Monday, March 13, 2006

Some Assembly Required

Leonard Pitts Jr. in the Miami Herald:

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. Enough, already.

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.


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 punch line, 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.

One of the things that both parties do to a fault is pin their hopes not on ideas but on icons. The Republicans say they are the “party of Lincoln” (although they probably drive Bimmers), or they invoke Ronald Reagan in worshipful tones, as if just saying the name will somehow cast a spell of happy faces, white bread and “Leave It to Beaver” marathons. The Democrats invoke FDR and JFK as if those times were preferable to today; sure, bring back the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam. Yip-yah.

The goal of each party seems to be to find a candidate who will be a personification of their party platform writ large in a man or a woman so that they can sell them to the electorate like some commercial icon: the Maytag Repairman, the Brawny paper towel hunk, or Betty Crocker. It’s what we’ve come to expect in our crazy consumer-oriented life — satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. Perhaps politicians should come with warning labels: Your mileage may vary; Closed course — professional driver; Other items sold separately; or my favorite: Some assembly required.