This presidential campaign is beginning to stir some historical memories for me. Cases in point:
France, 1789: Discontent with the monarchy’s inability to come up with a name besides Louie, plus a few factors such as grinding poverty, lead to a revolution which leads to a bloodbath which leads to dictator Napolean and disastrous wars which bankrupt France.
Russia, 1918: Discontent with the monarachy’s inability to decide if it’s spelled czar or tsar, plus a few factors such as grinding poverty, lead to a revolution which leads to a bloodbath which leads to dictators Lenin and Stalin and disastrous purges which nearly cost Russia its survival in World War II.
Germany 1933: Discontent with the Weimar Republic’s inability to keep inflation below 4 digits, resulting in grinding poverty, plus a few factors such as total political instability, lead to a revolution which leads to a bloodbath which was caused by dictator Hitler, costing Germany World War II.
China 1949: Discontent with the Nationalists’ corrupt authoritarianism, plus a few factors such as grinding poverty, lead to a revolution which leads to a bloodbath which is caused by Chairman Mao. Fortunately, we are able to keep him from using World War III as a means of birth control.
Cuba 1959: Discontent with Batista’s corrupt authoritarianism, plus a few factors such as grinding poverty, lead to a revolution which leads to a bloodbath which is caused by Comrade Fidel. Fortunately, we are able to keep him from using the island as a launch pad and cause World War III.
Russia 1991: Discontent with communism’s dictatorship, plus a few factors such as losing the cold war, lead to a revolution which leads to a coup which, since it came from the gang that couldn’t coup straight, leads to creation of a semblance of freedom before what increasingly seems a return to corrupt authoritarianism.
What do these events have in common? Why, the buzz word of 2008. The rationale for half a dozen presidential candidacies and the "me too" phrase for the rest. A little six letter word called: change. The American Heritage Dictionery defines the noun as, "the process or condition of alteration or modification. The replacing of one thing for another. Substitution. A transition from one state, condition, or phase to another."
Actually, counting the verb definitions, "change" takes up 48 lines in the dictionery, including 7 synonyms. You can’t accuse "change" of standing pat. Or of being out of fashion. If there’s one thing not likely to change in the next few months, it’s candidates clinging to change.
Barak Obama campaigns beneath a banner reading "Change we can believe in". On the John Edwards campaign bus is a sign reading "Real change starts now". Hillary Clinton says it’s not enough for a president who will call for change, or one who will demand change, but "a president who will produce change". In a New Hampshire debate, John Edwards portrays Clinton as "the status quo", adding, "Every time Obama speaks out for change, every time I fight for change, the forces of status quo are going to attack." During the Saturday republican presidential debate, the 6 contenders invited used the word change 40 times, 15 by Rudy Guiliani and 10 by Mitt Romney. Romney tells a New Hampshire audience, "Change! Change! And how to bring change…" The Washington Post adds that "The word began to take control of his tongue. ‘Don’t send us the same people to fill different changes — different chairs…".
There’s an inherent implication in the call for change per se. It is that things are so bad, that change itself is an improvement, no matter what it is. I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of things could use change, but I’d much prefer the change known as improvements, and yes, improvements as I’d define them. However, how many of us really think things are so bad, that change itself, not further defined, is worth pursuing? Are we really unaware of how well off we are? We’re the richest, most free, most powerful nation in history. First and foremost I assume none of the candidates would change any of that. Do we face international problems? Of course, but change could certainly include making them worse. Is the economy all that we’d like it to be? No, but change could certainly include more foreclosures, fewer jobs, and a lower stock market.
I know we live in a society where change is a virtual virtue. Words like fashionable and trendy pepper our vocabularies and litter our thinking. If it’s new it’s got to be better — allegedly reportedly. Sorry I can’t think of a new way to say that. It’s a symptom of the gross national attention span, which is a whole other column. But surely we shouldn’t sink to the simplistic notion that, if we just roll the dice, we’re bound to get a seven. Remember that snake eyes is also a change.
Nothing I’ve said here should imply that I oppose change. I happen to think we need a large chunk of change, from more personal responsibility to less blind willingness to play international follow the leader. But I back specific changes, not just candidates who wrap their whole campaign in this bright colored wrapping paper and pretend that there’s really something inside.
In fact, if there’s something worse than blindly calling for change, it might be blindly calling for no change of any kind, and the American public certainly is familiar with that. Think back to when we elected Ronald Reagan, and promptly gave him democratic party control of at least one house of congress. Ditto with electing Bill Clinton and then giving him a republican congress. I call that voting the straight paralysis ticket, and it remains a compelling argument for the parliamentary system. There, at least the person acquiring a majority gets a chance to bring about change. If it’s good, you can keep him. Or if it’s bad, throw the bum out. But how can you tell if nothing ever gets done in the first place?
It’ll be interesting to see how this campaign of change changes. If, heaven forbid, we wind up voting that the status should remain quo, I can just see a big movie ending, with Obama, perhaps, riding off into the sunset with this little boy running after him yelling, "Change! Change! Come back, Change!"
A penny for your thoughts.
Keep the change.