Hope and Change on a “Blank Screen”

Jennifer Rubin, at Contentions, points out that Paul Krugman, like David Brooks, is confused as to whether “Obama is more like Ronald Reagan (an ideological, transformative politician) or Bill Clinton ( a poll-driven pragmatist).”

As I mentioned in the past:

[Obama] hopes to let voters define what “hope” and “change” mean to them and then hang that on his candidacy. They define it, he pretends to agree with it by talking in glittering generalities, he gets elected and then the political bill comes due.

Rubin goes one step better and finds Obama saying precisely that in prologue of “The Audacity of Hope”:

Obama has told us there is no there, there. In his book he wrote: “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” So perhaps searching for Obama’s “core” is a fool’s errand. He is glib and clever and seized upon a clever formulation (Agent of Change) to attract young and idealistic people longing for meaning. But perhaps that is all there is.

Charles Kesler, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and editor of the Claremont Review of Books explains the phenomenon:

Of all the presidential contenders slogans this year, Barack Obama as had been the most interesting. His campaign creed is “Yes, we can.” To which any reasonable person would ask: “can what”? The answer, of course, is: “Hope.” But again, a reasonable person might ask: “Hope for what?” To which the answer confidently comes back from the Obama campaign: “For change.” Indeed, Obama’s signs say: “Change We Can Believe In”, as opposed, one supposes, to unbelievable changes. But the elementary problem with this — which any student of logic might raise — is that change can be for the better or for the worse.

Democrats in general, I would submit, confuse change with improvement. They fail to weigh the costs and benefits of change, to consider its unintended consequences, or to worry about what we need to conserve and how we might go about doing this faithfully. They ask Americans to embrace change for its own sake, in the faith that history is governed by a law of progress, which guarantees that change is almost always an improvement. The ability to bring about historical change, then becomes the highest mark of a liberal leader. Thus Hillary Clinton quickly joined Obama on the change bandwagon. Her initial claim of experience sounded in retrospect a bit too boring — indeed, almost Republican in its plainess. So “Ready on Day One” morphed into “Ready for Change.”

So here we are, as a country, on the verge of electing someone who admits to being “a blank screen”. Whose resume is so sparse that most businesses would be wary of hiring him for middle management and who painfully reminds us daily of his lack of experience, his lack of substance and his lack of any real leadership experience.

If we’re reduced to Krugman’s two choices, I’d have to go with “a poll-driven pragamatist”, but in the mold of Jimmy Carter, not Bill Clinton.

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