Barack Obama made a rare appearance where he urged people to vote in the 2018 midterms.
Obama attended a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser on Thursday, in his first public comments in months, the former president was anything but aloof. “You are right to be concerned,” Obama told the audience, before dismissing the notion that a political unicorn would save the country from Trumpism. “Do not wait for the perfect message, don’t wait to feel a tingle in your spine because you’re expecting politicians to be so inspiring and poetic and moving that somehow, ‘O.K., I’ll get off my couch after all and go spend the 15 to 20 minutes it takes for me to vote.’”
According to Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere, one of a small group of reporters admitted to the event, Obama steered clear of addressing issues currently roiling the Democratic base: the family-separation crisis at the southern border; recent controversial Supreme Court rulings; and the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a decisive swing vote on the court. Instead, he had one overarching message: show up and cast a ballot. “Boil it down,” he said. “If we don’t vote, then this democracy doesn’t work.”
With five months until the 2018 midterms, when Democrats hope to win back at least one chamber of Congress, Obama dismissed the idea that a blue wave was guaranteed. “Fear is powerful,” he said. “Telling people that somebody’s out to get you, or somebody took your job, or somebody has it out for you, or is going to change you, or your community, or your way of life—that’s an old story and it has shown itself to be powerful in societies all around the world. It is a deliberate, systematic effort to tap into that part of our brain that carries fear in it.” This, he said, is the strategy of Trump and the G.O.P. “They don’t worry about inspiration,” Obama said. “They worry about winning the seat and they are very systematic about work not just at the presidential level but at the congressional and state legislative levels.”
But he did argue that a hopeful message will win out, and that the 2020 Democratic message will come into focus in time. “All these people that are out here kvetching and wringing their hands and stressed and anxious and constantly watching cable TV and howling at the moon, ‘What are we going to do?’ their hair’s falling out, they can’t sleep,” Obama said. “The majority of the American people prefer a story of hope. A majority of the American people prefer a country that comes together rather than being divided. The majority of the country doesn’t want to see a dog-eat-dog world where everybody is angry all the time.”
Of course, Obama is in part responsible for the Republican coup—during the eight years he was in office, Democrats lost some 1,000 legislative seats and control of 13 governors’ offices, and the D.N.C. fell into massive debt. On Thursday, he addressed his shortcomings with a message that doubled as a call to action: “I’ll be honest with you,” he said, “if I have a regret during my presidency, it is that people were so focused on me and the battles we were having, particularly after we lost the House, that folks stopped paying attention up and down the ballot.”