Change is a beautiful thing. In my lifetime, I’ve changed my clothes, my tires, my address and, of course, my mind. However, as I wade through the carefully orchestrated (yet minimal) distinctions between the two democratic candidates in this year’s presidential election, I wonder whether or not change, as I and most of America might view it, is an electable concept.
Change would mean developing a more effective way of continuing the success of America’s free market via growth in technology and innovation, while also making sure that predatory lending practices are dealt with stringently and middle class America isn’t carrying the burden of our tax spending. Change would mean that health care would be accessible to every citizen, whether that is by lowering its cost or making it free altogether. Change would mean that our government officials on both sides of the aisle would be held to a greater accountability for their associations (i.e., lobbyists), and federal government contracts would be fairly packaged and distributed.
It sounds good. Great, even.
While discussions of lack of experience and aggressive personalities make for hilarious Saturday Night Live comedy sketches, neither is the real issue. Like Obama, President Abraham Lincoln was a member of the Illinois Legislature who also only served for a short time in Congress before becoming President and as Clinton is often characterized, President Theodore Roosevelt was often viewed as stubborn and domineering.
To implement the kinds of significant changes mentioned above, at the level that both Senator Obama and Senator Clinton claim ability requires a formula of one part lunacy, one part multi-tiered influence, and one part sustainability. Both candidates have solidified their insanity. To be an African American man running for President in a country that less than fifty years ago hated you so much that they would have sprayed you with the firehoses if you’d gotten anywhere near a voting booth is crazy. To be a woman running for president in a country that in those same fifty years still doesn’t view the dollar you earn as equal to the one earned by your male counterpart is crazy. These two have crazy covered. And whether you believe that Obama’s is newly generated or Clinton’s is carefully maintained, a diversity of influence, the ability to inspire people to action at multiple class levels, is another area that arguably, the two candidates have been able to preserve.
The ability to sustain “change” is what needs further examination. Sustainability requires a long term buy-in of every participant, including federal lawmakers, local officials, and citizens. In order to make sure that changes of this magnitude can be endured by the American public in a real and tangible way–that a single mother who will now have access to decent healthcare and a good education for her children knows how to enlarge that good fortune to the building of continuous prosperity for generations to come–the elected must be able to show how these changes and their subsequent benefits can be distributed across our future.
If the imminent democratic candidate can prove his or her ability in this area in the general election, then the driving force behind the election becomes more than mere change, which implies a one-time, almost isolated, redirection. It’s got to be more dynamic than that. The proposed solutions will be driven by transformation; a complete renewal of the way we think about the way we run our government and the way our government treats its constituents at every level. This, the more challenging undertaking, may be the most difficult to accomplish.
Andrew and Nada Kakabadse state in The Essence of Leadership, that “people who wish to preserve the status quo resent change even when it is obvious that change is in their best interest.” Whether it is at the polls in November or after the first hundred days, there is this awful possibility that the candidates will run into a subconscious resistance from the very people who are screaming the need for change at all of their rallies.
Why? Because isn’t status quo easier? Even when it hurts? Don’t battered women stay in relationships with the men that beat them? Whether it is the children, the familiarity, or the fear, they find themselves staying with the evil they know rather than exploring the good they don’t. Fear we know, because we’ve been taught to be afraid for six out of the last eight years. High gas prices we know, because we’ve been paying between two and four dollars a gallon for nearly four years. Lack of healthcare and poor education in urban communities we know, because, depending on which side of the poverty line you live, we’ve been going to the free clinic or sending our kids to private schools for about six to ten years now. The fact of the matter is that most of us, Democrat, Republican, or otherwise agree on some level that our current President has made some terrible decisions. Errors aside, however, President Bush has exhibited a nearly admirable persistence and steadfastness in those decisions. It’s not just about implementation. Our next President must be just as persistent and steadfast in sustaining the change posited in this election, in order to maintain the hope that he or she inspired in people prior to arriving to office.
Change is an electable concept and its post-election sustainability is as possible as it is questionable; a paradox that, if you think about it, has been the core theme of this entire election. Sadly, I don’t doubt that Senator McCain is crazy enough (as a seventy year old rich, white Republican and former Vietnam prisoner of war) or has enough multi-tiered influence (with the coffers of other rich, white, male Republicans at his disposal) to sustain our current political and economic state. This reality just may force America, much like a pregnant woman thrashing about madly in the throes of labor, to make that final, urgent push, to give birth to a change that either Senator Obama or, in the event of a miracle on her behalf, Senator Clinton must nurture to maturity.