On his way out the door of the People’s House, former President Barack Obama informed reporters that his time out of the political spotlight might be far briefer than his predecessor’s. Obama warned that he would speak out if he determined there was “systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion,” or if the press was mistreated (in a manner similar to how his Department of Justice targeted reporters, perhaps), or if his executive actions on immigration were repealed. Basically, Obama told the press to expect his return sooner rather than later. Few guessed, though, that sooner meant just 11 days.
This week, Obama burst back onto the political scene by doing precisely what his critics expected him to do: speaking out about presidential-level politics. In a statement released by Obama’s spokesman, Kevin Lewis, the former president warned that “American values are at stake”—an indirect reference to President Donald Trump’s executive actions on refugees.
The most substance of the three-paragraph statement was found not in Obama’s apparent opposition to Trump’s controversial executive order but in his consternation over the claim that the limited ban on refugee intake is founded upon Obama-era precedents. At the end of this statement, the president groused that Republicans and members of the press were mistaken to draw equivalences between his counterterrorism policies and Donald Trump’s. “[T]he president fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion,” the statement concluded.
Those with vivid memories of how Obama’s administration struggled to defend the imposition of a birth-control mandate upon Roman Catholic nuns in violation of the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act will scoff at this cynical maneuver, but they’re not the audience. Obama is speaking directly to the leaderless Democratic Party he left behind on January 20.