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Obama's 'Woke' Warning Goes Viral

President thinks cancel culture is a bad trend
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 31, 2019 8:25 AM CDT
Obama's 'Woke' Warning Goes Viral
Former President Obama speaks during the Obama Foundation Summit at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019.   (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

(Newser) – Barack Obama's name has been back in the headlines this week, but not over the drama on Capitol Hill or the Democratic primary. Instead, it's over a warning he issued to young people about the dangers of ideological "purity" and "woke" culture. The details:

  • What he said: While speaking during a forum at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago on Tuesday, Obama declared: “This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly," per the Hill. "The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws."
  • Cancel culture: Obama said he is seeing a troubling trend on college campuses in particular. "There is this sense sometimes of, 'The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,'" he said. "If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn't do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, because man you see how woke I was?" But that's "not activism," he added. "If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far."

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  • The video: A clip of Obama making the comments has gone viral and can be seen here.
  • Reaction: The Washington Post notes that Obama has achieved the rare feat of earning praise from the left and the right. For instance, conservative commenter Ann Coulter tweeted "Good for Obama." A pro-Obama sentiment is so rare coming from her that she felt the need to add "(Not sarcastic!)." Another conservative voice, Tomi Lahren, said on Fox News that Obama is "looking like the voice of reason."
  • In praise: At CNN, Chris Cillizza agreed. "The rise of cancel culture— particularly on the left and particularly on social media—is one of the defining hallmarks of our culture in the post-Obama presidency," he writes. Say or tweet one thing perceived as wrong, and your critics want your head. It's outrage for the sake of outrage, he writes. "Seeing people as less like cardboard cutouts and more like, well, people, would do us (and our politics) a world of good."
  • Criticism: "Oligarch Irritated by Agonized Youth," wrote one Twitter user unhappy with Obama's observations. And at the Federalist, John Daniel Davidson thinks the "seeds of cancel culture" were planted during the Obama presidency, partly by Obama himself. "So it's all well and good that Obama is concerned about the corrosive effects of cancel culture and militant wokeness," he writes. "But his warnings and reprimands are a day late and a dollar short. The woke left isn't listening, not even to Obama."
  • Progressives: Jen Psaki, a Democratic consultant who has worked with Obama, says the former president is not going after progressives. "I don't think he was suggesting that we shouldn't think big as a party and as leaders," she tells NPR. "What I heard from it was more about not being so sanctimonious that you are not inviting other people to have that conversation with you."
  • Familiar idea: The BBC notes that Obama has previously warned about "rigidity" within the progressive camp, "where you start shooting at your allies because one of them has strayed from purity on the issues." He made those comments in April during a speech in Berlin.
(Read more Barack Obama stories.)

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