Obama’s Lip Service to The Left

Barack Obama finally broke his silence. In a recorded address Wednesday, Obama endorsed his former VP Joe Biden for president. He lambasted Republican leadership for downplaying and mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic. And the former president also seemed to extend an olive branch toward Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters.

Obama lauded Sanders’ political skills, his progressive ideals, and the strides he’s made for working class people. The former president (and the entire Democratic Party power structure) understand the importance of acknowledging Sanders and reaching out to his supporters, many of whom feel disaffected and betrayed following the primary. Obama couldn’t have been more complimentary and positive.

But does it actually mean anything?

Obama has a knack for saying the right things. His skills as an orator are a big part of why he won two terms in the Oval Office. But this is the same person who months ago said he’d intervene in the Democratic primary if Sanders had a clear shot at winning it, and followed up on that assurance. Obama was the man behind Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg both ending their campaigns before Super Tuesday and endorsing Biden—a move that ultimately sunk Sanders’ chances.

Nothing about what Obama said Wednesday implied any commitment or even interest in progressive policy. The plaudits were nice enough, if you’re into that sort of thing. But they feel meaningless coming from the man who orchestrated the demise of the only progressive campaign in the primary just five weeks ago. Biden’s initial capitulations to Sanders supporters—lowering the Medicare age to 60 and partial income-based student loan forgiveness—were paltry at best. Sanders himself has attempted to rally his supporters to the cause, endorsing Biden and saying it would be “irresponsible” not to vote for him. But Sanders knows better than anyone that most of his supporters aren’t driven by blind devotion to their candidate, but their belief in the policies he championed.

Obama could have worked to enact some of those policies during his time in the White House, but was never interested in doing so. He ran a revolutionary campaign based on hope and change only for the Americans who supported him to wind up with little of either. Breaking his silence now speaks volumes. He understands the necessity of caping for his former VP, one of the weakest Democratic candidates ever. But until Biden actually commits to real, progressive change Sanders supporters can believe in, Obama’s praise rings hollow.