Joe Biden has officially crossed the Rudy Giuliani line. When confronted by reporters about Pete Buttigieg, a frustrated Biden shouted out:
“Oh, come on, man! This guy’s not a Barack Obama!”
Honestly, this guy can’t go very long at all without invoking Obama; essentially, a lot of what he says is a noun, a verb, and Barack Obama.
But here’s the thing: Biden ain’t no Barack Obama either. Obama didn’t have a creepy old man vibe, and his gentle, compassionate voice was better than Biden’s as well.
The thing is, what Biden is invoking here is a sense of comfort, of nostalgia, or more specifically, all the good stuff that we remember about Barack Obama.
The problem is, all of that is overrated. Obama seemed like a godsend after George W. Bush, and seems in hindsight a true genius and a moral paragon comnpared to Donald Trump, who followed him into office.
The fact is, however, that Obama was not all that fantastic. Oh, culturally and socially, he was. He had a way to make people feel like the world was stable and right again. You felt like adults were running the show again. He was scandal-free, and acted with great appropriateness, at least in terms of legalities and practices. He was a model president on TV.
However, his primary achievements—the Stimulus and Obamacare—were both watered-down compromises, and both took place in the first few months of his presidency when he had not only both houses of Congress, but a supermajority in the Senate. Yes, he brokered the Iran deal, and that was great. His work on the auto industry was also a big win. Getting Osama bin Laden was a victory, but more of a PR win than a blow to global terrorism.
The fact is, he failed to do a lot of stuff. He never closed Guantanamo, he did too much military adventurism and way overused drone warfare. He never really cleaned up Wall Street, never jailed a single executive. He eventually did the right things for immigration and LGBTQ issues, but he more followed than led in matters such as these, his accomplishments far less and far later than we would have preferred.
Even his accomplishments were half-done: he compromised on health care and gave away half the store to republicans, who then gave him not a single vote, and similarly watered down the Stimulus with less infrastructure and assistance for the jobless and poor, while hiking up tax cuts for wealthy people—again, without republicans giving him a single vote in his favor. Obama negotiated by starting from the middle, and then giving away half the deal without getting a damned thing in return.
True, a lot of this was the republicans’ fault—they shot down everything Obama did as much as they could, and blocked him at every turn even when he did stuff they would have otherwise wanted. Had republicans just been the loyal opposition instead of actively sabotaging his presidency, he could have done much more. But that’s not the way it happened.
Overall, Obama’s legacy was a calm between two storms, but otherwise somewhat of a centrist, neoliberal custodian. He was no liberal champion, to be sure.
And that’s what we need: someone who will not futilely pivot to the center-right in a vain and unsuccessful attempt to appease the uncompromising right wing, but rather someone who will move the dialog to the left, who will fight for the people before the corporations, who will move the national dialog back to the left even if—and probably especially because—they propose initiatives that are way too far to the left to ever get passed as proposed.
We don’t need someone who triangulates for the center in an attempt to appear not liberal. We aren’t the “Not Democratic” Party, were not “Not Liberals.” Right-wingers don’t try to run away from who they are, why should we?
We need someone with broad appeal and mature responsibility like Barack Obama, but what we really need is a liberal president—something we haven’t had for at least half a century. Someone who is marked by the fact that they fight for the people, they see to the people’s needs first and foremost, and don’t buy into the idea that corporations are the most important constituents.
So, no, Joe. Buttigieg is not Barack Obama, and neither are you—but we really don’t need an Obama, either, at least in terms of policy.
We need a strident liberal, an actual liberal, a good and balanced liberal such as we may not have seen since FDR himself.