By Elan Barnehama
I’m glad Sen. Obama got knocked down and dragged through the mud over his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Maybe, just maybe, his followers, who keep elevating him to greater and greater heights, will realize that it’s just not possible for the man to make good on their great expectations. No human being has that kind of skill set.
So many among us have lost the capacity to hope. The growing list of what has gone from bad to wrong, the complexity of the issues that must be addressed, and the difficulty of finding solutions that work can seem overwhelming. It’s easy to wonder if it’s even too late to do the right thing. Within this national mood, Senator Obama has emerged as the candidate most willing to make the effort to bring all Americans into the solution process. Only together can we address the challenges of the day with vision, ingenuity and vigor.
Senator Obama’s ability to articulate ideas that unify voters is why he continues to gain support and raise obscene amounts of money over the internet. He’s been able to attract voters around issues, values, policies and of course, his personality. He’s trying to build a solid base and articulate a Democratic message that lasts longer than a sound bite. Even when those recent stories of a minister gone wild, of campaign supporters gone loony threatened to dominate campaign coverage, the senator was able to move his message beyond a “stalemate.” And that is why many voters have looked to him for leadership. But, will Obama voters be enthusiastic Democrats if he isn’t on the ticket come November? Will they help deliver governors, senators, and representatives? If those voters are only in it for Obama, then the party has failed.
The Democrats continue to lack a strategy for building their party and growing their base, but they do have an uncanny knack for destroying it. I mean, who at the Democratic National Convention Committee had the brainstorm to punish Michigan and Florida Democrats? And do they still work there? The irony of marginalizing Democratic voters in Florida is lost on no one and only points to the complete lack of common sense among Democratic party leaders.
I’m disappointed that better candidates than senators Clinton and Obama didn’t emerge from within the party. I was pulling for Bill Richardson to find his voice as an inspirational candidate. But he couldn’t even get voters to realize he was Hispanic until he left the race and went home and grew a beard. And while I enjoy listening to Joe Biden break down geo-political situations or rebuff that smug moderator Wolf Blitzer, his history of self-imploding ruled him out. And who knew (except for maybe Geraldine Ferraro) that being a good-looking, white southern male would be a liability for Senator Edwards?
I’ve always believed that we vote for a party when we vote for president because that president is the steward of the party. The last two Democratic nominees couldn’t articulate this message despite having the Republicans practically hand over the keys to the White House. Gore returned the keys by being unable to win his home state of Tennessee, by choosing a vice presidential nominee who brought nothing to the ticket and, mostly, by his unwillingness to let a popular president campaign for him. And Kerry? Well, he just kept feeding the Republicans a steady diet of sound bites to use against him. McCain gets this and is quietly making his way down Pennsylvania Avenue. I’m hoping that Obama can reverse the trend. For now, he appears willing do the hard work to build the party from the ground up. His response to the Rev. Wright controversy was not a sound bite – though it might get reduced to that. It was a serious proposal to have a serious discussion. It laid a foundation for moving forward.
Whether or not one believes that Senator Obama has the judgment and talent to rise to the task of being our president, it’s time to take a break from political campaigns where winning seems to be the only point and winners feel entitled to extract a pound of flesh from the losers. Our nation was formed on the principle of balancing majority rule with minority rights. That tired obsession with blue and red people, places and policies might provide good material for talk radio and comedians. But it is frivolous, and it fuels a widening gulf between neighbors. It only wastes energy and resources while accomplishing nothing. Senator Obama’s success will stand or fall on his ability to get most of us pushing in the same direction. Even better if it’s in the right direction.
Senator Obama has awakened hope. What we do with that hope, together, will determine his legacy and our future.
Elan Barnehama is a writer living in Western Massachusetts. He has taught at several colleges and was, most recently, a Senior Writer for Wesleyan University in Connecticut. His commentaries have aired on public radio and appeared in newspapers. E-mail Elan at: firstname.lastname@example.org