Barack Obama clarified comments he made that Democratic candidates who use “snappy slogans” like “defund the police” risk having their support drop among key demographics.
The 44th president got some flak for the remarks, which he expanded on in an appearance on “The Daily Show” on Tuesday, Dec. 15. He told host Trevor Noah that he was a staunch supporter of the explosion of activism that has occurred in the last year.
“Nothing made me more optimistic during a very difficult year than the activism that we saw in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and Black Lives Matter,” Obama said. “And I have consistently believed that, their courage, activism, media savvy, strategic resolve, far exceeds anything that I could have done at their age and, I think, has shifted the conversation in ways that I would not even have imagined a couple of years ago.”
The former president suggested that the reason his words “caught attention” was because people believed he was arguing that the phrase prevented Democrats from doing better in the congressional elections.
“That actually was not the point I was making,” he said. “I was making a very particular point around if we, in fact, want to translate the very legitimate belief that how we do policing needs to change and that if there is, for example, a homeless guy ranting and railing in the middle of the street, sending a mental health worker rather than an armed, untrained police officer to deal with that person might be a better outcome for all of us and make us safer.”
“That if we describe that to not just white folks but, let’s say, Michelle [Obama’s] mom, that makes sense to them,” he continued. “But if we say ‘defund the police,’ not just white folks but Michelle’s mom might say, ‘If I’m getting robbed, who am I gonna call, and is somebody gonna show up?’”
Obama indicated that, ultimately, he wasn’t trying to imply that people should be made to feel “comfortable” as opposed to confronting those speaking truth to power.
“The issue, to me, is not making them comfortable. It is, can we be precise with our language enough that people who might be persuaded around that particular issue to make a particular change that gets a particular result that we want. … What’s the best way for us to describe that?”
When Obama originally made his comments concerning “defund the police” on the Snapchat political show “Good Luck America,” he immediately faced backlash, particularly from progressive Democrats. Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar wrote on Twitter in response, “We lose people in the hands of police. 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.”
Kentucky state Rep. Charles Booker also sent out a Tweet that said, “We didn’t lose Breonna because of a slogan. Instead of conceding this narrative, let’s shape our own.”
US Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman posted on Twitter, “The problem is America’s comfort with Black death — not discomfort with slogans.”
Even so, in the same interview, Obama himself criticized his party for not properly recognizing its more progressive members, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has been vocal in her support of defunding the police departments to institute structural changes in the law enforcement system.