The one thing I really admire about Republicans is that they are not on a perennial pursuit for “The One.” The one person who will lead them to wherever it is they want to go. Sure, they love Ronald Reagan, but they are always looking for him in all those who would seek to lead them.
Not Democrats. They are always putting their eggs in the basket of one person they hope, expect, demand will lead them. Pity the person who doesn’t measure up to their expectations. More importantly, woe to the person deemed “The One” who leaves the field. There is always pining for that person to return, to continue the fight, to lead the charge.
Ever since President Trump moved his own brand of chaos into the Oval Office, Democrats and progressives have bemoaned the absence of former president Barack Obama. They wanted him to speak out forcefully against fill-in-the-blank offense committed by his successor. And they are dying for Obama to channel their righteous indignation into one of his trademark speeches — before leading the resistance. But that’s not going to happen for two good reasons.
The first is custom. Outgoing presidents traditionally give their successors at least a year to settle into the job before chiming in on what they are doing, if at all. President George W. Bush made nary a sound about Obama for the full eight years. President Bill Clinton did the same for Bush. I can’t imagine Trump doing the same. Heck, he’s the one who can’t seem to put Obama in his rear-view mirror. But I digress….
The second reason Obama won’t speak out in the way Democrats and others would want is fear. Fear that an Obama return would result in a “He’s got this!” complacency. The kind of complacency that led his ardent supporters to stay home during the midterm elections of 2010 (when Republicans took over the House)…
… and 2014 (when Republicans took over the Senate).
We’re still living with the consequences of that.
After two terms in the White House, Obama has earned the right to pick and choose the issues he’ll focus on and speak out about. Civic engagement and the next generation of leadership are top of mind, as his discussion with students at the University of Chicago on Monday attests. So is gerrymandering. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee is chaired by Obama’s former attorney general, Eric Holder. And, of course, there is the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, the private-sector organization that continues Obama’s White House initiative to expand opportunities for young men and boys of color.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time,” then-Sen. Obama said on Feb. 5, 2008. Adding, to a swell of cheers and applause, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Obama reminded us all that “the most important office in a democracy [is] citizen” during his farewell speech in Chicago last January. “That’s what our democracy demands. It needs you,” he continued. “If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up, dive in, stay at it.”
That’s quite different than what Trump declared during his nomination acceptance speech in Cleveland last July.
Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
It’s been three months since Obama’s farewell address and since he vacated the Oval Office. In that time we’ve seen him enjoy his post-White House life. He has the mien of an ex-boyfriend who seems happier and healthier after leaving you. Yet, while he was doing that, the people pining for his return to the fore wasted no time organizing protests, marching in the streets and at airports, and shouting at congressional town halls.
The science march in Washington on Saturday is but the latest example of folks showing up, diving in and staying at it. The activism unleashed by Trump’s assault on our Constitution, customs and values should send a very clear message to those still waiting for Obama to step in. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast