Former President Barack Obama drew criticism from progressive Democrats this week for suggesting that “snappy” slogans like “defund the police” are alienating voters and making it harder from a political standpoint to enact “changes you want done.”
In an interview with Peter Hamby, who hosts the Snapchat political show “Good Luck America,” Obama said “you [lose] a big audience the minute” a slogan like “defund the police” is used, making “it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done.”
“The key is deciding, do you want to actually get something done,” the former president added, “or do you want to feel good among the people you already agree with? And if you want to get something done in a democracy, in a country as big and diverse as ours, then you’ve got to be able to meet people where they are.”
“Defund the police” refers to the reallocation or redirection of government funding from police departments to social services for minority communities. As Rashawn Ray of the Brookings Institution noted, defunding does not mean the abolishment of police departments but instead “highlights fiscal responsibility” and “advocates for a market-driven approach to taxpayer money.”
Ben LaBolt, Obama’s former press secretary and communications strategist, shared part of Obama’s chat with Hamby online on Tuesday. The full interview will air at 6 a.m. EST Wednesday on Snapchat.
Some progressive lawmakers sharply rebuked Obama’s comments. Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar tweeted on Tuesday that defunding the police was a “policy demand.”
“We lose people in the hands of police,” Omar wrote. “It’s not a slogan but a policy demand. And centering the demand for equitable investments and budgets for communities across the country gets us progress and safety.”
Representative-elect Cori Bush, the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives by the state of Missouri, said the phrase was a “mandate.”
“With all due respect, Mr. President—let’s talk about losing people,” Bush tweeted Tuesday. “We lost Michael Brown Jr. We lost Breonna Taylor. We’re losing our loved ones to police violence.”
“It’s not a slogan,” she added. “It’s a mandate for keeping our people alive. Defund the police.”
Obama made the comments in an interview on Peter Hamby’s Snapchat program Good Luck America. The three-part interview with Obama is expected to begin on Wednesday.