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We haven't seen much change yet

Posted: November 30, 2008 4:46 p.m.
Updated: December 1, 2008 4:59 a.m.
"Political campaigns are designedly made into emotional orgies which endeavor to distract attention from the real issues involved."
- James Harvey Robinson, "The Human Comedy"

James Robinson's political insight may never have been as true as it was during the last election.

On one hand there was John McCain, who enjoyed gratitude and respect for a life of service, but who rarely generated actual excitement on the campaign trail.

On the other hand there was Barack Obama, who drew enthusiastic crowds wherever he went, but who has no actual achievements. Nevertheless, Obama is not George Bush, and he promised "change" to adoring crowds and a fawning media, so it's not surprising that he won.

Obama's mantra of change was an emotional orgy for most of his supporters. For some it was an in-your-face payback emotion. For others it was a feel-good diversity emotion. For still others it was a proud bandwagon-of-history emotion. The one thing Obama's campaign was not about was "the real issues involved."

Many voters spent more time discussing Sarah Palin's family and Obama's friends than they did the candidates' positions on job creation and national security. Health care and education were hardly discussed at all, and any mention of illegal immigration was practically forbidden.

Election Day has come and gone. Yet, despite all his rhetoric of change, no one can say with any certainty what Obama's policies and priorities will be.

More people know more about Obama's position on bailing out college football than his position on bailing out Detroit. By contrast, in 2000 George Bush won election by promising to cut taxes, reform education, reform Medicare, reform Social Security and reverse our military decline.

Bush was true to his word, and although his Social Security reforms were rejected, he made progress on each of his other campaign promises, despite a recession, despite 9/11 and despite the need to fight a multi-front war on terror.

We haven't seen much change yet from Obama. After campaigning on a theme of change, he has named a series of old Washington hands to his incoming administration.

Witness Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff, Hillary Clinton at State, Robert Gates at Defense, James Jones at the National Security Agency, Eric Holder at Justice, Bill Richardson at Commerce and Tom Daschle at Health and Human Services.

Even Tim Geithner at Treasury was a protégé of both Bob Rubin and Larry Summers in the Clinton administration. There's not a fresh face in the bunch so far, and the combined Washington experience of these "change agents" far exceeds that of their incoming Bush counterparts in 2000. This is not change.

It's the Clinton administration 3.0.

All of this suggests that, for at least the next two years, the left may have far more "change" to complain about than the right. America's victory in Iraq has produced a relatively stable democracy in the heart of the Middle East, and Obama will be careful not to forfeit that Bush achievement.

The downturn in real estate and the financial markets will constrain Democratic hunger for increases in both taxes and spending, although it's likely Obama will sign on to at least one more costly bailout. Energy will be a big issue, and majorities of Americans still support increased domestic oil and gas production. Obama will need to address that pocketbook issue before the return of $4 gas.

By contrast, it would not be surprising to see him steer clear of the debate over Proposition 8 and same-sex marriage.

The incoming administration will almost certainly produce more liberal judges, increased regulatory burdens, more favors for Big Labor and the Environmental Left and another attempt at amnesty - er, "path to citizenship" - legislation.

Complete Democratic victory on all these issues is not pre-ordained. Reasoned arguments by a principled conservative opposition can provide a bulwark against radical change, as opposed to common sense reforms.

That is where the Republican Party must focus its energies. The mid-term elections of 2010 are less than two years away. By then the GOP will want to be the harbinger of change.

John F. Grannis is a Santa Clarita Valley resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Right Here, Right Now" appears Mondays and rotates among local Republican writers.


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