What does a tired and aging movement do? It puts on a program with tired and aging leaders. Sharpton has long ago worn out his welcome among anyone beyond the hard-core Democratic base; the same is true for Jackson. The 83-year-old Belafonte's appearance at the rally was impressive, but mostly as a vision from an earlier era. Trumka's appeal does not go beyond the labor movement, and the young gun in the group, Van Jones, left the White House last year amid scandal. It wasn't exactly an all-star lineup.
Finally, the rally lacked a villain. Back in the days of George W. Bush, merely saying the president's name could elicit angry boos over and over and over again. Every problem in every part of American life could be attributed to Bush and his gang. Now, with a Democratic president and Congress, speakers can denounce Republicans all they want, but everyone knows who is running the U.S. government. That knowledge took a little of the edge off all those denunciations.
Put it all together, and what the rally lacked most was life. That became painfully clear during Sharpton's remarks, when he tried to illustrate the Democratic coalition's current plight by telling a Bible story.
"They say we're apathetic," Sharpton told the crowd. "They say we're not energized. Well, you know, I'm a preacher. There's a story in the Bible about a man named Ezekiel. Ezekiel saw a valley full of dry bones. Somebody said, 'Can these bones live?' And the way he made them live was he started connecting them together."
Sharpton suggested that the different parts of the Democratic coalition -- black, white, Latino, Asian, straight, gay, immigrant, natural-born -- are like those dry bones. "If we can connect these bones," he said, "we can make America breathe and America live as one nation under God."
Put aside a few details -- in the Bible, it was God who brought the bones to life as Ezekiel watched -- and you're left with Sharpton's striking image of the Democratic Party as a bunch of old, dry bones. Could anything be more disheartening? In the Ezekiel story, it took a miracle to make the bones come to life. But there were no miracles to be found Oct. 2 at the Lincoln Memorial.