On the eve of taking office, the most watched new arrival in the nation’s capital says it’s way too early to talk about his place in history.
“I haven’t done anything yet,” Barack Obama, Illinois’ new senator and a rare bright spot in a Democratic Party that took it on the chin in the November elections, told reporters Monday.
Obama, the first black man in the Senate in 25 years and only the fifth in history, became an overnight celebrity with his keynote address to the Democrats’ convention last July in Boston. Almost overnight, the Hawaii-born son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, became a darling of the party.
“When you start talking about history, that’s measured, you know, over decades and over a lifetime of accomplishment,” he said Monday. “It’s not measured by making a speech or getting elected to something.”
A state senator from Chicago, Obama bested a crowded Democratic primary field of seven candidates to win the party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald. He easily defeated Republican Alan Keyes in the general election after the original GOP nominee, investment banker Jack Ryan, dropped out when embarrassing sex allegations surfaced in divorce papers.
Democrats have high hopes for the 43-year-old Obama. Even before he reached Washington, talk swirled of an Obama run for president in 2008.
It’s a notion Obama dismisses: “I’m not running for national office. I am here to be sworn in as the United States senator from the state of Illinois. I will not be running for president in ’08.”
That doesn’t mean he won’t be involved in the debate over what direction the Democratic Party should take after John Kerry’s loss to President Bush and Republican gains in the House and Senate in November.
He said the party has lost sight of its values and continues to let Republicans stereotype Democrats and define their dogma. “I don’t think that we need a messiah. I think we need to gather together,” he said.