POLITICS

Obama: 'Basic Competence' Can Save Lives

The former president pitched Biden’s leadership, railed against the spread of QAnon and lambasted Trump’s efforts to undermine foreign policy.

Former President Barack Obama made a final appeal to voters on behalf of his former running mate, Joe Biden, during an episode of the popular podcast Pod Save America on Wednesday: Competent leaders save lives.

Obama spoke with co-hosts Tommy Vietor and Jon Favreau during the episode, saying that while all Americans may not have been pleased with his stint in the White House, his administration worked through challenging moments in history by installing effective leaders in positions of power.

“One thing we know is that just basic competence can end up saving lives,” Obama said on the podcast. “You might not have been happy with everything I did, all my policy choices. I didn’t eliminate poverty in America. But when we had a pandemic or the threat of pandemic, we had competent people in place who would deal with it.”

Obama is preparing to hit the road in support of Biden for the final weeks of the election, holding events (socially distanced) in battleground states and encouraging Americans to vote early. The New York Times notes the appearances are meant to mimic the former president’s efforts to bolster then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s bid in 2016 and fall in line with Obama’s larger role in the final months of the election as a direct critic of President Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House.

The former president had largely refrained from direct criticisms of Trump for years, but has been far more outspoken as the nation struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump, for his part, has spent his first term in office systemically undoing many of the Obama administration’s landmark initiatives, including withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accords and the Iran nuclear deal. In recent weeks he’s urged the Department of Justice to open politically charged investigations into Obama-era officials, including an investigation that fizzled out this week with no evidence of wrongdoing.

In the podcast, Obama said he believed Biden, if elected, would have to “rebuild a State Department where some of the best people have been driven out systematically because they weren’t willing to tow Trump’s ideological agenda.”

“Over the last four years, it’s not as if Trump has been all that active internationally,” Obama said. “I mean, the truth is he doesn’t have the patience and the focus to really substantially change a lot of U.S. foreign policy. What he’s done is he’s systematically tried to decimate our entire foreign policy infrastructure.”

The former president also spoke about the spread of misinformation on social media, saying that while Trump is a “symptom” and an “accelerant” of fake news, he didn’t create it.

“When you look at insane conspiracy theories like QAnon seeping into the mainstream of the Republican Party, what that tells you is that there are no more guardrails within that media ecosystem,” Obama said. “And I think one of the biggest challenges, all of us said this is not just a progressives versus, you know, right-wing issue.”

He continued: “This is really a genuine American society issue, is how do we reestablish some baselines of truth?”