President Barack Obama knows a thing or two about catchy slogans. But there’s one recent phrase he can’t get behind.
Barack Obama tells Snapchat's @PeterHamby that “snappy” slogans like “Defund the Police” aren't very effective and will lose you an audience.
“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?” pic.twitter.com/sN8pigpP9O
— The Recount (@therecount) December 2, 2020
During an interview on the Snapchat show Good Luck America, Obama said that the slogan “defund the police” detracts from the movement’s goals because it’s too “snappy.” He believes the phrase is focused on making those who already agree with it feel good and not actually getting things done. It’s a rich bit coming from Obama, whose historic 2008 presidential campaign centered around the phrases “yes we can” and “hope and change.”
Obama is right about one thing, though—”defund the police” is an extremely snappy, catchy slogan. And that’s precisely what makes it great. It’s not just auditorily pleasing, either. In three simple words, it identifies the problem (that police departments are overfunded) as well as the solution (that they should be defunded). Anything more would bog that message down, and anything tamer or more palatable by Obama’s standards would obfuscate it completely.
There are plenty of people—namely police unions and those who receive their endorsements and money—with incentive to portray defunding police as some sinister anarchist plot to destroy America. The arguments are almost always made in bad faith. But they’re exactly the arguments Obama and other liberals are kowtowing to when they say “defund the police” is too “snappy.”
Defunding the police isn’t a terribly radical idea. The concept is to divest public funds from law enforcement and invest that money into municipal services that would both help communities in more appropriate ways and ease cops’ professional burden. It’s a simple reimagining of what law enforcement is and should do. Picture for a second if someone as prominent as Obama took the time to actually explain that and spoke with activists with specific plans to reallocate police funding rather than tearing down the movement’s messaging.
Maybe Obama has a point here—he is a snappy three-word slogan master after all. Perhaps he realizes that “defund the police” is too concise and specific—that to make any real headway, your slogan needs to be inspiring but just vague enough for it to remain functionally meaningless. That way when you don’t actually follow through on your campaign’s hopeful promise and plunge the United States deeper into a neoliberal hellscape you can just blame it on obstructionist Republicans.