January 23, 2009

Change We Can Be Leavin'

A coworker of mine (I'll call him "Jack") had a conversation with a family member ("Joe") over Christmas that went something like this.

Joe: "Who did you vote for?"

Jack: "McCain."

Joe: "Oh... You don't like Obama?"

Jack: "Why do you like him?"

Joe: "Because he's for change."

Jack: "Change, huh? Can you give me something specific that he wants to change, and can you tell me what he wants to change it to?"

[crickets chirping]

Now, I don't mean to suggest that an informed Democrat (or just Obama supporter) cannot give a meaningful reply to such a question, but I have indeed seen this kind of sweeping ignorance displayed — sometimes from high-level media or political figures — about the man Obama and his policy initiatives. I think also that there was an intentional campaign waged to ride the wave of excitement that optimistic, yet nebulous, slogans like "change" and "hope" could provide. If one does not define such words, then unsatisfied people are free to inject them with whatever meaning best suites their hopes and dreams. Obama proved himself to be a master of generalities in his campaign, and people have always been restless with their lot and disappointed with their leaders. There is no human utopia, though we ever seek to achieve it through "change." It was a winning strategy and Obama won fairly with it, though I like to think that our leadership should be called to a higher purpose than simply employing the best campaign tactics that money can buy.

Now, "change" is a fine word in the right circumstances if we are clear what this means. But at the Obama rallies the word itself seemed to carry the day, and the Democrats rarely condescended to get more specific than to imply that it was to be a departure from "the failed policies of the Bush administration." This is not enough. As my preteen son observed, "Gee, I guess communism would be a 'change,' wouldn't it?" As a sunny day may change to a rain shower, and a rain shower may change to a thunderstorm, "change" does not always equal "better."

Perhaps the response may be given that we are presently in a thunderstorm, and so any change is likely to be for the better. Well, that may be so, and that may be debated, but it suggests to me another observation I'd like to make here (and I'd like to credit Dennis Prager for the way he clarified this for me).

I have heard many of those on the Left, who most enthusiastically carry the banner of "change," complain that they are unjustly charged with being unpatriotic. "Patriotism can entail criticizing your country and its leadership," they will often say. First I will observe that I have heard their complaints far more than I have heard the charge actually leveled. In any case, let's think for a minute about what these champions of change are trying to say about their country.

Patriotism is generally defined as the love and devotion of one's country. But what does it mean for that love if one desires to "change" his country? In Obama's case, we're not talking about a little change here or there. As he has said numerous times, he wants to "fundamentally change America." But do you "change" what you claim to love? Imagine turning to your spouse and saying, "Honey, I sure do love you. However, I would be happier if I could fundamentally change you." If you try this, be sure to duck, and especially don't mention the gorgeous celebrity you'd like to change them into.

Do we really change what we love? Perhaps we might "fix," "heal," or "improve" what we love, but "fundamentally change" it? This sounds like someone who loves his country only because it is his country (like a college student roots loudest for the sports team of his own school), and then simply desires it to be something that suits his own imagination.

But it's not enough to want to change the current course of the country; the Left wants to go so far as to change its history and the vision of its founders as well. (You know, the founding fathers were all secular {or Deists at worst}, same-sex marriage and abortion are rights consistent with the spirit of the Constitution, and our finest hours were inspired by liberal-left ideals.) This way they can both say they want change, but also claim to be restoring the country to its original state.

Brilliant! Well played American Left, you've won the White House! If this were just an episode of the reality game show Survivor my hat would be off to you. But if the end one hopes to achieve has moral gravity, then the means one uses to achieve it should be morally prudent. It would be refreshing if we could be up front about our intentions and clear in our language so that the people could make truly informed decisions about its leadership.

I would think better of the Left if they'd just come right out and say they don't much like the country and the prudish, outdated sensibilities of its founders, and they want to craft a new one to suit their vision. This is very much the message they relay when they're not busy insisting otherwise. The problem is, that kind of honesty would alienate the majority of the voting public, who also rather like this country and are so optimistic as to imagine that ill-defined words like "change" can mean something good but fairly moderate, not really fundamental. And we mustn't frighten the voters.

So, Mr. President, if you are really serious about this business of fundamental change for the country, patterned after a Leftist ideology (which we have seen hints of all along), I suggest you slip it to those who believe in you slow and subtly. Otherwise a voting majority may wake up and conclude that yours is the kind of change we can be leavin'.


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