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Why Is Obama Still Talking About 'Change'?


Michael Medved

Oct. 11) -- "Let's show Washington one more time, change doesn't come from the top," President Barack Obama told an eager audience at the University of Wisconsin in the first of a series of rallies meant to recapture the magic of his presidential campaign. "Change happens because of you! Change happens because of you! Change happens because of you!"

Does this mean that his one-time supporters should blame themselves rather than the president and his allies for the disappointments of the last two years?

President Obama's plea to "keep believing that change is possible" might seem appropriate from an insurgent candidate or activist outsider long excluded from the corridors of power, but it sounds bizarre coming from the chief executive.

Obama can't credibly pose as protester rather than president.

But he keeps trying, nevertheless.

"In every instance, progress took time," he solemnly intoned in Wisconsin. "In every instance, progress took sacrifice. Progress took faith."

He went on to give three dramatic examples of what he meant: "You know, the slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs, they weren't sure when slavery would end, but they understood it was going to end. When women were out there marching for the right to vote, they weren't sure when it was going to happen, but they kept on going. When workers were organizing for the right to organize and were being intimidated, they weren't sure when change was going to come, but they knew it was going to come."

But in these past triumphs -- the abolition of slavery, the establishment of women's suffrage and the recognition of organizing rights for laborers -- the victims of injustice focused on very specific demands ultimately granted by the 13th Amendment, the 19th Amendment and the Wagner Labor Relations Act, respectively.

What legislative remedies could fulfill the present yearnings of those huddled, oppressed masses (at elite universities and elsewhere) who currently gather around campfires, singing freedom songs?

Will the approval of new stimulus spending, or legislation demanding more detailed disclosure of sponsorship on issues ads on TV, satisfy today's appetite for change? Would a gradual return to the unemployment rate of 7.8 percent that greeted Mr. Obama when he took over the White House satisfy the idealistic demand for progress?

In his campaign appearances, President Obama says little about a fresh agenda for the next two years or a new direction for the country, and warns instead against the change in course those nasty Republicans propose. This shows the extent to which conservatives have seized the momentum in the national debate, with fevered discussion over potential moves to the right and almost no consideration of further lurches to the left.

In part, this reflects an obvious reality: Even if the president and his Democratic allies succeed in maintaining control of both House and Senate, the Republicans most certainly will increase their numbers.

How could anyone seriously expect Mr. Obama to push through more sweeping changes than he's achieved so far when he faces smaller congressional majorities (at best)?

Why should progressives count on the president to bring about bold, expensive new reforms that he failed to achieve when levels of debt and deficit spending were sharply lower, and his personal popularity was vastly higher?

Nevertheless, Obama can't resist the grandiose rhetorical flourish: "Change is going to come," he assures his followers. "Change is going to come for this generation -- if we work for it, if we fight for it, if we believe in it."

The vague, unfocused nature of such pledges worked well for candidate Obama when he offered a refreshing alternative to the frustrations of the Bush administration.

But two years later, overwhelming majorities believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction, and Obama's energetic campaigning can't conceal the fact that the president played the commanding role in setting the country on its current course.

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