People are generally reacting to former President Barack Obama’s return to the political stage in one of two ways.
Some welcome the return of Obama because he tends to excite audiences with motivational remarks. Some are as enthusiastic as Bears fans during the first half of Sunday’s game in Green Bay.
“We are Americans,” Obama said Friday during a speech at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “We’re supposed to stand up to bullies — not follow them.
“We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?”
Many Democrats are hopeful that Obama’s re-entry into the political arena will energize people to vote in the midterm elections. Some Republicans feel the same way but for different reasons.
“What is this damn fool doing coming out of retirement to break with the tradition of not attacking sitting presidents? That was my first thought,” former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu told Fox News on Monday.
Vice President Mike Pence expressed similar sentiment on “Fox News Sunday.”
“It was very disappointing to see President Obama break with the tradition of former presidents, and become so political, and roll out the same tired arguments that he and liberals have made over the last eight years,” Pence said.
Democrats, on the other hand, seem elated about Obama’s return.
“I'll tell you what, I breathed a sigh of relief when I looked up and saw that man come up on the stage. He’s reminder of what a president can be and what a president should be,” Sen. Dick Durbin told a crowd at a Democratic event in Decatur Friday night, the Herald & Review reported.
Some may think it’s ironic to hear Republicans pout about Obama disrespecting political norms. After all, the current White House occupant owes his political livelihood to shattering boundaries of respect and decency.
There is nothing surprising about what Obama said Friday in Urbana. What matters is that he’s campaigning for other Democrats after removing himself from the political limelight for more than 18 months.
“The biggest threat to our democracy is indifference,” Obama told the audience of U of I students and others. “The biggest threat is cynicism. A cynicism led too many people to turn away from politics and stay home on Election Day.”
Regardless of your political persuasion, you have to admit we’re at a fascinating moment in American politics. After years of festering partisanship, sharp divisions are exposed within the two major parties.
Republicans fall into two camps. Many moderates and traditional conservatives are appalled by some of the extreme views expressed by some of President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters.
Some of these “Main Street Republicans” may dislike Trump’s foolish trade wars or the inhumane practice of separating children from their immigrant parents. But many go along if it means more tax cuts for the rich and Supreme Court justices who will once again criminalize abortion.
Factions among Democrats seem equally pronounced. There are establishment politicians beholden to major donors and special interests. The energy on the left seems to be among progressives who believe the rich should pay their fair share.
“You have come of age during a time of growing inequality, of fracturing of economic opportunity,” Obama said in Urbana. “That growing economic divide compounded other divisions in our country. Regional, racial, religious, cultural, it made it harder to build consensus on issues. It made politicians less willing to compromise, which increased gridlock, which made people even more cynical about politics.”
At the end of the day, speeches don’t matter all that much. Neither do polls, political commentary in media or campaign donations. What matters most are votes.
“In two months, we have the chance — not the certainty, but the chance — to restore some semblance of some sanity to our politics,” Obama said. “Because there is actually only one real check on bad policy and abuses of power. And that’s you. You and your vote.”
The Nov. 6 midterms will show which side is more energized. Obama might fire up people to get out and vote for Democrats. His presence on the campaign trail might also backfire by motivating people to vote for Republicans.
“If you don’t like what’s going on right now — and you shouldn’t — do not complain,” Obama said. “Don’t hashtag. Don’t get anxious. Don’t retreat, don’t binge on whatever it is you’re bingeing on, don’t lose yourself in ironic detachment, don’t put your head in the sand. Don’t boo. Vote! Vote!”
The midterm elections may provide answers to many questions. How much is Trump able to help elect other Republicans? Will Democrats win control of the House? If the election shows Trump is seen as a drain on voter enthusiasm, will Congressional Republicans rethink their support for the president?
Will establishment Democrats regret their inability to harness the enthusiasm of progressive voters? Will Obama’s political comeback end up helping or hurting Democrats?