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Buzzword of the Political Season: “Change”

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Change! It’s the buzzword of the season.

Suddenly, everyone who’s running for president is for “change.” John Edwards has been talking about it for months. Then Barack Obama began his surge. My Illinois senator did well in Iowa. And he had picked up a huge amount of buzz and momentum by the eve of the first primary in New Hampshire. Even Hillary Clinton has picked up the "change" mantle. Invoking it to death in last Saturday night's debate. And before she (barely) won the New Hampshire primary. The message that got across was clear and decisive. People are sick to death of the status quo; they want “change.” Even in Iowa. Even the Republicans are talking the “change” talk — if not walking the walk.

What exactly does that mean: “change?” Each presidential candidate will have to (sooner or later) define that term for the voters. Because it is a relative term that can mean many different things to many different people.

Change can be virtually invisible or it can be epic. The changes that George Bush effected were remarkable for their breadth – certainly in terms of the Constitution (separation of powers and due process—to name only two areas). He made those changes by fiat and (when legislation was required) by instilling fear both in the American public and an acquiescent Congress, terrified of being labeled either unpatriotic or unconcerned with security. So not all change is good, and lot of one’s perspective depends upon what side of the issue you happen to be.

Historically, policy change has mostly occurred incrementally. A compromise here; a deal there; change is made; change retreats. It is the way of our republic. Politicians, interested in protecting their electability tend to be allergic to boldness. Self-interest often outweighs public interest and even the most well-intentioned politicians are, after all, politicians in the business of getting re-elected. As such they are often too eager to trade one vote for another compromise on one issue to gain on another. Mavericks who put principle before self-interest exist in Washington, but tend to be a rare breed: Russ Feingold, the late Paul Wellstone. And often enough, that has been adequate. Like I said: incremental change. Over time, over years, over sessions in Congress, over decades.

US policy has always been influenced by interest groups, each petitioning the government for a variety of needs, wants and desires: some representing business interests; some the public interest; some local or state government interest. Every law that is forged by Congress is subject to hearings in which varied interest groups make their cases; sometimes in confederation with the strangest of bedfellows. Regulatory agency rule-making has always been subject to comment periods and public hearings. And it has been ever thus. But over the course of the last several years, and more noticeably in the past seven years, corporate interests and their attached lobby groups have forged close bonds with the legislative and executive branches. The result of this too-easy marriage of government and business has resulted in energy and oil companies creating energy and environmental policy, drug and insurance companies creating health care policy, in some cases, literally writing the laws; creating the regulations. (Some arcane proverb about foxes and hen houses comes uneasily to mind.) In the current administration, it is sometimes difficult to know where the government ends and business begins.

It is a Hydra, so enmeshed that its disentanglement will require surgery of the most radical sort. No amount of incremental change will be able to fix this mess. When you cut off only the head of the Hydra, it grows three more to replace it. No amount of negotiation and compromise will remove the Hydra from its grip on the US policy-making structure. And before meaningful change can be made with regard to health care, energy, environmental, banking, mine safety or any other policy, either at the legislative or executive level, the Hydra has to be cut down to size.

Any presidential candidate who talks of change in any of those policy areas will have to explain how he or she is going to accomplish it. No substantive and sweeping changes to the status quo in health care, environmental and energy policy, banking, trade and consumer safety will happen without a president who has the leadership, bravery and passion to remove the hydra from its comfortable hold on government. I believe that John Edwards is the one who can excise the hydra. Edwards brings an uncompromising and fiery passion that may actually allow him to slay the Hydra (or cut it back to a reasonable size). No lobbyists, no PACs, no corporate organizations will have a seat at his table. He has said that includes the trial lawyers, one of the largest lobby groups in DC. He has refused to accept lobbyist money during his campaign, putting him at a monetary disadvantage to be sure.

This is why I’m for John Edwards. Right now, being for Edwards is not easy: the polls don’t look great; Obama is a phenomenon, despite losing to Clinton in New Hampshire. The mainstream media would suggest that on the basis of two small states that the Democratic primary is a two person (and only two person) race. But as John Edwards said in his concession speech after the New Hampshire primary, only a very small percentage of American voters have yet to have their say. And he is unwilling to concede the nomination on the basis of so small a sample. I sincerely hope that Edwards stays in it until (at least) Super Tuesday and beyond. This year's presidential election is far too important to have the Democratic candidate chosen based on one percent of the voting public. It isn’t good for the party; it’s even worse for the future of our country.

