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.