Every political season gives birth to one or two instant clichés. Outside of politics a phrase often takes generations to be spoiled as an effective term by long familiarity, or to become dull and meaningless by overuse. In today’s politics a genuine cliché can be created in a month due to its intense repetition by TV and print pundits, as well as by a myriad of bloggers.
But at least non-political clichés have the advantage of pointing out something usually true. Go outside at 4 a.m., and you will note the truth of the cliché that it is always darkest before the dawn. Have a small tear in a piece of clothing promptly sewed up and you learn that a stitch in time does save nine (stitches). Or perhaps, more accurately, don’t have it promptly repaired and you’ll have to pay for extensive stitching.
But this season’s premier political cliché is already both hackneyed and trite, while having no obvious truth to it. I am referring to the claim that Sen. Barack Obama would bring real change to America, while Sen. Hillary Clinton would bring extensive experience to the office.
First, it is interesting to note where this cliché came from. As far as I can tell, its origins are nothing more than the campaign claims of the two candidates. Sen. Hillary Milhous Clinton has been lumbering around the political landscape talking about herself as commander in chief. She joined the Senate Armed Services Committee as a freshman seven short years ago and has managed to pick up enough military jargon to sound like an Army major on his third tour of duty in the Pentagon’s administrative office. She has taken on the world-weary sound of a veteran European diplomat — although she has not carried out even one day’s duty as a diplomat.
In fact, prior to being elected to the Senate in 2000, her only recent professional employment had been as a lawyer in Little Rock, Ark., while her husband, coincidentally, was governor of that state. She represented clients who sometimes had an interest in getting to know her husband better. She has never managed anything larger than a Senate office, although she did exercise the traditional first lady’s prerogative of trying to get various members of her husband’s staff fired.
Her international activities while first lady were more in line with the ceremonial responsibilities of a Pat Nixon or Laura Bush than with the actual interventions of Eleanor Roosevelt — who she does claim to have spoken to via séance.
In other words, she doesn’t have the government management experience of a Reagan, Carter or Bill Clinton. Nor does she have the international, military or naval experience of an Eisenhower, Hoover or a Franklin Roosevelt. Now, this doesn’t mean she would not make a jim-dandy president (although I would prefer about 295 million other Americans in that job before her). But it does mean that the cliché that she is the experienced candidate is just hooey.
As to Sen. Obama being the candidate for change, this idea seems to have originated with — Sen. Obama. His home page has a big map at the top entitled "Road to Change." And he wrote an audacious book claiming the novel audacity of a politician offering the change of hope to the voters. Of course, politicians since the beginning of time have peddled either fear or hope — with the better ones offering both simultaneously. Moreover, his policy thinking appears to be politically safe and routine left-of-center Washington think tank ideas — nothing terribly innovative.
Nor is offering to end partisan bickering much of an innovation — although accomplishing it would be. And that is where a shrewd assessment of Sen. Obama would suggest his is an unlikely personality to end partisan bickering. He has already, in his short Washington career, displayed a haughty pride in his own high intelligence, a definite instinct for sarcastically toned comments about his opponents (even in his own party), a refusal to admit any errors and an undisciplined and flippant manner.
Imagine a President Obama — with all those traits — reaching out, working with and compromising with the full menagerie of Capital Hill creatures. He couldn’t possibly hold his tongue for eight weeks, let alone eight years, working in harness with congressmen, senators and interest group representatives he judged to be knuckle-dragging nincompoops. This is a guy destined to be the Godzilla of skunks at any Washington bipartisan picnic. Which is not to say that he wouldn’t be a prince of a president. It’s just that it will not be based on changing the way Washington does business.
The media should not be so willing to parrot each of Clinton’s and Obama’s campaign themes. They are able work-a-day politicians trying to get themselves elected president. Nothing wrong with that. But Hillary Clinton is one of the least experienced major candidates for president in the last 100 years, and Barack Obama is neither stylistically nor substantively offering any more change than have most candidates over the generations. So far, neither party is offering up a candidate with nearly as much change instinct or worldly experience as is clearly needed in this rapidly and dangerously changing world.