Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Mark Steyn: The Hope of Change

Steyn on America
Wednesday, 12 December 2007

from National Review

Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) speaks to supporters at his New Hampshire primary night rally in Nashua January 8, 2008.

What do you think is the critical issue in this election season? Personally, I blow hot and cold. I used to think the key issue facing the nation was “hope”. But now I wonder if perhaps it isn’t “change”. It was only last year that I bought The Audacity Of Hope by this fellow called Barack Obama. How audacious hope seemed back then! How bold, how courageous! But now, a mere 12 months later, hope seems cheap, glib, easy.

“There has been a lot of talk in this campaign about the politics of hope,” said this guy in Iowa the other day. “But, understand this: the politics of hope doesn’t mean hoping that things come easy.” It turned out to be the same Barack Obama who’d been going on about the audacity of hope. But now he’s fine-tuned his campaign, and he’s running on “change”.

No, don’t yawn. Hillary Clinton may be running around New Hampshire on her “Ready For Change” tour, but that kind of facile focus-group change is just the same-old-same-old. “Change can’t just be a slogan,” says Senator Obama, who’s committed to a Democratic Party “that doesn’t just offer change as a slogan but real, meaningful change, change that America can believe in. That’s why I’m in this race, that’s why I’m running for the Presidency of the United States, to offer change that we can believe in.”

Any cynical hack pol can offer change as a slogan, but Senator Obama’s offering “Change You Can Believe In” as a slogan. It’s on the side of his “Change You Can Believe In” campaign bus. “I don’t want to settle,” he declared in Bettendorf, Iowa, “for anything less than real change, fundamental change, change we need, change we can believe in.” Obama is reshaping the debate: he’s changing the way we think about change. As his chief strategist, James Axelrod, told Politico, the Senator is arguing for “real and authentic change, not synthetic change”. He’s passionately opposed to “synthetic change”, mentioning no names. If you’re looking for a synthetic-change candidate, sorry, he’s not your guy. Include him out. He’ll change his hair, he’ll change his tie, but he won’t change his fierce righteous opposition to synthetic change. In the stirring words that conclude his new TV ad in New Hampshire: “This is Barack Obama. I approve this message to ask you to believe - not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington. I’m asking you to believe in yours.” I was so enthused I tore off my old “I’m Pro-Hope And I Vote” bumper sticker and replaced it with “I’m Pro-Change And I Believe”. Ask not what you can change for your country, ask what your country can change for you. “I am here,” Obama told the crowd at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, “because I feel a fierce urgency that the time for change is now.”

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. The Democrats are the party of stasis: on affirmative action, there can be no change; on abortion absolutism, there can be no change; even on a less cobwebbed shibboleth such as the Iraq war, there can be no change – they’ve booked the band and caterers for the big Defeat Parade and no matter what happens on the ground in Baghdad and Anbar they’re not going to change their plans. To his credit, on Social Security Senator Obama raised ever so tentatively the prospect that there might have to be just the teensy-weensiest little tweakette of a change to keep the wheels from coming off the entitlement bus, and immediately he got clobbered by Paul Krugman and Democrat activists as a pathetic stooge for the heartless right’s plans to get rid of the whole racket.

In the Democratic Party, “change” is a buzz word but not a meaningful concept. Insofar as they want “change” at all, they only want more of the same - more entitlements, more regulation, more incremental government annexation of health care. Barack Obama doesn’t want to “change” the minimum wage, he merely wants to increase it annually, “so American workers aren’t falling behind”. He seems to think the minimum-wage workforce is not a rotating population of persons en route to or in between other jobs but a fixed pool of employees. Like taking a job at John Edwards’ dad’s mill, getting a minimum-wage gig is a career for life: You start your minimum-wage job in 1982 and you retire in 2027, still at minimum wage. So you’d be in big trouble without Obama’s annual wage increase, and no doubt (in his second term) mandatory health care and paid vacations.

This is a very complacent kind of “change”. Indeed, for the most part, the Democrat programs are about change you can’t believe in, not if you’re a rational human being with an eye to basic math. But Democrats, like the European political class, give the impression that all the great questions have been decided. As Goethe’s Faust puts it:

When to the moment I shall say
‘Linger awhile! so fair thou art!’
Then mayst thou fetter me straightway
Then to the abyss will I depart!

That’s how the Continentals feel about their post-Second World War Eutopian moment: “Linger awhile! so fair thou art!” Yes, all the entitlements are unsustainable in the long term and will plunge them into the abyss, but who cares about the long term if we can just live in one unchanging moment? President Sarkozy is trying to persuade his electorate of what ought to be obvious – that a society in which half the workforce are employed by the state and retire in their 50s with free health care can never make that arithmetic add up. In France, “the time for change” really is now, in the sense that that roaring sound you hear is one almighty waterfall just round the bend. But in democratic societies “real change” is a tough sell, and in this campaign season no Democrat is minded to try it.

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