by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In a role reversal from their eight years together in the White House, Barack Obama has become Joe Biden’s wingman and, in his understated way, his hatchet man.
The former president’s Thursday eulogy for the late Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat who was active in the civil rights movement, was a case in point. Obama criticized President Trump and reminded Democrats who they would be letting down if they didn’t elect Biden and a Democratic Senate, urging them to jettison the filibuster — a key institutional obstacle to liberal ambitions — as a “relic of Jim Crow.”
Coming on the heels of Obama’s appearance in a video town hall with his former vice president as well as his wife Michelle’s high-profile new podcast, the two-term Democrat is poised to have a bigger role than any previous ex-president on the campaign trail, including even Bill Clinton when Hillary was the nominee four years ago.
The circumstances are unusual for a number of reasons. Obama is nearly 20 years younger than Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee. He is still only 58, in his prime as a campaigner and orator. And he excites more passion among critical Democratic voting blocs than Biden can muster at this late stage of his long political career. It’s as if George H.W. Bush had the benefit of a middle-aged Ronald Reagan hitting the trail for him.
Still, Obama’s reemergence elicited divergent responses across the political spectrum. While he is remembered by most Democrats as a smart and sophisticated figure, an adult in the room, a steady contrast to the chaotic Trump administration — all impressions Biden has traded on heavily in his own presidential bid — conservatives see the former president as condescending and divisive.