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If there’s any truth in the old saying that your ears start ringing when people are talking about you, the entire slate of Democratic presidential candidates — both current and future — heard some bells tolling loudly on Friday night.

That was when former President Barack Obama had more than a few sage words of guidance for anybody listening when he sat down with Democratic All-Star Stacey Abrams at an event in Washington, D.C.

It appeared to be the first time Obama spoke publicly about the 2020 Election and the people hoping to succeed him as the next Democratic president. And while in classic form Obama didn’t go for the low hanging fruit — Trump impeachment inquiry, anyone? — he arguably threw some darts at a couple of the race’s front-runners, and maybe a few of the lower-tier candidates, too.

The New York Times — which described the audience as made up of “several hundred donors and organizational leaders” — and other larger media outlets covered the event, but few offered nuanced reports. With Obama’s name, opinion and, ultimately his endorsement, carrying so much weight, NewsOne compiled everything he said to Abrams to find out exactly who, if anyone, the 44th president was talking about.

There Will Never Be Another Obama

Obama made it clear he was tired of candidates looking to the past while running campaigns for a future presidency. But at the same time, he repeatedly pointed to his own presidential campaign in 2008 as both a model to replicate and a cautionary tale. 

“For those who get stressed about robust primaries, I just have to remind you I had a very robust primary,” he told Abrams. “I’m confident that at the end of the process we will have a candidate that has been tested.”

No, You Can’t

But then Obama seemed to imply that at least two of the front-running candidates were “deluded” in their respective campaign platforms.

“Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality and the fact that voters, including Democratic voters and certainly persuadable independents or even moderate Republicans, are not driven by the same views that are reflected on certain left-leaning Twitter feeds or the activist wing of our party,” Obama said. “The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”

He continued:

“I don’t think we should be deluded into thinking that the resistance to certain approaches to things is simply because voters haven’t heard a bold enough proposal and if they hear something as bold as possible then immediately that’s going to activate them.”

Who, Me?

Those comments could be taken as being about Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who each have a prolific social media presence and want to transform Wall Street and health care (read: Obamacare), among other institutions.

However, at least one portion caught the attention of Bree Newsome, who seemed to take umbrage at Obama’s specific mention of “the activist wing.” 

While Obama went on to say “that’s not a criticism to the activist wing,” the filmmaker who was put on Black America’s collective radar in 2015 when she removed the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina State House in an iconic moment begged to differ.

“Why is Obama most vocal when it comes to criticizing progressive, Black and youth activism but doesn’t have public statements on how the system is still killing us?” Newsome asked in an open-ended question that got thousands of likes and retweets.

Breesome didn’t point to any specific example of Obama “criticizing progressive, Black and youth activism,” but she went on to make perhaps the larger point that Democrats seemed more intent on being critical of themselves than their true political opponents.

Republicans are out here defending their defenseless position to the death even if it means the end of American democracy & the Dem establishment is focused on attacking their own voter base for wanting healthcare and freedom from being murdered by racism & capitalism,” Newsome tweeted. “Sad!”

Respect The Architect

Obama cited his own signature healthcare law while offering what sure sounded like some choice words for the campaigning style of the Democrats.

“I think it is important for candidates to push past what I was able to achieve as president. I wouldn’t run the same campaign today, in this environment, as I ran in 2008, in part because we made enough progress since 2008, of which I am very proud, that it moved what’s possible. So I don’t want people to just revert to what’s safe, I want them to push out and try more, alright?” he said. “So we got the Affordable Care Act. It was a really good starter home, as I say. I don’t want people just standing pat because we still have millions of people who are uninsured.”

Don’t Take It Personal

Obama said asking better of candidates isn’t an outlandish request and isn’t a personal attack — it’s a necessity to win the nomination and election.

“I don’t take it as a criticism when people say, ‘Hey, that’s great Obama did what he did, and now we want to do more.’ I hope so. That’s the whole point. I think it is very important to all the candidates who are running, at every level, to pay some attention to where voters actually are, and how they think about their lives,” he said. “And I don’t think we should be deluded into thinking that the resistance to certain approaches to things is simply because voters haven’t heard a bold enough proposal, and as soon as they hear a bold enough proposal that’s going to activate them. Because you know what? It turns out people are cautious, because they don’t have a margin for error.”

At the end of the day, Obama’s comments seemed to suggest that he thought the current crop of candidates left much to be desired.

“[T]he candidate’s job, whoever that ends up being, is to get elected,” he reminded the audience.

Stacey Abrams Is The Real MVP

But still, Obama was excited about at least one aspect of the Democratic Party’s future and indicated he thought it was in more than capable hands for the election next year.

“We have a field of very accomplished, very serious, and passionate, and smart people who have a history of public service, and whoever emerges from the primary process, I will work my tail off to make sure they are the next president,” he said before getting to the nitty-gritty. 

“I love me some Stacey Abrams!” Obama said, probably flashing his infectious smile. “If you’re not already supporting Fair Fight and getting behind the work she is doing, you need to.”

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