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • howard bowen

    What’s the big idea; change? America is structured on change. New clothes fashion every season. New cars every year. New architectural change, constantly. Changes in technology. If the American people are so hipped-up with being programed with the notion of change, maybe now is a good time to look at the facts and truth about the greatest administration to occupy the White House in decades. Want to know why? Look in your King James Holy Bible, and live that way. And be very afraid of the pork barrel candidates who are up for scrutiny this election. Every one of them is a greedy self glorifying narcisist. It’s shameful to see that the entire roster this election are a bunch of parrots, especially considering the fact that the lionshare of American women certainly must be in favor of giving the pants of our flipant society back to the men. And if they are not, they will be sorry for it later. We all will be sorry when the male population in America continues to contort themselves into a bunch of womanizing cunts.

  • http://community.livejournal.com/house_reviews Barbara Barnett

    I won’t debate you about the merits of this administration, Howard, but I think “change” is being used to mean “change of direction.”

    Personally, I don’t read the King James Bible, preferring to read the Bible in the original Hebrew. And I agree that much of what one needs to live an ethical life can be found therein. But I seem to recall something about not putting stumbling blocks in front of the blind; stewarding the care of the earth; using it, but steadfastly refusing to exploit and destroy it; a word or two justice and pursuing it. Quite a bit about business ethics, too, as I recall. If only people would remember those sections (found somewhere in the middle of the book of Exodus for one very rich chapter or two). Oh yeah, and the thing about a fetus being a “pursuer” of the mother until its head apears suggesting that the mental and physical well-being of the mother takes precedence over the not-quite-yet life dwelling in her womb. Pardon the rant.

    I actually do resent your implications about women. If you can’t be civil…

  • Maurice

    “…result of this too-easy marriage of government and business has resulted in energy and oil companies creating energy and environmental policy…”

    Please provide an example of policy that can be directly connected to an energy/oil company.

    If it were true we would be drilling in ANWR.

  • http://community.livejournal.com/house_reviews Barbara Barnett

    would it be clearer to say “through their consitutent industry organizations”? Or “through their lobbyists” who have the strongest of allies in this administration?

  • Maurice

    It would be clearer if you would NAME THE POLICY.

    I can name a policy for you that clearly was enacted because of lobbying: Prescription drug reimbursement.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Maurice, the Bush administration has been unable to push Arctic drilling through Congress. But it’s not as though they haven’t tried.

    The Bush administration’s pro-business tendencies aren’t all bad – but they are ideologically based and inflexible. Conversely, the Dem candidates are making populist noises during their primaries, but in the real world a Dem administration would be cautious in taking strong anti-business stands.

    The [first] Clinton administration is not usually spoken of as some awful hell for business, except by the most ideological of critics. The 90s were a pretty good time to be in business in the US.

    But any Dem president would definitely provide a change from Bush, certainly including H R Clinton.

  • Maurice

    I merely quoted the author and asked for a point of reference. I even provided an example.

    It appears the author is unable to name a policy.

  • http://community.livejournal.com/house_reviews Barbara Barnett

    Maurice, the author is at work and is typing on a blackberry. I will reply to your question with greater specificity when I have a moment. There are several very good examples. Back to you later today.

    (the author)

  • http://community.livejournal.com/house_reviews Barbara Barnett

    One need only remember the Cheney Energy task force which in very large part was written by Energy companies. I direct you to the following website (Natural Resources Defense Council), which has photocopies of task force documents and the evidence of undue influence of the energy companies in writing energy policy.

    NRDC review of the Cheney Energy Task force documents

  • http://alexandria-jackson.blogspot.com/ Alexandria

    howard bowen, I’m curious about this:

    “We all will be sorry when the male population in America continues to contort themselves into a bunch of womanizing cunts.”

    Would someone explain?

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Alexandria, Howard is a raving nutcase who seldom makes any sense. I wouldn’t worry about it.

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Howard,

    I’m just curious exactly where in the King James Bible you found the phrase “a bunch of womanizing cunts?” It doesn’t ring a bell.

    Counter to both the author and Howard, I don’t need any “bible” in whatever language to find ethical guidance. But to consider the Bush administration as anything but a disastrous train wreck is anathema to reality.

    As to Edwards candidacy: I would likely vote for him over any Republican candidate. However, I prefer either Clinton or Obama in no particular order. Edwards is prone to wear his faith on his sleeve which I find offensive.

    Babara, that you qualified Clinton’s NH win as barely is surprising given the pre-primary polling figures. However, I don’t believe that she overcame a 15 point deficit. I believe that the polling results were simply wrong.

