Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Only Constant in Politics is Change

Take this quiz.

Who said (no googling):


"The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change."


"For too long we've been told about 'us' and 'them.' Each and every election we see a new slate of arguments and ads telling us that 'they' are the problem, not 'us.' But there can be no 'them' in America. There's only us."

"Americans long to be united. After 9/11, we all just wanted to be one nation. Not a single American on September the 12, 2001, cared who won the next presidential election."


"America just works better when more people have a chance to live their dreams."


Need a hint?

I still believe in a place called Hope, a place called America."

That's right. Bill Clinton.

In fact, Bill Clinton ran his entire campaign in 1992 around the central themes of Change and Hope, a vision of the future that united Americans, however briefly.

Sure, Clinton talked about his record as Governor, and he talked about specific things he would do if elected, to some degree. But these were campaign accessories. More people remember Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" than the details of Clinton's resume or his platform.

Then, amazingly, Clinton managed to run for re-election again in 1996 again as the agent of change, with a central campaign message about "Building a Bridge to the 21st Century." He was able to capture the Change mantle because his GOP opponent was a Conservative Dinosaur who was completely out of touch with every day Americans.

My favorite Bob Dole lines were railing against the teachers unions (surely not one of the normal topics of discussion around American dinner tables), and the time he bellowed out "Where's the outrage?!?" to a rally audience. Gee Bob, maybe if you weren't so out of touch, you could find it yourself, instead of having to ask for directions.

That's how Hillary Clinton sounds now. Whether she likes it our not, Hillary is the incumbent and Obama is the challenger. She represents the past and more of it. Obama represents a different future.


What I liked most about Bill Clinton is that in 1995, when he looked like he was in a politically impossible position, he had the courage to stand up to Newt Gingrich's attempt to cut federal funding for school lunch programs, not out of politics but out of principle. In retrospect, standing up to Gingrich restored Clinton in a way and was politically smart, but at the time it was a gutsy move, but it was the right move.

What I least like about Hillary Clinton is that when she was in a politically impossible position, with George Bush's high popularity and much of the nation still on pins and needles, she did not stand up on principle. I don't believe that she didn't understand or didn't know that she was helping to lead our nation into war, under a pretext that was shaky at best, under overthrew longstanding principles of the use of military might. It may have seemed like the politically smart thing to do at the time, but in retrospect, if Hillary hadn't cast that vote, she'd probably be the Democratic nominee already.


Hillary Rodham Clinton can try to change the subject back to experience, but that hasn't been working so well. Casting herself as change plus experience hasn't worked to well either, nor has redefining herself as the real change.

Now, she can try to tear Obama down over the next four weeks. George H.W. Bush tried to tear down Bill, and we all saw how well that worked. This election is not about who inhaled and who didn't. And as Clinton proved in 1992, it isn't about resumes or platforms either.

A real Catch-22.

Hillary Clinton is a great partisan, and if she really cares as much about beating the Republicans as we all know she does, she should recognize that Barack Obama's candidacy is the best thing that could happen to the Democratic Party, not attack him, and let the chips fall where they may on Feb. 5th. He can unite Democrats, Independents, and even moderate Republicans. Next to her (but probably not for long), he's the best fundraiser in the country, and a much better campaigner. By his very persona, Obama embodies the hope and future of the Democratic Party and the nation.

By supporting Obama, she can reinvent her own public image, and would be next in line to assume Ted Kennedy's role as the conscience of the Democratic Party in the U.S. Congress. And that's not such a bad gig.

BTW, if you want to read a great story, read Jonathan Alter's "Obama: Bill Clinton's Real Heir" in the next edition of Newsweek.

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