- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Where are the statesmen and stateswomen of the Democratic Party?

After five years and 4,000 American casualties in an enormously unpopular war in Iraq, the 2008 presidential election should be a gimme for the Democratic Party. Add to that a string of Republican domestic failures ranging from the shameful federal response to Hurricane Katrina to a mortgage crisis and a looming recession, and you should have a political slam dunk. Yet with these and other benefits, Democrats are poised for a momentum-busting implosion.

Politicos and pundits of all stripes must agree that Sen. Barack Obama has mounted the most creative, well-organized and superbly funded political campaign in a generation. His powerful vision, inspiring oratory and primary-season agility have awarded him the lion’s share of votes, state victories and delegates thus far. Let’s all admit it-we were all surprised that anyone could upset the expected Clinton family White House three-peat. But the people have spoken from all dimensions of the party constituency: from Vermont to Virginia, from Wyoming to Mississippi. Their voices are crying: We want a real change! O.k. I admit it, I am an Obama supporter. But from Iowa onward, I was just as shocked as everyone else.

Last summer I was jarred out of political jadedness by my 23-year-old son, a recent college graduate whose volunteer work for Mr. Obama made me examine the man, his record and his positions. I decided to support him out of sheer principle. I have since come to see that a coalition of persons of all ages and ethnicities, buttressed by an energetic core of youth and independents, is crafting a new generation of leadership for the party and America.

Sen. Hillary Clinton’s response started vigorously, but rapidly descended to business-as-usual politics; obfuscation (suggesting the leader be her vice president!), manipulation (tampering with superdelegates, campaigning in the excluded state of Florida, etc.), and an unhealthy and condescending dose of racebaiting. Again, these are par for the course in politics, the art of the possible. Mr. Obama has saved his most withering critiques for President Bush and Sen. John McCain, but has had to respond to both the issues and attacks tendered by Mrs. Clinton.

The problem for Democrats is enormous. Barring an unlikely popular vote revolution giving almost all of the remaining primary voters to Mrs. Clinton, the options are as follows: a Clinton victory via a superdelegate overthrow of the popular vote; or Mr. Obama emerging scarred though victorious from a contentious convention. In both scenarios, a weakened Democratic Party may provide the framework for a McCain victory, which would essentially be a third term for George W. Bush.

The only way for Democrats to avoid such a monumental collapse is by coalescing around the leading candidate Barack Obama and marshalling party unity with their formidable resources in an urgent quest for the presidency that begins immediately. As I don’t expect Mrs. Clinton to concede, it is time for the statesmen and stateswomen of the party to step forth and save the party and the election — and more importantly the future.

Some of the most stellar Democratic luminaries have already endorsed Mr. Obama: Sens. Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Bob Casey and Chris Dodd the latter, one of Mr. Barack’s former presidential opponents. But now is the time for the leaders of the party to step forth for the sake of the party. They must be strong persons, willing to part with past connections to create a political future. Beyond the prospect of regaining the White House, a new generation of leaders, a revitalized party and the very future of America hang in the balance. We cannot afford a continuation of the war in Iraq and its deleterious drain on America’s military, money and moral standing.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was right: Mr. Obama comprises a once-in-a-generation transformational leader with the potential to change American history via the core values of the Democratic Party. Al Gore, where are you? John Edwards, where are you? Your help is needed to usher the Democratic Party into a new millennium. Nancy Pelosi, where are you? History could crown you the midwife who gave birth to an American Renaissance.

The least of your prizes is that you’ll get me and others like me back — though I’m an Independent, I’m an ex-Democrat dying for a reason to come back home.

Emil M. Thomas, College Park, Md.

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