The Slatest

Obama Is Worried Progressives Set Up “Circular Firing Squad” Against Allies

Former President Barack Obama speaks to young leaders from across Europe in a Town Hall-styled session on April 6, 2019 in Berlin, Germany.
Former President Barack Obama speaks to young leaders from across Europe in a Town Hall-styled session on April 6, 2019 in Berlin, Germany.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama went to Europe but delivered a message that seemed to be directly aimed at Democrats in the United States. Speaking at an Obama Foundation event in Berlin, the former president said he was concerned that members of the progressive wing of the party could end up shooting themselves in the foot by focusing their ire on other Democrats who should be seen as allies. Specifically, Obama talked about how he had to compromise in order to pass the Affordable Care Act, which was hardly his ideal solution to the U.S. healthcare system, and the Paris Climate Agreement, which he knew was not enough to tackle the huge issue of global warming.

“One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States —maybe it’s true here as well — is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, ‘Uh, I’m sorry, this is how it’s going to be,’ and then we start sometimes creating what’s called a ‘circular firing squad,’ where you start shooting at your allies because one of them has strayed from purity on the issues. And when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens,” he said.

It is important, Obama went on to say, for both citizens and political leaders to accept that some compromise is necessary and it doesn’t have to mean putting your core values on the table. “You have to recognize that the way we structure democracy requires you to take into account people who don’t agree with you, and that by definition means you’re not going to get 100 percent of what you want,” he said. The important thing, Obama said is to clearly “know what your principles are” because just like “you can’t set up a system in which you don’t compromise on anything … you also can’t operate in a system where you compromise on everything.”

The former president issued the warning at a time when Democrats are gearing up for what looks to be a brutal primary battle as more than a dozen have already jumped into the ring. And it also comes at the end of a week when his former vice president, Joe Biden, has been on the receiving end of criticism even though he has yet to formally announce he is entering the race.

In another part of his address, Obama spoke up against rising nationalism around the world and issued an ominous warning about its possible consequences. “Nationalism, particularly from the far-right, has re-emerged,” he said, adding that it amounts to a style of politics “that divides us into us and them.” Obama went on to say that “we know where that leads. Europe knows better than anyone where that leads.”