It becomes more adorable with each passing day to reminisce about how we spent a year following the twists and turns and what-ifs of a Democratic presidential primary between 20-some candidates. After all the noise, Joe Biden just had to hold on to South Carolina to get Democratic voters to effectively nominate him by acclamation. Cool. So much of that time, too, was spent debating whether Democrats needed a return to the halcyon days of the Obama administration or a bolder agenda of structural overhaul. Did Barack Obama go far enough? was a fundamental question of the primary. It was mostly unspoken, as answering with the negative risked taking the most popular Democrat’s name in vain.
And then, the day after the last remaining competitor drops out and endorses the presumptive nominee, Obama himself comes out with the answer: Hell, I certainly wouldn’t run on the Obama platform.
“You know, I could not be prouder of the incredible progress that we made together during my presidency,” Obama said in a video released Tuesday morning, in which he endorsed Joe Biden. “But if I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008.”
He added that now is not the time to simply “tinker around the edges with tax credits or underfunded programs.” While it’s important to “protect the gains we made with the Affordable Care Act,” he said, “it’s also time to go further. We should make plans affordable for everyone, provide everyone with a public option, expand Medicare, and finish the job so that health care isn’t just a right, but a reality for everybody.”
In the last presidential debate in March, Biden had emphasized the need to rejoin the Paris climate agreement. Bernie Sanders got some heat for responding by saying that in terms of what’s needed on climate policy, it’s “not a question of reentering the Paris accord. That’s fine. Who cares. It’s not a big deal.” But Obama, in his endorsement video, made a similar, if more artful, point. “We have to return the U.S. to the Paris agreement and lead the world in reducing the pollution that causes climate change,” he said. “But science tells us we have to go much further—that it’s time for us to accelerate progress on bold new green initiatives that make our economy a clean energy innovator, save us money, and secure our children’s future.”
If Obama was emphasizing in his video that it’s not enough to return to the policies of the Obama administration, it’s because the video was more than just an endorsement of Joe Biden. It was his first pitch-in to the cause of party unification.
Obama did not scrimp on the praise of Bernie Sanders in the endorsement. He described Sanders as “an American original” who has “devoted his life to giving voice to working people’s hopes, dreams, and frustrations.”
“We both know that nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change,” Obama said. “And the ideas he’s championed, the energy and enthusiasm he inspired, especially in young people, will be critical in moving America in a direction of progress and hope. Because for the second time in 12 years, we’ll have the incredible task of rebuilding our economy. And to meet the moment, the Democratic Party will have to be bold.”
Obama also delivered perhaps his choicest words against President Donald Trump, and the Trump administration, since leaving office.
Because one thing everybody has learned by now is that the Republicans occupying the White House and running the U.S. Senate are not interested in progress. They’re interested in power. They’ve shown themselves willing to kick millions off their health insurance and eliminate preexisting condition protections for millions more, even in the middle of this public health crisis, even as they’re willing to spend a trillion dollars on tax cuts for the wealthy. They’ve given polluters unlimited power to poison our air and our water and denied the science of climate change just as they denied the science of pandemics. Repeatedly, they’ve disregarded American principles of rule of law and voting rights and transparency—basic norms that previous administrations observed regardless of party. Principles that are the bedrock of our democracy.
So our country’s future hangs on this election. And it won’t be easy. The other side has a massive war chest. The other side has a propaganda network with little regard for the truth. On the other hand, pandemics have a way of cutting through a lot of noise and spin to remind us of what is real and what is important. This crisis has reminded us that government matters. It’s reminded us that good government matters. That facts and science matter. That the rule of law matters. That having leaders who are informed and honest and seek to bring people together rather than drive them apart—those kind of leaders matter.
No, he’s not at the point where he will actually use Trump’s name as the idiot to whom he’s referring. But it’s only April. Welcome to the party.
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