Former President Barack Obama says Democrats lost votes in the November elections because some in the party voiced support for “defund the police” movements that spread across cities amid racial strife.
In an interview released on Wednesday with Vanity Fair contributor Peter Hamby for his podcast “Good Luck America,” Hamby asked, “If you’re a young activist today and you believe really passionately in a slogan, like Defund the Police, what is your advice to that activist? Knowing that a lot of politicians won’t go near that phrase, even if the nuts and bolts of the idea might be popular.”
Obama said, “If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it’s not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan, like ‘Defund the Police,’ but, you know, you lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done.”
“But if you instead say, Hey, you know what? Let’s reform the police department so that everybody’s being treated fairly. And not just in policing, but in sentencing, how can we divert young people from getting into crime? And if there was a homeless guy, can maybe we send a mental health worker there instead of an armed unit that could end up resulting in a tragedy?” Obama said.
“You know, suddenly a whole bunch of folks who might not otherwise listen to you are listening to you,” he added. “So the key is deciding, do you want to actually get something done, or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with? And if you want to get something done in a democracy, in a country as big and diverse as ours, then you’ve got to be able to meet people where they are.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) blasted Obama for calling the “defund the police” movement a “snappy slogan.”
“We lose people in the hands of police,” she wrote on Twitter. “It’s not a slogan but a policy demand. And centering the demand for equitable investments and budgets for communities across the country gets us progress and safety.”
Obama also mused about the state of the party that just elected a 78-year-old white man as president and has 80-year-old career lawmaker Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House. He said that if the party wants to appeal to young people, it will need to embrace new and younger leadership.
The former president, who is hawking a new book, cited Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), the 31-year-old former bartender-turned-lawmaker. She supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the 2020 election, and was subsequently given just two minutes to speak at the Democratic National Convention over the summer.
“The fact that AOC only got, what? Three minutes or five minutes? When she speaks to a broad section of young people who are interested in what she has to say, even if they don’t agree with everything she says,” he said. “New blood is always good. And I say that as somebody who used to be the young, shiny cool guy. But now is the gray-haired old grizzled vet.”
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