Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Speaking of Change

Change, a vital concept, is in danger of becoming a hollow gong in the 2008 political campaign.

Before the meaning is hammered out of it, it’s worth looking at what kind of changes we are talking about — and not talking about in 2008.

I’m thinking of three.

One is so obvious that no one states it outright.

After eight miserable years, at long last, we will be changing the government of this country. It can only be for the better. George W. Bush, certainly the worst president within living memory, can take his bubble world back to the Crawford ranch and practice pronouncing “nuclear.” Cheney can go quail hunting with sacrificial friends. The only change that won’t happen, and isn’t happening, is among the self-righteous, power-mad conservative elite who put these two in power. They are without shame.

That John McCain would stoop so low as to seek their support ought to be reason enough to ensure his defeat.

The second change is the one heralded by the Obama campaign slogan. If Obama makes it to the White House, which seems likely, we will have a president bred and imbued with an international world view. Other nations and peoples will no longer be seen as objects of exploitation. This nation's leadership and people will no longer see themselves as entitled and superior. Because of that change, we at last may shift our resources from bullying to building, both at home and abroad.

From such humility may emerge a new confidence in American ideals that are lived rather than ritually celebrated. No longer will our leaders trample on our rights while they mouth praise in pledges of allegiance from flag-draped podiums.

We may no longer merely hold these American truths to be self-evident; we may actually infuse our lives with them.


This election will go a long way to revealing to Americans what they are and have been from before the nation's founding — a multi-racial society. We may be able to free ourselves of the grip of what George Orwell called the “smelly little orthodoxies” and the hateful dogmas of zealots, sexists and bigots.

The change that is happening as I write this — as the votes in the “Potomac primaries” are counted — is the re-engagement of youth in politics. My great fear for several years has been that we have been losing an entire generation to a media fantasy world. Males in particular seemed at risk, and they may still be, as college admissions suggest. I’d like to know the demographics of the youth who are suddenly so engaged in this year’s campaign. Hillary Clinton may lose her race, but my guess is that this election is producing thousands of young Hillarys, who just so happen to be working for Barack Obama.

Those are the major changes that Obama ’s campaign signals.

Finally, there’s the change that no candidate seems willing to talk about in this election year. Al Gore might call it “inconvenient.” It is certainly inevitable. It is a change dictated by a planet in rapid flux. Humans call it “global warming,” but if the eons-old planet could speak, it would call it simply more “global changing.”

If we humans are to survive, we must change how we live. For Americans, it means rethinking our values, particularly our materialistic, consumptive values. Oil is not the only addiction we must beat. We are addicted to nationalism in an age of global communication and interdependency. We are addicted to individualism to the detriment of community and others in need. We are addicted to our own false sense of superiority both as human beings and as Americans.

If we and our fellow humans are to survive, we must change both radically and fast.

The times require a leader both willing and capable to inspire us to make these “inconvenient” changes.

A growing number of Americans are coming to believe that Barack Obama may be, just may be, that leader.

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