Barack Obama hasn’t made many public appearances in the 17 months since he left office. However, Democrats are likely to see plenty of their party’s most prominent figurehead in the coming months as he hits the campaign trail before November’s midterm elections. Though he’s not expected to make many appearances before September, the former president was in Los Angeles on Thursday to attend the first of three California fundraisers at which he will speak this week.
According to Politico, Obama for the most part opted to take a big-picture approach to the struggles Democrats are facing in the age of Trump, rather than addressing specific issues like family separations at the border or the upcoming retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced on Wednesday that he will step down from the post he’s held since 1988 at the end of July, clearing the path for the court to potentially overturn Roe vs. Wade.
“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, ‘OK, I’ll get off my couch after all and go spend the 15-20 minutes it takes for me to vote,'” Obama told donors in Beverly Hills. “Because that’s part of what happened in the last election. I heard that too much.”
Though Obama did not address Trump directly, several of his comments were directed at the president and his fellow Republicans. “Fear is powerful,” Obama 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.”
True to form, Obama turned Democrats away from fear and toward optimism. “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.”
“The Democrats’ job is not to exaggerate,” he added. “The Democrats’ job is not to simply mimic the tactics of the other side.”
Though he didn’t address many specific issues, Obama did criticize how Republicans have handled health care since Trump took office, noting that instead of looking to replace the Affordable Care Act with something better, they’ve simply been working “undermine and erode” Obamacare. He’s not tied to the name, either. “I said to the incoming president, ‘Just change the name and claim that you made these wonderful changes and I would be like, You go!,'” he said. “Because I didn’t have pride of authorship, I just wanted people to have health care.”
Obama noted that he may be partially to blame if Democrats seem to be waiting around for someone with an “inspiring and poetic” message while Republicans are getting the job done. He said that his biggest regret as president was that “people were so focused on me and the battles” that they “stopped paying attention up and down the ballot.” But with Trump in the White House and so much at stake this November, Democrats no longer have the luxury of being complacent.