Elected Democrats, Democrats in leadership, and even Democratic pundits are waking to a sobering reality as the days progress and the field of contenders in the Democratic primary grows, shrinks, then improbably grows again:
There is no Barack Obama in the 2020 race.
There will be no soaring oratory fireworks. No shivers will be sent up the leg of any reporter, however liberal. There will be no ultra-cool yet still utterly presidential fist bumps; no Jay-Z and Beyonce.
No “it” factor.
The magic of Barack Obama was much more than the successful coalition he forged between the many different, often warring, fractions of the Democratic Party. It was more than a team of the best Democratic staffers in the game passionately committed to electing the nation’s first black President.
Much of the magic of Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012 was due to the man himself. And that man is gone. 2008 is gone; 2012 is gone.
2016 happened though, and if Democrats don’t want it to happen again it is time to move on.
Former President Barack Obama has moved on, and the Democratic Party has certainly moved on without him. Some of Obama’s most recent criticisms of the Democratic Party’s sharp leftward turn have even left him branded with the deadly “C” word by some members of the press.
No one is Barack Obama in the 2020 race, possibly not even Barack Obama himself.
If Democrats can’t be with the presidential candidate they love, Democrats must unite behind the party’s chosen candidate, whatever their progressive bonafides may happen to be.
The lack of any clear winner amid the field of Democratic candidates is less a reflection on the qualifications of the current contenders- which are excellent- and more a reflection on the almost impossible standard set by Barack Obama in 2008.
Obama raised the bar on what Democrats now consider presidential material. He may have even introduced the celebrity factor, a dubious qualification that may have changed American politics forever.
It may have been this precedent, more so than any other, that ushered the household name of Donald Trump into the White House.
Each of the candidates currently vying for the Democratic nomination is qualified, moral, committed and would likely do an excellent job. But none of them, not one, could be considered a celebrity by any stretch of the imagination.
The dawn of celebrity politicians, and the celebrity treatment for certain politicians, may have permanently altered the playing field in the same way that the advent of video killed the radio star.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is certainly no Barack Obama; she sounds exactly like what she is, an Ivy League professor, and she comes across like one- not anything like Obama.
Trying to contrive the “It” factor, trying to repeat the success of Barack Obama as if it were nothing more than a formulaic combination of tweak-able factors, is making Democratic contenders look weak, grasping, and worst of all, fake.
Elizabeth Warren, or Pete Buttigieg, fist-bumping the White House custodian would seem lame, manipulative, even insulting; because it would be.
Elizabeth Warren, like Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders- the top four Democratic contenders- are all as white as the newly driven snow.
Leaving aside Joe Biden’s strange recent assertion that he comes from the black community, his connection to Barack Obama’s legacy becomes more tenuous by the day as Biden’s debate performances continue to be as disappointing as his fundraising.
Biden does, however, of the four top candidates, have some popularity and traction with African-American voters and the black community.
The other three white candidates are struggling deeply.
No one more so than Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose recent rise to the top of the Democratic moderates pile- on the wane of Joe Biden- has left Buttigieg a bigger target for criticism.
This is due in part to a few high-profile moves and mistakes that have drawn significant backlash from the very black communities that Buttigieg has been anxiously courting for weeks.
The black community is right to be incensed.
The Buttigieg campaign’s use of a stock photo of a Kenyan woman in a community outreach campaign was a careless mistake.
But the Buttigieg campaign’s leaking of internal polling data suggesting the black community won’t vote for Buttigieg due to homophobia- Buttigieg is openly gay- was less a careless mistake and more a calculated insult that is not being well-received by African-American community leaders.
Buttigieg further compounded his infractions by deliberately misrepresenting his level of support from black community leaders.
The Buttigieg campaign did indeed send an email to over 400 community leaders asking for their support- if they didn’t opt out, they were listed as supporters.
Many prominent black leaders, some whom had even endorsed other candidates, were very surprised to see their names appear on Buttigieg’s list.
Some of Buttigieg’s missteps, while they certainly haven’t helped him, came no doubt as a result of the recent influx of donor cash into the campaign, and the extra, and possibly overzealous, new staff it bought.
But video of a Buttigieg mayoral campaign stump from 2011 has surfaced, with the then-mayoral candidate making some remarks that showed, at best, a major lack of understanding about the black experience in America, at worst willful dishonesty in representing it.
The video of Buttigieg’s remarks prompted a scathing editorial in the Root; “Pete Buttigieg is a lying MF”.
In the black community in South Carolina, Buttigieg is now polling at less than zero percent.
Buttigieg would have made an excellent candidate. He would have been a perfectly adequate standard bearer for the Democratic Party in 2020.
But these gross errors in courting a substantial section of the party base shows that at age 37, with his current level of experience, Buttigieg is in no way ready to run in a general election.
Especially against a Republican like Donald Trump, who will never stop reminding voters of Buttigieg’s embarrassing fumbles with the black Democratic vote.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren may be no Barack Obama, but she’s no Pete Buttigieg either. She has the age, the gravitas and the political experience to avoid such obvious pitfalls.
Nor is she as shaky as Joe Biden, or as laden with the socialist label as Bernie Sanders. She has never been a prosecutor like Sen. Kamala Harris. She isn’t a billionaire like long-shot Michael Bloomberg.
But she is sincere in her commitment to this nation and the people; all of them. She is the candidate doing to most to redefine health care as a human right, to address injustices in the criminal justice system that disproportionally impacts black communities.
She is the most outspoken against the crushing wealth inequality that still exists in the U.S. She is the most likely to meet the uniquely modern problem of a few ultra-wealthy billionaires having more money than everyone else on the planet put together.
Democrats don’t have to love her. She isn’t Barack Obama and she shouldn’t try to be.
But she is the very best Democratic candidate we have. And Democrats will need their very best to face Donald Trump and his campaign cash machine monster in 2020.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)