Obama says that ‘snappy’ slogans like ‘defund the police’ lose people ‘the minute you say it’

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Former President Barack Obama. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images
  • Former President Barack Obama in an interview set to be released later on Wednesday emphasised that activists and politicians who want policing reforms lose a lot of people when they use slogans like “defund the police,” according to Vanity Fair.
  • On the Snapchat political news series “Good Luck America,” Obama told host Peter Hamby that such slogans have the potential to sink opportunities for reform before they can even begin.
  • “If you want to get something done in a democracy, then you’ve got to be able to meet people where they are,” Obama said. “And play a game of addition and not subtraction.”
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Former President Barack Obama in an interview set to be released later on Wednesday emphasised that activists and politicians who want policing reforms lose a lot of people when they say “snappy” slogans like “defund the police,” according to Vanity Fair.

On the Snapchat political news series “Good Luck America,” Obama told host Peter Hamby that such slogans have the potential to sink opportunities for reform before they can even begin. The three-part interview is a segment of Obama’s press tour for his memoir, “A Promised Land,” with portions of the talk to be released on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

“If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it’s not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan like defund the police, but you lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done,” Obama said.

He added: “If you instead say … let’s reform the police department so that everybody’s being treated fairly. How can we divert young people from getting into crime? If there was a homeless guy, can we send a mental health worker instead of an armed unit that could end up resulting in a tragedy? You know, suddenly a whole bunch of folks who might not otherwise listen to you are listening to you.”

Obama said that leaders have to decide if they want to make real policy changes or simply speak to like-minded supporters.

“If you want to get something done in a democracy, then you’ve got to be able to meet people where they are,” he said. “And play a game of addition and not subtraction.”

After the November general election, which saw President-elect Joe Biden perform well with swing-state suburban voters, Democrats were disappointed when the party’s gains didn’t translate down-ballot, resulting in unexpected losses for a contingent of highly-touted House Democrats.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking Black lawmaker in Congress, said that the “defund the police” slogan hurt down-ballot Democrats.

In an interview with ‘Axios on HBO,’ Clyburn stated the “defund the police” line contributed to the election losses of both Charleston-area Rep. Joe Cunningham and US Senate candidate Jaime Harrison in his state.

“That phrase — ‘defund the police’ — cost Jaime Harrison tremendously,” Clyburn said. “Stop sloganeering. And let’s go about the business of representing people and building hopes and aspirations for people.”

The slogan became a huge rallying cry for legions of activists who protested for racial justice this past summer following the May 25 death of George Floyd. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was murdered after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes, leaving him unable to breathe.

The murder brought about a huge racial reckoning throughout the country, ingraining the Black Lives Matter movement into the national conversation about race and civil rights in the US.