Opinion | Missing Barack Obama’s Voice


Still, while the solutions devised by the technocrats Mr. Obama trusted may have been inadequate, he at least respected and relied on their expertise. That came in handy not only during the H1N1 pandemic and the Ebola epidemic, but in the strengthening of the E.P.A. and in the creation of a consumer protection agency, too. The societal costs of having a leader who relies on his gut and random members of his family rather than on bureaucratic and medical experts now seem clear.

Recently, I spoke to Mr. Obama’s former speechwriter Jon Favreau, who in 2008 helped shape a message that excited both millennials and their more moderate parents. “On the Obama campaign,” he told me, “Every single day, every single speech we thought, ‘How do we make sure we are speaking to the anxieties people have about the economic inequality in this country while also speaking to the desires they have to pull ourselves together as one country, even though we disagree on a lot of things?’”

He praised Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on the first count and gave an A for effort to Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden on the second, but added, “I don’t know if any of the 2020 Democratic candidates have effectively spoken to both of those anxieties.”

For all of his much-debated flaws, Mr. Obama mastered a way of simultaneously validating people’s fears and anger while encouraging optimism and togetherness.

Perhaps because of that skill, Mr. Obama’s endorsement video sparked countless nostalgic tweets. And last week, HBO’s Bill Maher and former Vice President Al Gore fantasized about Mr. Biden naming Mr. Obama as his principal pandemic adviser. There is an obvious, if implicit, dig here — that even with the entire Democratic brain trust behind him, the former vice president may not be up to this moment.

I’m not sure he is, even now with Mr. Obama as his “super surrogate” on the campaign trail. And I am not sure the young voters dealing with the second deep recession of their lives, who fell out of love with the 44th president, will fully believe Mr. Biden when he says he wants to do more than Make America 2015 Again.

I am sure, however, that if Mr. Obama or the avuncular man now attempting to restore his legacy were president, then instead of asking whether the live presidential daily briefings were disinformation campaigns, many of us, young and old, would eagerly await them — siloed in our homes, TVs centered on an empty podium, looking for an update or just a bit of inspiration.

Talmon Joseph Smith is a member of the editorial staff of the Opinion section.





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