    Dave Nalle has made his charge that Obama’s loss was likely due to the closet racism of NH voters. I don’t agree. Certainly race was no doubt a factor with some voters. It always will be, wherever you go. But I don’t believe it was a “deciding” factor.

    Baritone

  • http://community.livejournal.com/house_reviews Barbara Barnett

    Baritone, wherever ethics come from, as long as they’re…ethical…is fine by me. This administration for all of its Bible thumping has had few. Neither have several of their more “religious” (and I’m using the word advisedly) allies in Congress.

    I agree that the polling results were wrong. And I think that’s a good slap down for the prevailing punditry that they got it so wrong.

    I think Edwards’ on-his-sleeve faith wearing is probably somewhat cultural. It doesn’t bother me as long as he keeps God and Government separate. Edwards has gone through alot personally (and his wife) and if his faith keeps him going, great. Now, Huckabee, for all of his “aw shucks” charm and good humor…he really scares me. Because I have no doubt that he will bring God and government much closer together than the founders intended (which was, as I recall, separate.)

  • http://rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Barbara,

    I fear that both Huckabee and Ron Paul are of the same ilk in that regard. I visited Huckabee’s WEB site. Right from the top he states that his faith directs his life. If it’s possible, a Huckabee White House could be even more “faith based” than Bushes. Huckabee is rather disarming. He has a folksy charm that probably belies a very determined candidate. Evangelical ministers are not known for their laid back nature. Nor are presidential candidates.

    B-tone

  • Maurice

    Barbara,

    with all due respect and great restraint I have to point out that the link you provided is not policy. No policies were enacted or changed. No new laws were created. No doubt you think I am belaboring this point. The problem is people believe things if they are repeated enough times. Many people believe laws have been changed to provide some imaginary advantage for oil companies. Your statement above tells me you are one of those people.

  • Nathan Smythe

    I have been enoying BlogCritics since I recently stumbled upon it, but this is my first comment.

    Although we may have various interpretations over what “Change” means to the American people, and we have different opinions about what each candidate means when they speak of change, I found this article interesting because “change,” I think we can all admit, DOES seem to be the word of the week. Yes, it’s been the word of the year, too, but I certainly hadn’t noticed Hillary Clinton using “change” so much until Obama won Iowa. I think she used “change” more in the two days after than than she had in two months.

    I think some candidates are sincere when they want change, but I think it’s an easy, crutch-word to say. It’s also a word that you don’t hear the news media analyze much. They rarely examine “Now what does he mean by ‘change.’ What would change really entail?” In fact, I don’t know if any of you have seen the new documentary “The World Without US” (it has nothing to do with the book “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman), but I thought of it when I read this article because the whole premise was analyzing what “change” really means when a candidate actually DOES it.

    You mentioned in your article “Any presidential candidate who talks of change in any of those policy areas will have to explain how he or she is going to accomplish it.” This film does an interesting scenario of that. It starts off with a fictional “Turner for President” ad where Turner promises change and to withdraw most of our troops from the world and focus on domestic issues. Then it goes on to analyze what that means to us and to the world. It was more complicated than you expect at first, but I found it well-researched and entertaining.

    If you haven’t heard of it, I think that’s because it was made by people who don’t have as much money and publicity as other fimmakers, like Michael Moore. While not being made with as large of a budget, I thought it was better researched and better structured than some of Moore’s films. (I got the documentary on Amazon, but you can also see trailers for the film at it’s website http://www.theworldwithoutUS.com)

    By the way, this forum interested me because I like how the authors, like Barbara here, comment back — that’s something I don’t see on many political blogs. By the way, as for your choice, I think Edwards is not doing as well in the results BECAUSE he is not accepting lobbyist money, and I wish more candidates would do what he is doing, and not accept it. Maybe without the lobbyist money, we’d know what more of these candidates actually think ….

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    One need only remember the Cheney Energy task force which in very large part was written by Energy companies.

    I marvel at the mindset which thinks that there’s something wrong with consulting with the companies producing the nation’s energy when trying to set a policy for government management of those very resources.

    Who should the government talk to about energy issues, fast food restaurant managers?

    BTW, Cheney also met with representatives of consumer groups and environmental groups. The NRDC was even invited, though they chose not to attend. Did that mean they had undue influence as well?

