies which madly redistribute wealth away from the workers who create it to super-wealthy capitalists. Actually that is exactly what conservatives are taught to favor here.

    In reality, there is global competition underway between freedom and authoritarianism or, put in other words, liberalism and conservatism. The answer to which performs better economically used to have one answer when human population was a fraction of what it is increasingly becoming but now the question is which alternative best governs unsustainable numbers of humans living too heavily on the limited planet. Perhaps an as yet undefined hybrid? That’s what conservatives would love to turn the US towards. We old-fashioned liberals still cling to our Constitution as the guiding light.

    Perhaps someday Trump will be seen as a visionary moving the country towards Russia and China and away from Europe as our main economic family. That’s not a place I would favor for myself and my family but neither would I favor 10 – 11B people in the world, and we’ve given up on avoiding that.

  16. All that work to elect two Democratic Senators in Georgia and Manchin has taken up the McConnell path of obstruction.

  17. It’s too early in the game to give up on liberal democracy. There is no concept of government that improves on the idea of “by the people, of the people, and for the people.” What we confront now is a form of hedonistic self-indulgence that would not work under any form of government and thus would result in a permanent state of anarchy if not overcome. Biden is working to prove that government can take the side of the people and is enjoying some success.

    Republicans maintain that mass murder by weapons meant only to kill, supportive allies, intelligent solutions to problems, cultism, compromise, preferential treatment of pals, pursuit of national interests, rule by those with qualifications, independence of the judiciary, irrational legislators, terrorism by goon squads, and other fundamental assumptions on which our government has been based no longer matter. They believe that power alone counts. But power alone does not make a nation strong or sustainable or peaceful or prosperous. For example, if money continues (as it is now doing) to flow to the top as it has since Reagan, the vast majority of Americans will have only one hope and that is to bring down the existing system. Rinse. Wash. Repeat. Only citizens deciding their own destinies under the egis of a representative government and a thoughtful Constitution can endure. All else is ephemeral and destructive. Why capitulate to those with inherently unworkable ideas? So it’s exhausting to expend our energy and perhaps our lives opposing their madness, but we owe it to mankind to and the future of this planet to do nothing less.

  18. One dog’s bark – after being an inspiration for so many people that DC was not just power corruption, Obama sat back during the Trump years saying and doing little. Maybe he was burned out or just his own version of our “ME” culture in starting a foundation, writing books, giving speeches (and, by the way, making a load of $).

    Got that off my chest. Just sayin’…

  19. Your question is an excellent one, Sheila, and one which doesn’t have any clear answer. Those devoted to Trump are literally immune to facts. When confronted with facts, they either don’t believe the facts, or engage in whataboutism. They have been systematically indoctrinated with key points that prevent facts from penetrating their consciousness: 1. mainstream media is bad because it is run by the “Left”; 2. social media is bad because it is run by the “Left”, which unconstitutionally censors Trump, and they discriminate against Christians and conservatives; 3. the “Left” is evil, and they lie to you; 4. the “Left” is pushing for horrible things, like forcing school children to accept transgenders, gay people, and teaching critical race theory that tells white people they are bad and should feel guilty about having a home, a job and money in the bank which they should give to black people; 5. Trump was the most-successful POTUS ever, and because the “Left” is jealous and wants to deny him the adulation and credit he deserves, Trump has been the victim of a witch hunt because he tells it like it is, he stands up to the bad people, like our allies, and will kick out all of those brown murderers, rapists, and disease-carrying vermin.

