By Leonard Pitts: Syndicated columnist
Barack Obama is not Jesus.
Forgive me for pointing out what ought to be obvious. But I feel the need after reading the umpty-millionth profile (this one appearing last week on the front page of USA Today) in which seemingly every exhalation of his name was accompanied by angels singing hosannas and sighs of adoration from a congregation of Democrats looking to him for political salvation. Or, if you prefer, resurrection.
I want to stress that I hold no animus toward the junior senator from Illinois. I met him once at a function in Chicago and, to whatever degree you can judge such things from a handshake and a smile, he seemed a nice enough guy. Nor am I unmindful of the reasons he is regarded so highly. He is charismatic. He is good-looking. He is smart. He is black. He is white. He is well-regarded by Democrats. He is well-regarded by Republicans.
But he is not Jesus. Not, in other words, the savior of the Democratic Party. Not now, at least.
I get asked about Obama a lot. Usually, it’s after I have given a speech on the dismal state of the nation’s affairs and the even more dismal performance of the nation’s leaders in response thereto. Predictably as dandelions in the spring, someone will raise a hopeful hand and say, “But what about Barack Obama?”
Well, what about him? The man has been a senator a little over a year. Yes, he has great potential. But is it asking too much that people wait until he actually does something before they starting chasing his name with a hallelujah chorus? Can we at least give him time to figure out where the restrooms in the Capitol are?
The view from this row of the peanut gallery is that the fixation on what Obama may someday achieve is a telling indicator of where his party is. In a word, waiting outside. Waiting on Obama, waiting on a clue, waiting on a vision. Waiting.
And yes, I know Sens. Kerry and Clinton and party chief Dean, among others, would dispute that characterization. But again, that’s how it looks from this row.
Say what you will about the Republican Party and its leader, our regrettable president, but give them credit for this much: They know what they believe and they know how to package it in the simplest, most attractive way: traditional values; fighting terrorism; tax relief.
Granted, some of us think it would be more accurate to describe the foregoing in terms somewhat less simple and attractive: turning back the calendar on the non-white, non-male, non-Christian and non-heterosexual; lying and bungling our way into and through a war that does nothing to make us safer from terrorism; running up a massive deficit while spending with all the judicious restraint of a 10-year-old in a candy store.
But you know what? Tomato, to-mah-to. The Republicans have their vision, and it works. By contrast, can anybody tell me what the Democratic Party stands for?
Yes, I know that’s a setup that will have the GOP faithful slipping in their own saliva to offer a punchline, but leave it stand. Because if anything has characterized the Democrats in the years since George W. Bush won the 2000 election, it’s an inability to articulate a coherent competing vision. It is not enough to be the anti-Republicans. Those who are so inclined already know what they are voting against. It is incumbent upon the other party to offer an alternative people might want to vote “for.”
This, the Democrats have, for six years, failed to do.
Barack Obama may someday be recognized as a great leader. He may someday go down in history as the nation’s first — or second — black president. But waiting on someday is not a strategy. It is wishful thinking.
Those who crave an alternative might be justified in wondering whether the Democrats understand the difference.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org