Former President Obama expressed concern about the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, saying he feared it could end up undercutting allies.
Speaking at a town hall event on Saturday for the Obama Foundation in Berlin, the former president spoke about the need for compromise in politics, citing the Affordable Care Act as something that he said signified progress even though it did not achieve all of his aspirations for U.S. health care.
“One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States —maybe it’s true here as well — is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, ‘Uh, I’m sorry, this is how it’s going to be,’ and then we start sometimes creating what’s called a ‘circular firing squad,’ where you start shooting at your allies because one of them has strayed from purity on the issues. And when that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens,” he said.
“So I think whether you are speaking as a citizen or as a political leader or as an organizer … you have to recognize that the way we structure democracy requires you to take into account people who don’t agree with you, and that by definition means you’re not going to get 100 percent of what you want,” he added.
Obama, who began his career in politics as a community organizer in Chicago before becoming an Illinois state senator and, later, a U.S. senator, recounted the frustration he felt when politicians told him they could not deliver as much progress on an issue as he would like.
Still, Obama said his perspective has changed throughout his political career.
“You should take some time to think in your own mind and continually refine and reflect, ‘What are my core principles?’ Because the danger is if you don’t know what your principles are, that’s when you compromise your principles away,” he said. “You can’t set up a system in which you don’t compromise on anything, but you also can’t operate in a system where you compromise on everything.”
Obama’s remarks come as over a dozen Democrats vie for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Some candidates have angled to appeal to the party’s burgeoning progressive wing that has garnered a reputation for criticizing politicians who, some say, have not taken bold enough steps to enact change.