    Dave

  • http://community.livejournal.com/house_reviews Barbara Barnett

    I think some candidates are sincere when they want change, but I think it’s an easy, crutch-word to say. It’s also a word that you don’t hear the news media analyze much. They rarely examine “Now what does he mean by ‘change.’ What would change really entail?” In fact, I don’t know if any of you have seen the new documentary “The World Without US” (it has nothing to do with the book “The World Without Us” by Alan Weisman), but I thought of it when I read this article because the whole premise was analyzing what “change” really means when a candidate actually DOES it.

    Thank you, Nathan for your comments and kind words. I have not seen the documentary you mentioned. But I will be sure to watch it.

    I’m always suspicious when politicians use easy and subjective words like “change.” And I’m not surprised that the media have simply latched onto the “message” without learning more about the “massage” behind it.

    I agree that Edwards has been at a disadvantage because of the terms he set for his campaign.

    Dave–(Dave, I know you think that anyone who supports Edwards is insane ;) ) But to address your comment: Of course there is nothing wrong with getting the input of all interest groups, including those that represent big business, and as I said in my article, that’s the way policy has always formulated, in one way or another. But business interests have had a particularly unequal seat at this administration’s policy making table. And the (whether direct or indirect) result of this sort of lopsidedness results in a long-term denial, for one example, of the human impact on global warming.

    Yes, get the input of Big Oil; get the expertise of the Energy conglomerates, but temper their influence with REAL, and UTILIZED input from other, less self-interested, parties.

  • Baronius

    “But business interests have had a particularly unequal seat at this administration’s policy making table.” Again, Barbara, that statement doesn’t seem founded on anything.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    But business interests have had a particularly unequal seat at this administration’s policy making table.

    It’s a Republican administration. What did you expect? And what’s wrong with that? Businesses represent the interests of their stockholders and workers as much as elected representatives do in many ways. Business deserves a seat at the table. I would have agreed with many of the founding fathers in trying to find a way to give the business community direct representation in congress.

    And the (whether direct or indirect) result of this sort of lopsidedness results in a long-term denial, for one example, of the human impact on global warming.

    Which remains an unproven and likely unprovable theory which thousands of scientists dispute despite losing their jobs and suffering persecution as a result.

    Yes, get the input of Big Oil; get the expertise of the Energy conglomerates, but temper their influence with REAL, and UTILIZED input from other, less self-interested, parties.

    As I mentioned earlier, Cheney also got input from 13 consumer groups and environmental groups. You can read my article on the subject for the details. BTW, I was incorrect in my earlier statement. Cheney’s staff actually met with representatives of the NRDC four times in the process, more than any other single group.

    Dave

  • Maurice

    Dave,

    nobody is going to check out your article so I am going to quote what I think is the most pertinent part:

    The energy bill is far from being nothing but a big wet kiss for Big Oil as it has been accused of being. It may include a lot of support for building new refineries and expanding drilling and improving efficiency of oil production, but it also includes more money and support than any previous legislation for alternative fuels, renewable energy and energy research. This includes a $3400 consumer tax credit for buying a hybrid vehicle, government loan guarantees for clean-energy projects and conversions, setting a higher standard for ethanol in gasoline, subsidies for wind and other alternative energy sources, support for wind- and wave-based power generating technology, new support for geothermal energy generation, new tax breaks for making homes more energy efficient, converting an enormous portion of the federal fleet to alternative fuel use, and lots of support for revitalizing the nuclear-power industry, including tax cuts, loans and security assistance. All told the bill provides over $16 billion in tax incentives for alternative energy programs. Not only is it not unreasonably pro-oil, it’s the most powerful bill ever passed in support of other forms of energy.

    (emphasis mine)

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Thanks for quoting it, Maurice, but it’s clearly something which an awful lot of people would rather not hear. It doesn’t fit with their preconceptions of the evil motives of the Bush administration.

    Dave

  • Clavos

    “It doesn’t fit with their preconceptions of the evil motives of the Bush administration.”

    …Not to mention those of the evil, predatory oil companies…

    One thing I’ve always wondered:

    So many people, here and in the MSM, as well as on other websites, rant and rave about the oil companies’ “obscene profits,” yet none of them ever mention the enormous amounts of money lining the pockets of the sheiks; nor do they ever acknowledge the fact that oil prices are actually set by them, NOT the oil companies.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    If my business had a profit margin as low as the oil industry I’d be back teaching college in no time.

    Dave

  • Zedd

    Barbara,

    I think that it was assumed from the start that the message of all of the candidates Dems and Republican would be Change.

    The real change is from Bush and everything that supported the extent to which his administration was “successful”.