    The Trump Disciples truly believe that the election was stolen, despite all proof to the contrary, based on nothing more than the word of a proven liar, and despite indisputable facts that any reasonable person would establish he could not have won: 1. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016; his Electoral College “victory” was the product of cheating with the help of Russian hackers; 2. most Americans have consistently disapproved of him; he had a less than 50% approval for 4 years, which is a record in the history of presidential approval polling; 3. he was predicted by every single poll, including Fox News polls, to lose; 4. the successful economy inherited from Obama went to hell under him and began to flatten well before the pandemic. He enacted tariffs because he couldn’t bully China into knuckling under, and this is partly responsible for shortages of certain items now and higher prices; 5. the pandemic spiraled out of control because he has no leadership qualities whatsoever, and he refuses to listen to experts. Bob Woodward’s recorded interview with Trump proves that he knew he was lying, but did it anyway for political purposes. To divert attention away from Trump’s failures, now the alt right apologists for Trump are attacking Dr. Fauci. People literally died because of Trump’s arrogance and incompetence. Yet, that doesn’t faze the disciples. Because Trump said he not only won, but won by a landslide, it must be true.

    Michael Beshloss, the presidential historian, has noted that never before in history has there been a cadre of alternative “news” channels devoted to putting out political messages, not to mention Facebook, Twitter, etc.. The message isn’t just all about Trump, but endless attacks against mainstream media, attacks against Democrats, lies, conspiracy theories, and culture wars. The main intention of all of this, including the attacks against LGBTQ, transgender children, and critical race theory (that is NOT being taught in Indiana schools, as some Hamilton County residents learned when they stormed a recent Board of Education meeting to complain) is to piss off Trumpster types, to get them mad, so they’ll go to the polls and vote Republican. Trump disciples are primarily white, non-college educated, and have a lot of debt–which is a description of those who stormed the Capitol. They are systematically being indoctrinated into believing that the “Dems, Libs and Left” are going to take their money, jobs and homes and give them to brown and black people. They are immune to facts. They don’t see the Trump failures. Everything bad is the fault of “Dems, Libs and the Left”. What to do? I don’t know, because facts don’t penetrate their consciousness.

  20. One thing I find hilarious is the right roiling about transgender bathrooms! Well, in Europe, all bathrooms are transgender! You going to the bathroom, you close and lock the cubicle door do your thing come out and wash up! Doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. I’ve never seen any Europeans standing at the wash basin with their pants down or some other nefarious activity! And we all know how screwed up they are in europe! ???

  21. Some days I feel cynical, like Lester, only I suggest North Korea – another Glorious Leader, Dear Father, etc.

    Other days, I feel pessimistic like Larry – we get the government we deserve – except I don’t deserve the Trump dynasty.

    Other days, I feel optimistic. Stacey Abrams proved that just because the fix is in, doesn’t mean you can’t break it. Biden has the “approachable” demeanor of FDR and Obama, both of whom mentioned here. Democrats usually snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but we do have two Democratic Senators from Georgia, so anything is possible.

    I have two basic premises on my hopeful days: (1) people hate “socialism”, but love the policies, and (2) if blue collar workers start to see themselves as obtaining the American dream (like in the days of strong unions), their other impulses will be subdued and they will favor the party that got them there.

    My optimism sees the curse of Trump as being a culmination of the racist dog-whistle/trickle down Reagan administration. Recovery won’t happen quickly. I just hope to live long enough to see it, but who knows, I thought I would be 80 or 90 when LGBT marriage was legalized.

    This is why I see Biden as having a bit more time. His response the SARS-CoV-2 has boosted his popularity and while much of his agenda may be blocked, even a mediocre infrastructure bill will put over a million more people back to work (2.7 is the estimate for the full program), and may include some work to encourage the pro-green voter. If a bipartisan bill comes out this year, it will start to kick in before the mid-terms; if it doesn’t, I think Biden will say “look how hard I tried” and go for reconciliation. Either way, more blue collar jobs will be created.

    Add to this, old-school Republicans, suburban moms, true conservatives that don’t want to sell their souls, and demographic shifts will continue to add more Democratic seats, perhaps making this a year that bucks the mid-term losses.

    I think the only thing we can do is hope, but work harder than ever.

  22. I’ve always believed that if people are given the facts, the majority of them will make the right decision the majority of the time. Today, our polarizations are the product not just of demagogic candidates but of cable TV stations which are propagandists rather than objective news outlets. I am very concerned that democracy will not survive these propagandists.

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