Dear Barack Obama,
I know that you will likely never read this, but I have a few questions for you.
Why I Am Writing This Letter
I was inspired to write this letter in large part because of your words about voting since 2016, namely the comments you made in October of this year. For instance, I watched the video you made for ATTN: in which you shot down 7 mostly-valid reasons for people choosing not to vote.
Josh Fox also inspired me to write this letter. Shortly after he saw your ATTN: video, he asked you a question about your tenure as president:
This gave me an idea. I also wanted to ask you a series of questions, but indirectly, and I wanted to stay on topic and talk about the electoral process. However, I realized that would require a series of tweets and I had far more to say, hence this letter.
In terms of voting, these are the questions I have for you:
1. Mr. Obama, Why Did You Gut the Democratic National Committee?
After you were elected president, one of the first things you did was replace Howard Dean with Tim Kaine. Gone was Dean’s 50-state strategy and much of the infrastructure that helped the Democrats retake Congress from 2006-2008. Kaine went on to see the Democrats lose 63 seats in the House, a net total of 6 governorships, and over 650 seats in state legislatures after the 2010 midterms.
You also saddled the DNC with debt from your two presidential campaigns and that put your party at a huge disadvantage. With Debbie Wasserman Schultz at the helm then, the DNC was unable to effectively support races across the country and was left in such a vulnerable state that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign essentially took it over in 2016.
Additionally, you took apart the very group, Obama for America, that allowed you to campaign so effectively in 2008 and 2012 — and never set up a similar operation for the DNC. When OFA was up and running, it not only competed with the DNC for money but the former siphoned money from the latter. Later on, staffers from OFA joined the DNC as consultants and became the self-dealing cancers that the organization is still struggling with today.
2. What’s Your Excuse for Not Campaigning More for Democrats During Your 8 Years in Office?
Or this year? Mr. Obama, I know that were an effective campaigner, but you did most of your best campaigning for yourself. Your absence in races of vulnerable, but good Democrats hurt them.
In 2018, you made a number of endorsements (mostly for centrist Democrats), but you didn’t do a lot of stumping. One of the Democrats you actually stumped for was Chris Donnelly in Ohio after he supported Trump’s ridiculous, racist wall idea. Donnelly just suffered a butt-whipping in his race, so he’s gone.
In 2010, your early campaigning was only for two Democrats, Sens. Claire McCaskill (MO) and Michael Bennett (CO). You only campaigned for two other Democratic Senators in Maine who weren’t even up for election that year. For the most part, you stayed away from Democratic candidates running in those midterms, even if they wanted your help. One of those candidates was Alexi Giannoulias in Illinois, who eventually lost to then-Rep. Mark Kirk (a Republican).
The argument your staffers gave was that your lower approval ratings were a risk to many candidates, even if they thought your presence would help them. What you leave out is that your lower approval ratings were due to the passage of the Patient and Affordable Care Act, but that leads me to ask …
3. Why Didn’t You Push for a Better Health Care Law?
This question belongs here because the ACA was an integral part of the 2010 midterms.
On the campaign trail, you never promised to give all Americans a national health care service, but you promised to lower premiums, negotiate drug prices, allow for drug importation, leave out a mandate, and to make the negotiations for your health care bill transparent. You lied on all fronts. (You also promised to pay for your health care bill by letting the Bush tax cuts expire. You lied there, too, because you made those permanent.)
Many people paying attention to the early negotiations were troubled by your assertion that health insurers be part of the process, but they held out hope that you would push for a universal health care bill. What they got was a mandate to buy health insurance, and no public option. Sure, your mentor, Joe Lieberman, became the fall guy for that, but you ultimately signaled that you wouldn’t fight for a public option after talking to health care professionals, thus weakening the law.
To add insult to injury, you patronized the very people who complained about insurance premiums.
People had a right to be mad about the ACA because it was a complicated mess that, again, mandated people to buy health care insurance. Also, not everyone was covered by the ACA. And just weeks before the 2016 presidential election, people with insurance were hit with higher even premiums.
If you could not campaign on the ACA, that means that there was something for you to be ashamed of — or there wasn’t enough for you to be proud of. A single-payer bill would speak for itself because people would personally save more money. The ACA was hatched by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing organization, and it was never really meant to help all Americans. That was a betrayal.
4. What’s Your Excuse for Not Pushing for Numerous Voting Reforms, Like Ranked-Choice Voting?
When you point your fingers at people for not voting, consider that many people don’t vote because they are sick of the Democratic and Republican duopoly. Many voters want more choices and ranked-choice voting would facilitate that.
