The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Avatar of Change

Victor Davis Hansen offers an inciteful deconstruction of America’s “change” candidate when he writes:
Where did we get the notion that Obama is the avatar of change? The answer is again not just that he is part African-American. (A Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, for example, would go nowhere.) Or that he has new policies or ideas. In fact, to the extent Obama has laid out any details of a program, they aren't any more novel than those of his rivals.

Instead, he is the change candidate for two simple reasons. First, Obama is fresh, without the albatross of a long political career around his neck. We know little about him - and too much about the others. The more he sticks with generalities, the less he offends particular constituents - without having to make tough choices that day after day might keep offending 49 percent of the electorate.

Second, Obama is a stylish, inspirational speaker - a sort of elegant Adlai Stevenson of the 1950s and the hip, young Gary Hart of the 1980s all in one. He is wonderful in repartee, smart, full of good grace and without the shrillness of Clinton, or the occasional temper of McCain.

If anything, Obama resembles the handsome, well-spoken Robert Redford character Bill McKay, of the 1972 movie "The Candidate," but updated for the new millennium: brighter, more charismatic and multicultural.

In these divisive times of war and economic anxiety, a tired public apparently wants someone hip, upbeat, reassuring in talk and fresh in spirit, but not too specific in prescribing any painful remedies for our various maladies.

As it turns out, there are not all that many handsome, young natural speakers, with a hint of mystery and the promise of racial harmony - at least none who speak inspirationally, respond to criticism with humor and are genuinely nice guys.

At least in that cosmetic sense, Obama really is a rarity - a pleasant change in other words from what we're used to seeing and hearing, past and present.

If Obama can translate all that into true leadership and effective policy, that would be real change. If not, we'll be asking the same question posed by Robert Redford's character Bill McKay to end "The Candidate": "What do we do now?"

Just a few years after the release of The Candidate, another Washington outsider, similar in some ways to Barack Obama, ran for the Presidency. The man exhibited innate intelligence, arguing that change was what Washington needed. He was a speaker who could inspire (although not an orator in the same league as Obama), and a progressive thinker who was difficult to pin down on the issues. It was very hard to get a handle on how Jimmy Carter would govern, but many of us (myself included) decided to give him a chance.

During his 4-year Presidency, Carter presided over the worst stagflation in my lifetime (interest rates rose to 18% for a home mortgage). He encouraged the overthrow of the Shah of Iran (a staunch ally of the US) and supported the now infamous Ayatollah Khomeini. When Khomeini’s Islamofascist “students” invaded the US embassy and took our people hostages, Carter decided that talk and negotiation were the proper course. He talked for 444 days. By giving Khomeini the stature he never deserved, by refusing to act to put an end to Islamic aggression against US citizens, he buoyed a nascent Islamist ideology. We continue to live with the aftermath of his catastrophically bad decisions to this day.

Should we give Barrack Obama a chance? I’m forced to think back to Jimmy Carter.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …