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Former President Obama Reflects: Hope, Change, and Confusion

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If there was anyone more surprised than Donald Trump by his come-from-behind 2016 win, it was the person he was succeeding: Barack Obama. In a new book, The World as It Is, former advisor Ben Rhodes says Trump’s predecessor couldn’t seem to come to grips with the results, wondering, “What if we were wrong?”

The backlash, after eight years of bulldozing American values, was fierce. No one on the Left, which had spent the better part of two terms remaking the nation in their extremist image, could have predicted it. They didn’t realize how deeply their elitism offended, or how strongly their contempt for mainstream ideals hurt them. And the deep frustration with the way Obama governed wasn’t just from the Republican side either.

If you ask the Democratic base in the Rust Belt, they’ll tell party bosses exactly where they went wrong. In the aftermath of the election, local party chairmen and union bosses were repulsed by the direction of the country and the campaign. “Look, I’m as progressive as anybody, okay? But people in the heartland thought the Democratic Party cared more about where someone else went to the restroom than whether they had a good-paying job,” Ohio’s David Betras complained. As even the Washington Post pointed out, “The local chairman feels very strongly now that Clinton could have won Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan if she had just kept her eye on economic issues and not gotten distracted by the culture wars.”

Still, President Obama was “shell-shocked,” Rhodes wrote. “Sometimes I wonder whether I was 10 or 20 years too early,” Obama told aides, according to the memoir. “Maybe we pushed too far…” For once, he was right. What we witnessed in 2016 was the revenge of the “deplorables,” who, after a decade of being mocked and maligned, finally said, “enough!” As Tony Perkins pointed out, and a lot of conservatives agreed, Americans “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

The idea that his country would choose a return to restraint, patriotism, and common sense and decency was astonishing to Obama. “Maybe this is what people want,” Rhodes quotes him as saying. “No facts. No consequences. They can just have a cartoon.” Then, in a moment almost comical, the book describes Obama the day after the election, waxing poetic. “There are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the earth,” he insists to his aides about the results.

On Fox News, our good friend Bill Bennett almost laughed out loud (video below). “[Imagine] if Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said to his coach Bill Belichick, ‘Why did we lose to the Eagles?’ [And he said], ‘There are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand.’ No, the Eagles were better. Trump is better… It’s dumbness posing as profundity.”

Like other conservatives, Bill could see the heartland uprising coming. “No one was more assured of his own rightness than Barack Obama. So when this occurred… the reaction was, how could this happen?” Asked what he thought Obama meant by, “maybe we pushed too far,” Bill talked about the disdain the former president had for everyday values.

“I think he means what we heard him caught him on tape earlier in the administration, when he talked about guns and religion and so on… The American people [are] still clinging to their flag, to their country, to their faith, to their guns — and he just doesn’t understand it. …He went to all the right places, went to all the right universities, but he doesn’t quite understand what the American people are about. Never got it.”

Will they get it in time for the midterms? No one is quite sure. There are flashes of recognition from the Left in the success of Pennsylvania’s Conor Lamb and others, who recognize that they need a more moderate platform to win. But then, in the last three primaries, we’ve also seen a flood of far-Left progressives who don’t seem to be heeding the warning from Heartland Democrats to party bosses: “You’re killing us.” “The Democratic brand,” said Illinois state Rep. Jerry Costello Jr. warned, “is hugely damaged, and it’s going to take a while to bring it back.”



 

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