The false promise of change

With all this talk about change from the presidential aspirants, one should remember that in politics, as in few other endeavors, the more things change the more they stay the same. Reinforcing the truth of this cliche, of course, is the fact that the c-word has been the universal theme of candidates for public office almost since the invention of elections.

There is another truism that makes the promise of new approaches from the Oval Office most difficult to sustain. Washington is not only slow to change but is nearly immune from radical alteration. It is an institution unto itself where decisions are made at bureaucratic levels far below that of the Oval Office, no matter what policies a president may set. To effect real change, one must think in practical terms and spend years trying to get there. Medicare is an example, winning passage in 1965 after decades of bartering.

In America, revolutionary thinking can be defined as the simple altering of a few lines in the Internal Revenue Service code or proposing the raising or lowering of Social Security benefits. Promoting anything much more extreme than that probably ends up meaning that most candidates are wasting money campaigning. Rep. Ron Paul’s libertarian ideas, which have raised a lot of money on the Internet for a presidential effort that has never gotten above moribund, is a case in point. Taking the country back to a kinder, gentler time might have its appeal to those who have more dollars than sense, but when it comes to casting a vote reality sets in rather rapidly. Besides, they didn’t have the Internet in the kinder times.

When Franklin Roosevelt’s ideas during the darkest economic and social period in the history of the Republic got too radical, Supreme Court justices reined him in by ruling they were contrary to the Constitution. He then tried unsuccessfully to increase the size of the court — so much for change. Don’t misunderstand. The illusion of change can be very powerful. For millions of young Americans, John F. Kennedy held out the promise of a more vibrant America. So he gave them Vietnam and made little headway in reforming race relations or in solving any other major domestic problem.

What the current crop of candidates seems to be promising is difficult to define. They talk in terms of universal health care and revolutionizing public education and of making the tax code fairer by forcing the rich to pay more, and they hold out the promise of ending America’s adventures overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. But how is that much different from what candidates traditionally endorse? It isn’t, of course. And when one looks at the front-runners for the nomination in both parties, it is difficult to find the kind of practical leadership experience that might give us some hope they could fulfill their promises.

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama and John Edwards are woefully short of on-the-job training that would make a decent resume for a top managerial spot in most companies. Obama walked into the U.S. Senate and announced almost immediately that he would now like to run the country based on two qualifications: He is young and half-black. Edwards won his first public office as one of North Carolina’s two senators and almost immediately began seeking higher office. For six years, including a vice-presidential nomination, he has never slowed his stumping, demanding and promising change. Only Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton can make a legitimate claim of experience, and her opponents who disparaged her as too influential as first lady now charge her role was minor.

Republicans aren’t in much better shape. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who changed his profession from seeking converts to Christ to searching for voters of any stripe, wants change. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says he is for change. As proof he has altered his own moderate stances on controversial social issues like abortion. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani hasn’t changed. He is still talking about his experience during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on his city. The person with the most experience in the change department is Sen. John McCain, who seems finally to be returning to game form.

So when it comes to the c-word, it might be wise not to accept the concept too easily. In fact, it might be better to go for the candidate who talks less about it in the abstract and more about the realities accomplishing it. That’ll be the day.

(Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.)


  1. Steve Horn

    No individual can change the course of America, and you’d be a fool to think they could. What a strong, effective and inspired leader can do, however, is to communicate their vision for America to us, the citizens. As has happened in the past, given the right direction and inspiration, we the people will make darned sure the change comes about.

    Look at the space exploration program, our recovery from the depression, civil rights and other major advances in our nations history. Kennedy, FDR or LBJ didn’t really DO anything, other than to inspire the population to act and convince the legislative branch to not to stand in the way.

    Of course, if all you want to do is argue about who said what or define “is” or push to legislate moral behavior, you’re not going to make anything positive happen. However, if you’re willing to listen, to be inspired, to follow the example of a positive leader then damn near anything is possible.



  2. WWWexler

    Obama walked into the U.S. Senate and announced almost immediately that he would now like to run the country based on two qualifications: He is young and half-black.

    I can’t believe I just read that. I think you owe Americans an apology for that ageist, racist, and totally uncalled for remark.

    Not to mention that it’s totally false, as well.


  3. Bwana

    Doug is telling the truth. He doesn’t owe anyone an appology for telling the truth about politicians.

  4. JoyfulC

    All this talk of change is hilarious. That’s like talking about renovating the kitchen just after you went on a bender, wrecked the family car, wracked up some serious medical bills, are being sued, and facing criminal charges.

    I’ve got news, people. Change is going to have to wait until we dig ourselves out of the mess we’ve gotten into these past 15 years of so. And bear in mind that those who led us into this mess haven’t given up — they’ll be working against us all the way.

    Change. That’s just too funny.

  5. Jeffers

    What part is worthy of an apology? That Obama is young or half-black?

    His experience at that time was all within a state legislative system. Not much to talk about.

    He now has more as a US senator, but that’s not what Mr. Thomasson said.

    By the way, this is Dan, not Doug. However, I can’t really see either of them apologizing.

    Peace without freedom is still slavery.

  6. AustinRanter

    Mr. Thomasson is so right on….

    As an investigative reporter, Mr. Thomasson has been in the middle of some very profound stories related to politicans and government. He’s a man with a nose for political corruption and government’s proliferation to become almost a country within a country. Although the government is tiny in comparison to the citizens in which it controls…it’s power has become astonishing.

    For anybody who believes that our government…and those who genuinely understand its power and who are a part of it wants change…welp, those persons need a serious intervention that will shake them into reality.

    Only those who are a victim of circumstance of birth which has made them constitutionally ignorant can’t see the realities that now stand before us all. Our Government is not the friend of the citizens that it controls. Our government controls the citizens because the citizens surrendered to the government their power designed in the Constitutiion under, “We The People.”

    Only the citizens are the true change agents. Government representatives were ‘meant to be’ the instruments by which change, designed by and for the people, would be implemented.

    If you buy the “CHANGE” game by our candidates…you need to head to the nearest pharmacy…purchase the largest tube of KY jelly possible and hand it to your government representative and bend over. Don’t expect a kiss, please.

  7. WWWexler

    What is wrong with you?

    Obama has never walked into Congress or anywhere else and said what this author claimed he said.

    Reading is fundamental. So is journalism, if you “wannabe” a pundit. You don’t go around putting garbage in other people’s mouths, unless you’re Faux News.


  8. Sandra Price

    I think the only chance for change will come when America is destroyed. I don’t mean by a bomb but when we lose our incomes, our jobs and our respect from the other nations. We are nearly there now.

    We buy our allies but when the government is told not to spend another dollar to any other nation, our allies will move along and find another angel of mercy. It seems to be the culture of the time starting in 2000 and continuing until somebody calls a halt to this mess. We seem to treat our children in the same way giving them what they want and ignoring what they need.

    America is setting itself up for a major influx of enemies because our government is keeping a close eye on us, not who is crossing the borders. We are too eager to build the North American Union complete with freeways from Mexico to Canada.

    The voters are unconcerned and only a small group of us are watching this scenario of destruction overcoming our freedoms. There is a change of attitude among many of us that we might be better off moving out of America. We cannot fight federal hall nor can we stop electing these tyrants. Central America might be the new home of those of us who are freedom fighters.