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From left: President-elect Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. AOC, Representative-elect Jamaal Bowman. Photo: Getty, Wikipedia
From left: President-elect Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. AOC, Representative-elect Jamaal Bowman. Photo: Getty, Wikipedia

Obama’s comments raise the question: Who’s really unifying the Democratic party?

While Obama faces heat for comments on ‘defunding the police,’ progressive dems push Biden toward bold action. 

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Consider this: 12 years ago, the two frontrunners for Democratic Presidential nominee — Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — virtually sat on the same point in the ideological spectrum. In 2020, the political landscape of the Democratic party has severely changed.  

It was Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders who emerged as the presidential hopefuls. One, with a similar agenda to Obama’s, and another who considers himself a Democratic Socialist, promoting ideas like Medicare for all and tuition-free college.

It’s issues like this that have had moderate and Progressive dems divided for a few years, but in 2020, the rifts have deepened. 

Calls to “abolish Ice” and “defund the police” have polarized dems, prompting the GOP to equate such terms with socialism. The latter played an enormous part in Biden's worse-than-expected performance among moderate Latinx voters in the 2020 election— particularly in Florida and Texas border communities. 

It isn’t an issue that can be taken lightly and Democrats know this, but recent attempts of unification have resulted in further divisions. Instead of addressing the way such calls have been made, the systemic issues at hand remain unresolved. 

Most recently, during an interview on Dec. 2, Obama referred to the phrase “defund the police” as a “snappy slogan," saying: 

“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,” he said.

The remarks sparked pushback from progressives, and ignited a discussion among activists and policymakers on his stance and the true meaning behind the slogans. 

For “defund the police,” progressives say the slogan is a step at addressing overfunded police budgets in the U.S. and how to better allocate funds and resources to communities that need them. 

Black and Latinx communities are historically disenfranchised. 2020’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations and pandemic have revealed the racism within the nation’s healthcare system, and these are long standing issues that have yet to be adequately addressed through legislation. 

“There’s been a whole lot of talk about which phrases help or hurt electoral campaigns. I’ve seen VERY little talk about which strategies actually solve the crisis at the center,” wrote representative-elect Jamaal Bowman, on Twitter. 

He is one of a handful of newly-elected progressive dems including Mondaire Jones and Cori Bush. Bowman reacted to Obama’s comments on the language he perceives as divisive, rather than progressive. 

“We’re here to solve things right? Talking about talking isn’t doing that,” he continued

He later criticized Obama’s shifting stances over the years, specifically in relation to Black Lives Matter. 

Obama isn’t president anymore, but Bowman’s words can also be directed to Biden’s upcoming term in office. His campaign made quite a few promises in line with the progressive movement.

To garner the support of Black voters — who ultimately sealed his win in Georgia and Michigan — the Biden-Harris campaign ran on ending systemic racism and economic inequality. 

But now as the upcoming administration appears to be dragging its feet on said promises, progressives like Bowman and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and pushing for bold action. 

Ocasio-Cortez recently held a rally that included groups such as the climate-focused Sunrise Movement and other progressive dems. It was reminiscent of a similar effort in 2018 when they organized a protest at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol office to demand Democrats act more decisively on the climate crisis.

Pelosi herself has been a longtime resistor of the Squad’s push for swift, robust action. But with more progressive dems entering Congress as freshman in 2021, the scales are very slowly shifting out of her control. 

There’s a silver lining, at least. 

In the same controversial interview, Obama remarked on the need to ensure Ocasio-Cortez has a platform within the party. He touched on this year’s Democratic National Convention, and how despite her being a voice for the younger generation, she was only given a couple minutes to speak in a pre-recorded message. 

“You give her a platform, just like there may be some other young Democrats who come from more conservative areas who have a different point of view,” Obama said, adding, “new blood is always good.”

One of the key issues is that ‘socialism’ as a term itself has a vastly different meaning depending on an individual’s prior context. It’s the reason for the rise in the GOP’s “Freedom Force,” and the fears of radicalization within the Democratic party. 

“Socialism is still a loaded term for a lot of folks,” Obama continued. “Once again, instead of talking labels and ideology, we should focus on talking about getting certain things done.”

It’s a message that echoes to Bowman’s words — about “solving the crisis at its center,” but the majority of eyes focused on Obama’s earlier calls to refrain from using divisive slogans. 

The larger picture is the division — the true crisis at the center that almost proved fatal over Election Week. Democrats must unify if they want to avoid midterm election losses, and if they want to retain the White House in four years.

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