Though Barack Obama has kept a relatively low profile since he left the presidency, the Hill reported on July 2 that he has been keeping tabs on Democratic leadership. According to the Hill, “He has also met with and has had phone conversations with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez throughout the spring, according to two sources. The DNC source described Obama’s chats with Perez as regular ‘check ins.’ ” Obama former political adviser and Obama Foundation CEO David Simas was also cited as having regular contact with DNC and Democratic Party officials.
These “check-ins” with Perez, Obama’s secretary of Labor who he handpicked to stop progressive Congressman Keith Ellison from becoming DNC chair, are just one aspect of how Obama has been pulling the strings of the Democratic establishment since he left office. In February, Politico reported that former attorney general and current corporate lawyer Eric Holder affirmed that Obama would be returning to politics soon by aiding his efforts with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NRDC), which opposes the Trump administration’s Voter Fraud Committee. In April 2017, it came out that Obama is scheduled to deliver a highly paid speech for a Wall Street firm later this year, just as the Obama Foundation’s board lined up with big bankers and Wall Street executives. Obama has also maintained his international relationships: He met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in May and South Korean leaders on July 3. Though he has half-heartedly attempted to stay out of the spotlight, Obama has made it clear that he is running the Democratic Party’s resistance to Trump.
Just as he did during his president, Obama has favored elites since he left office. He has vacationed with billionaire Richard Branson and endorsed anti-labor union French President Emmanuel Macron—who recently claimed France needs a king and insisted his thoughts are too complex to attend a press conference. Further, Obama has pushed the Democratic Party to continue its courtship of wealthy donors instead of embracing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ popular reforms. Obama has failed to speak out against the ban on lobbyist and PAC donations to the DNC being lifted and the super delegate system, both of which ensure party elites’ control over the party.
When Obama assumed office, Democrats had a super majority in Congress. During his tenure as president, the party suffered drastic losses, but he enacted no reforms to change its downward trajectory. While Obama remains behind the scenes dictating and swaying leadership decisions, the party’s voters will perceive that the Democratic Party represents the status quo.The minor changes the Democratic Party has made, such as getting a new DNC chair, have been enacted with his blessing. Obama’s meddling behind the scenes inhibits the Democratic Party’s ability to reform and make up for its failures over the last decade. It is a worrying scenario for the Democratic Party as it desperately tries to strengthen its weak opposition to Trump and Republicans.