by John Daniel Davidson · February 16, 2017
Once out of office, ex-presidents usually fade into private life and stay out of politics. They write memoirs, serve on corporate boards, and start charitable foundations. George W. Bush retired to his ranch in Texas and, most recently, painted portraits of veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bill Clinton was briefly thrust back into politics during Hillary’s two failed presidential campaigns, but most of his post-White House career consisted of flying around the world raising boatloads of money for his family’s now-defunct charity.
There are exceptions, of course. Jimmy Carter threw himself into international diplomacy, mediating an agreement in 1994 to return exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in Haiti, and generally agitating for a Palestinian state.
Then there is Obama. Less than a month out of office, the broad contours of Obama’s post-presidency career are already taking shape. Obama and his loyalists, it seems, will remain in the center of the political fray, officially and unofficially, in an organized effort to undermine the Trump administration.
The bizarre scandal now unfolding over the resignation of national security advisor Michael Flynn is a case in point. Flynn’s resignation was prompted by a series of coordinated and anonymous leaks from current and former Obama administration officials in our domestic intelligence agencies.
Regardless of any valid criticism of Flynn, the leaks are part of a larger, loosely organized effort now underway to preserve Obama’s legacy. This effort involves Obama-era officials still inside the federal government, former Obama staffers working in the private sector, and Obama himself.
This isn’t some conspiracy theory. After the election, Obama indicated he intends to stay involved in the political fray. In an email to his supporters on his last day in office, Obama encouraged them to stay engaged, promising “I’ll be right there with you every step of the way.” Less than two weeks later, he issued a statement saying he was “heartened” by anti-Trump protests over the executive order on immigration.
Obama Is Jumping Back Into The Political Fray
But there’s more to all this than Obama issuing solidarity statements to Trump protestors. For one thing, the former president isn’t moving back to Chicago. The Obama family will remain in Washington DC, within a couple miles of the White House, for the next two years as Obama’s youngest daughter finishes high school.
From there, Obama will help direct his new foundation, which he has said will be a “startup for citizenship.” That could mean a lot things, but in light of his other plans it suggests the Obama Foundation will be a political grassroots organization designed to mobilize progressive activists.
Obama has also announced he’ll be working with former Attorney General Eric Holder on a political action group called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Its goal is to get Democrats elected at the state and local level ahead of the next redrawing of congressional districts. Last month, Obama reportedly met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to strategize about redistricting.
In addition to these pursuits, the former president will likely play a prominent role in a network of progressive nonprofits, most notably Organizing for Action, the political group that grew out of Obama’s first campaign. OFA has kept a low profile in recent years, and if Clinton had won it likely would have shut down.
But last week, OFA officials told NBC News the organization was ramping up operations nationwide in an effort to preserve Obama’s signature achievements like the Affordable Care Act. As part of that effort, the group recently hired 14 field organizers in key states, adding to a growing infrastructure that boasts more than 250 offices nationwide and more than 32,000 volunteers.
Former Obama Staffers Are Speaking Out
Obama of course isn’t alone in all this. Trump’s victory has mobilized his top aides and staffers to take action, too. Former Obama staffer Tommy Vietor told the Daily Beast that, had Clinton won, “I would have been inclined to feel comfortable that Obama’s legacy and the things we worked on were safe.”
Instead, Vietor, along with former Obama administration staffers Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett, are launching a new podcast, Pod Save America, under their new joint media venture, Crooked Media.
The purpose of the company should be fairly obvious. “In the battle between Donald Trump and the media, we are firmly on the side of the media,” Favreau told the Daily Beast, adding that he’s not interested in “the veneer of objectivity.” “We’re always going to be Obama guys, we’re very open and honest about that.”
Favreau has also been helping create Obama’s new foundation, whose mission, he says, “is to get people involved in civic life and get people engaged in politics.” Of Crooked Media, Favreau says, “I think we would very much like to be the media company version of that. So it’s certainly inspired by a lot of what Obama has talked about in terms of the media over the last several months.”
A host of other former Obama staffers have simply taken to social media to voice their opposition to Trump. One former senior administration official told Yahoo News, “There are more than a few of us who believe deeply in holding this administration’s feet to the fire—especially when they offer falsehoods to the American people and distort our record. We have an email chain going where we share impressions, etc.”
As the leaks keep flowing from our intelligence agencies and the tweets keep flying from former Obama officials, keep in mind that although we haven’t heard much from Obama himself yet, the Trump administration is going to keep feeling the disruptions of what amounts to a shadow government.
Obama had eight years in the White House to secure his legacy. Any efforts on his part to undermine his successor aren’t just an affront to the principles of our democracy, they’re an admission that he and his acolytes never put much stock in democracy to begin with.