Can We All Agree That Barack Obama Should Never Follow Bill Kristol's Consistently Bad Advice?

2020 democratic primary
Can We All Agree That Barack Obama Should Never Follow Bill Kristol's Consistently Bad Advice?

Bill Kristol thinks it's time for Barack Obama to get off his ass and save America from Donald Trump or, more immediately, Bernie Sanders and his scourge of universal heath coverage. Kristol isn't the only white person who wants to recall our last legitimate president to active service. However, his argument is the most irritating and obnoxious.

There's so much stupid to unpack here. Yes, Obama routing Clinton in the 2008 South Carolina was a key victory for him, but he did that all by himself. Joe Biden didn't help him pull the sword from the stone. Kristol can't even mask his contempt for Obama while asking him for a favor. It's not surprising because Kristol never thought much of Obama. During his farewell address, Obama said that serving the American people made him a "better president" and a "better man," and Kristol all but called him an egomaniac. This was just a week before Trump would infect the White House, and Kristol was still playing the popular conservative parlor game of "Everything Obama Does Is Wrong."

Kristol argues that everything Obama accomplished during his presidency would wither and die if Trump's re-elected or Sanders is elected at all. Either option is equally a blight upon the land. Kristol still believes Biden has the best chance of defeating Trump. This theory persists even after Uncle Joe had his ass handed to him in three straight contests. He's lost in two states -- New Hampshire and Nevada -- that Trump dominated in 2016. Trump also lost Iowa but just by a few points. Biden was a distant fourth. Biden's less Smoking Joe during this primary and more Jerry Quarry. But I get it: Never Trumpers like Kristol consider Biden the noblest Democrat of them all -- or at least the most tolerable.

What's most insulting about Kristol's tweet is that he implies Obama is a coward if he doesn't drop everything and save Biden's campaign from Joe Biden. "Passivity is a choice," Kristol declares, as if my boy is Black Hamlet. Obama probably understands that "the readiness is all," but he also recognizes what a catastrophic clusterfuck he'd create if he interceded in the Democratic primary on his former vice president's behalf.

Obama pointedly didn't endorse during the 2016 primary when Hillary Clinton was running. She was his former secretary of state! However, she had this unique talent for actually winning primary races. She won Iowa. And although Sanders crushed her in New Hampshire, she rallied in Nevada and then won South Carolina. She didn't need her old boss's help. It's not surprising that a conservative like Kristol would support affirmative action only for older white male candidates.

Kristol's demands of Obama don't make strategic sense, either. Sanders is openly running against the "establishment." We can question whether his message is suitably "unifying" or crap like that, but I don't see how helpful it is to prove his point. Moderates forming like Voltron and trying to carve up Sanders with their blazing sword is exactly how Sanders is framing the race.

If Obama dragged Biden across the finish line in South Carolina, it would only make Biden look weaker than he already is. It might also piss off other campaigns beyond Sanders. Pete Buttigieg is a two-percent milk candidate with just two-percent of the black vote. He has no viable path but he's still performed better so far than Biden. This isn't to say that I think Obama should endorse Buttigieg. That's like Little Richard endorsing Pat Boone.

There's also the perhaps uncomfortable fact that Obama, even at full "hope and change," couldn't dramatically improve Biden's numbers. The support of a popular politician is helpful but it has its limits. Those limits are the actual candidate whose name is on the ballot. That was always the challenge Biden faced. His entire campaign was built on an "electability" house of cards. I'm not dismissing "electability" as a political platform, but it requires actually winning elections. Making the argument that the person currently losing is the only one who can eventually win is just not a compelling reason for Obama to come out of retirement.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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