Kenya Evelyn, The Guardian, December 2, 2020
Barack Obama chastised Democratic political candidates for using “snappy” slogans like “defund the police” that he argued could turn voters away, in an interview released this week.
“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,” the former president told show host Peter Hamby in an interview with Good Luck America, a Snapchat political show.
“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?” Obama added.
However, Obama also defended the place of young progressives as important “new blood” in the Democratic party, singling out Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – who has spoken out strongly on the phrase and the essence of defunding police departments to boost social spending.
The remarks drew immediate backlash from notable, Black progressive Democrats – including the Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who stressed “defund the police” was not about mere words but a “demand for equitable investments and budgets for communities across the country”.
“We didn’t lose Breonna because of a ‘slogan’,” said Kentucky state representative Charles Booker, referencing Breonna Taylor, the Black, Louisville woman who was shot dead in her own apartment by police in March during a botched raid.
Cori Bush, who made history last month by becoming the first Black woman elected to represent Missouri in Congress shot back at Obama that “Defund the Police” was “not a slogan. It’s a mandate for keeping [Black] people alive.”
Bush is also the only candidate to formally run on a platform of defunding the police – a point many analysts say make criticism of the movement unwarranted.
Defund the Police has been a widely used phrase and policy initiative that gained traction over the summer as racial justice and anti-policing protests erupted in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May.
The former president’s comments echoed other moderate Democrats who have taken issue and consider the phrase polarizing, prompting criticism of a progressive movement led by what some have called radical messaging.