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A Fleeting
Political Movement,
Part II

Part I
Part III

Natalia J. Garland

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Let's dig deeper into the dynamics of the short-lived hope and change presidential campaign: a political movement which was inspired by Senator Obama, only to be altered beyond recognition when he became President-elect Obama. Here is how Obama described both the reason for and the process of the shift in his political perspective.

I suspect that you would be troubled and the American people would be troubled if I selected a Treasury secretary or a chairman of the National Economic Council at one of the most critical economic times in our history who had no experience in government whatsoever.

What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking. But understand where the vision for change comes from first and foremost. It comes from me. That's my job.
[End of quotes.]

Why does Obama suspect that the American people would feel troubled? Why not ask us how we feel and what we think? What happened to the meaning of hope? Why would people feel troubled by a total changeover in government? That is exactly why Obama supporters voted and what they had hoped for. Why would Obama use the concept of change as a central campaign message and then not put it into total action? Below are some possible answers to and ramifications of these concerns.

(1) Although he utilized the concept of change to motivate and galvanize his supporters, and he developed policy statements, Obama was ill-prepared to actualize change in terms of staffing his cabinet with fresh, new faces.

(2) Obama seems to say that hope and change are not totally applicable during times of crisis, but only when the nation is comparatively manageable. Since the current crisis is a financial one, it would follow that withdrawal from Iraq is to be included within the realm of comparative manageability. If this is so, then it is not necessary for Obama to choose Washington insiders (especially war hawks and former war hawks) to work with him on effecting a military withdrawal from Iraq. According to his own logic, Obama should choose Washington insiders only for his economic team.

(3) During times of crisis, however, policy changes are still regarded as possible because the new or creative ideas will originate from the mind of Obama. But, the agents of change must be drawn from experienced Washington insiders who understand the inner workings of government.

(4) Obama seems to say, therefore, that the inner workings of government cannot be learned quickly, not even by intelligent outsiders who are knowledgeable and accomplished in the areas in which Obama proposes change. During times of crisis (or, at least, during a financial crisis), Washington insiders are more suited to implement change than outsiders.

(5) During his campaign Obama had only criticism for the so-called Washington insiders and never hinted that there could be circumstances under which he would need insiders. If Obama knew beforehand that novices would not be able to make a quick adjustment to the ways of Washington, D.C., then he should not have disapproved of the very people on whom he is now dependent.

We can see that Obama has made a drastic shift from hope and change to a combination of experience with fresh thinking. Moreover, he has made this shift because he believes the American people feel troubled and need to be comforted or reassured. The American people cannot sustain hope or tolerate change when under severe stress. At the same time, however, Americans should trust in Obama's vision and in his ability to choose Washington insiders who will implement his vision.

Could it be that Obama feels troubled, does not fully understand the inner workings of government, lacks experience and therefore needs the expertise and assistance of Washington insiders? Is this why some journalists seem to have difficulty labeling the Obamian shift, and why some supporters resort to rationalizing the shift? Is this why Obama is compared to Abraham Lincoln, then to F.D.R., then to J.F.K., and then to R.F.K. all in the same breath? But, Obama has never been compared to President Bill Clinton. Let's dig back to 2006 when Obama wrote The Audacity of Hope. You do not have to read very far into the book to realize that Obama has some respect for Bill Clinton.

It was Bill Clinton's singular contribution that he tried to transcend this ideological deadlock, recognizing not only that what had come to be meant by the labels of "conservative" and "liberal" played to Republican advantage, but that categories were inadequate to address the problems we faced. At times during his first campaign, his gestures toward disaffected Reagan Democrats could seem clumsy and transparent (whatever happened to Sister Souljah?) or frighteningly coldhearted (allowing the execution of a mentally retarded death row inmate to go forward on the eve of an important primary). In the first two years of his presidency, he would be forced to abandon some core elements of his platform--universal health care, aggressive investment in education and training--that might have more decisively reversed the long-term trends that were undermining the position of working families in the new economy.

Still, he instinctively understood the falseness of the choices being presented to the American people. He saw that government spending and regulation could, if properly designed, serve as vital ingredients and not inhibitors to economic growth, and how markets and fiscal discipline could help promote social justice. He recognized that not only societal responsibility but personal responsibility was needed to combat poverty. In his platform--if not always in his day-to-day politics--Clinton's Third Way went beyond splitting the difference. It tapped into the pragmatic, nonideological attitude of the majority of Americans.
[End of quote.]

Obama is assembling a Clintonian government with shades of the Bush administration. After accusing Senator McCain of adhering strictly to Bush policy, after telling the American people that four years of a McCain presidency would be the same as four more years of President Bush, after criticizing and defeating the Clinton political machine: Obama is now organizing a cabinet that will continue some policies of the past eight years (the war on terror), attempt to succeed where others tried but failed (healthcare, education), as well as assert his own hardcore liberal tendencies (partial-birth abortion).

Obama may or may not succeed with his combination government. Some of us will be studying the shift closely, hoping for the best, and contributing what we can toward the good of America as the political dynamics begin to unfold in 2009. The four years ahead might turn out to be more troubling for Obama supporters than for Hillary Clinton or John McCain supporters. Yes, we can. Well, no, you can't, not without cooperation from people whom you criticized and would have rejected totally. (Written 12/01/08: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2008 Natalia J. Garland