Another thing you could have done was push to make voting a constitutional right. As you’ve seen during these midterms, so many people had that right denied them, especially in Georgia, as Brian Kemp was responsible for running one of the worst voter-suppression operations we have ever seen.
Both the reforms I’ve mentioned and more would do a lot to solve the problems of voter apathy and voter suppression, which would help Democrats. It doesn’t make sense for you to ignore this.
One of the issues that Democrats need to focus on is protecting the vote because more people of color vote Democratic and Democrats are more vulnerable to voter suppression. There is no excuse for you or those in your party to ignore this when they have more to gain and more to lose. Still, the party largely ignores this issue year after year. Yet you’re not talking about this.
5. What’s Your Excuse for Not Undoing the Damage Bush Did to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division?
Just about every Republican who reached the White House did damage to the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division while they were in power, but the most damage — pre-Trump — was done by George W. Bush and Karl Rove. Never before was that division so politicized. The staffers who replaced career lawyers were political appointees and they worked fast to suppress the vote across the country.
What could you have done?
For one thing, you could have used your DOJ to sue the states using voter id laws. You could have sued states gerrymandering districts to hell and shuttering so many polling places. Yet you did none of these things. I know that you founded the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in 2017 to guard against gerrymandering, but why didn’t you make this a central focus as president?
The only thing you did was sue Ohio to allow early voting for every voter in the state in 2012. That’s because you were running for president that year. I’m beginning to see a theme here.
6. Why Didn’t You Protect ACORN?
Honestly, the Democratic lawmakers take a huge share of the blame in this because they voted with Republicans to defund the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now in 2009. (At the time, Democrats controlled both Chambers of Congress.) However, you could have shown leadership and urged the Democrats not to fall for the headlines.
ACORN was slandered for its entire 40-year history, but the worst attacks came from John McCain in 2008 and from James O’Keefe the following year. However, there was no proof to support the Republicans’ assertions that ACORN was undermining democracy or engaging in illicit activity. On the contrary, ACORN followed the law when registering people to vote and one operative called the cops on O’Keefe when he tried to set them up.
ACORN helped people with federal aid programs, protected people from predatory lenders, and help register over 865,000 people to vote in the 2008 election, yet the Democrats turned their backs on it. The organization helped so many poor people who tended to vote Democrat and without that organization — which closed its doors in 2010 — Republicans had more freedom to suppress the vote. I think this is one reason Democrats lost horribly that year and it is certainly a reason why Republicans were able to make as many gains as they did in subsequent years.
Mr. Obama, you needed to help this organization because I believe it helped you quite a lot in 2008.
In the same vein, I would like to mention ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) again. ALEC is basically the antithesis of an organization like ACORN because it writes legislation like voter ID laws. Since it is an improperly categorized 501(c)(3) organization, it should have been taxed or sued to oblivion by your administration, thus rendering it useless. Yet you didn’t even go after ALEC or mention it.
7. What’s Your Excuse for Not Shining a Light on Illegal Voter Purges and Other Attacks on Our Democracy?
This isn’t exactly a question about your presidency, but your recent rhetoric. Whenever you talk about voting, you always put the onus on the voter. Ultimately, you are excusing the powerful.
From where I stand, more blame for voter apathy belongs to those running elections and those trying to steer them a certain way. I am saying that corrupt elections officials and the oligarchy are the greatest threats to democracy.
The people with power work together to overturn the will of voters and to block and discourage them from voting in the first place, yet you never mention this. Is it because you don’t want people asking you questions about your presidency and the people who pay you to give $400,000 speeches? If this is the case, it said a lot about your character and it isn’t good.
In Conclusion …
Look, I voted for you twice, and I did so because I believed that you were the better choice (against the Republican) each time. However, that doesn’t mean that I cannot criticize your words, your actions, and your legacy — or whatever’s left of it once Trump is done.
The more I look back and look into the things you did as president, the more disheartened I become. To stay on topic, this is true of your approach to the vote. You let a good crisis go to waste, and you didn’t even bother to make the case for protecting the most vulnerable voters — and those voters happen to be the Democrats’ most reliable voting bloc. This was and is political malpractice of the highest order and I will not excuse it.
There are a lot more things that I would like to say to you, but this letter about covers everything on the voting front. Again, I will stress that you are wrong to punch down on voters and nonvoters when there is a lot you could and can still do to help them out. If you fail to do so, anything you say about people choosing not to vote (for Democrats) is essentially worthless.