  • Barbara Barnett

    My heart just bleeds for those impoverished oil companies. No. They have no undue influence. Just one of the many little folks who plead their case to the Cheneys in the Administration. No special place at the table for them. Bet they’d trade places with the NRDC any day of the week rather than get the scraps they’re served.

    The NY Times simply makes stuff up. I’m no big fan of the main stream media, but if you think, Dave and Maurice that the playing field is in any way equal with regard to energy, environmental, or any other policy in this country, then we must inhabit parallel worlds.

    I know I won’t convince you with mere links to news stories, but here are a few (and I really hate typing out links in the comment section–I’m hopeless at it):

    “NYT 2002″

    “NYT 2007″

    But here is the pertinent section regarding the relative weight given industry groups (not to mention the very well connected groups) compared to environmental groups.
    Virtually every major oil and diversified energy company, from British Petroleum to Enron to Reliant Energy, participated in one or more meetings of the Cheney group, according to the list. Trade groups and lobbyists representing industrial energy users, pipeline companies, utilities and mining concerns were also amply represented at multiple task force sessions. By contrast, leaders of 13 environmental groups were invited to a single session late in the process, weeks after most of the industry representatives had been heard.

    Barbara

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    The NY Times simply makes stuff up. I’m no big fan of the main stream media, but if you think, Dave and Maurice that the playing field is in any way equal with regard to energy, environmental, or any other policy in this country, then we must inhabit parallel worlds.

    If you ask the wrong questions you will never get the right answer. The question is not whether the playing field IS level, the question is whether the playing field SHOULD BE level. And

    Virtually every major oil and diversified energy company, from British Petroleum to Enron to Reliant Energy, participated in one or more meetings of the Cheney group, according to the list. Trade groups and lobbyists representing industrial energy users, pipeline companies, utilities and mining concerns were also amply represented at multiple task force sessions.

    Which makes sense because it was a task force studying energy policy, not environmental policy or how to weave baskets while singing kumbaya or lobby congress for anti-capitalist legislation.

    By contrast, leaders of 13 environmental groups were invited to a single session late in the process, weeks after most of the industry representatives had been heard.

    This is true only as it applies to that single specific session. What they leave out is that there were subsequent meetings between staff and environmental groups to address specific concerns, including 3 more meetings with representatives of the NRDC.

    Dave

  • Maurice

    Most gas companies are making an average of 7 to 14 cents per gallon. Combined State and Federal taxes on gas are at an average of 42 cpg.

  • Clavos

    “Combined State and Federal taxes on gas are at an average of 42 cpg.”

    That’s all, huh Maurice? I thought they were even higher, somewhere near a dollar here in Fla.

  • Maurice

    Clavos,

    I stand corrected. This link shows 45.9 cents per gallon (combined state and federal). You will notice Florida is in the top ten with 49.8 cents per gallon.

    We probably need to investigate why the government makes more money from gas than the gas companies.

  • Clavos

    Maurice,

    I was wondering because my boat diesel, which is legally free of road-use taxes like farm and other off-road consumers, is about 65-80 cents a gallon cheaper than gas station diesel.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Clav, I wonder if that’s because the gas companies know that a) it’s not as easy to rip off boat owners and b) they sell a lot less of the stuff than they do road gas and have to price it low to keep it competitive.

  • Clavos

    Doc,

    I buy my fuel from a supplier who delivers it directly into the boat with a truck; here in South Florida those are small, one or two truck operations, and there are many of them in this market, so they’re highly competitive.

    The marinas, on the other hand, realize that you are a captive customer, and tend to gouge (they also won’t let the trucks on their premises), so the fuel prices at marinas are much higher.

    But the fact that marine fuel is free of road taxes is set by law (in every state, I believe), and such fuel is dyed red to distinguish it from road taxed fuel.

    Woe betide the trucker caught with red diesel in his tank.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Out here in farm land we have the same thing. They sell untaxed red dyed farm diesel which isn’t legal for use in passenger vehicles.

    Dave

  • REMF

    “Cheney’s staff actually met with representatives of the NRDC four times in the process, more than any other single group.”
    – Dave Nalle

    Wow, four eh? That’s one less than his number of deferments during ‘Nam…

  • Maurice

    Does it bother anybody that the government makes so much money from gas? Gas companies take all the risks and get 7 to 14 cents per gallon. The government does nothing but extorts ~50 cents per gallon.

    Similar to another pet peeve of mine. The courts extract money from law breakers in form of fines and then keep the money. I think the vast sums of money going into the court system should be donated to the local misson and NOT to the government coffers.