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.