If the frenzied commentary is to be believed, “change” is all the rage in the running up to New Hampshire primaries. There’s a sudden - and rare - bipartisan embrace of the platitudinous rhetoric. Last night’s ABC/Facebook debate was nothing if not “featured an increasingly silly battle over this magical word.”
After proclaiming he loves “change”, Bill Richardson couldn’t help asking “is experience a leper?” His rhetorical question was arguably the moment of clarity in the debate. Since when has experience become an anathema in the presidential contest? Amid the deafening drumbeat of “the fierce urgency of now”, the true meaning of “change”, to the more level-headed, alas, has been obscured, if not altogether lost, in what some call the “demagoguery of hope”.
We’ve seen politicians rising to the top on the mantra of hope - Bill Clinton and George W. Bush spring to mind. In fairness, in 1992 Clinton had a track record as successful Arkansas governor under his belt; in 2000 Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” would’ve rung hollow without his laudable experience working with Texas democratic legislature. But today the clarion call to change seems “not so much inspirational as preachy”.
Small wonder Bush’s approval rating is so abysmal against a backdrop of a disastrous Iraq war and the looming recessionary fallout from the subprime crisis. People not just hope but yearn for change. But “change” is nothing more than an empty word if not backed up by substance. As one of the viewers of cable news points out, everybody loves to be president but few have real solutions.
You’d be forgiven for wondering out loud whether the new wonder “will become a full-blown media creature”. In fact, it may already be. Just look at the talking heads on television gushing over the “defining moment in history”. Granted, there’s a lot to be said about Obama’s caucus victory in Iowa, but one cannot escape the feeling of over-blown media sensation, as if sound bites, not the issues, are what matters in this race to the White House.
Perhaps it’s worth bearing in mind that “change” is more than what motivational speakers peddle and the office of the President is more than the pulpit to preach to the congregation. Whether someone is a change agent “hinges on what he does, not what he emotes”. We are, after all, endlessly vindicated by the unfolding of history.