Just to cite a few recent examples from the campaign trail in Iowa and elsewhere:
Mitt Romney advises, "I don't think you change Washington from the inside."
In Iowa, Hillary Clinton puts on an event called "Working for Change, Working for You."
And Barack Obama grinds along on his "Stand for Change" tour. There we are again: change, change, change. On it goes, the great mantra of Campaign '08.
Would some change-minded candidate or other kindly inform the American people what this business amounts to? Change what into what? We're durned if we know. Possibly, the matter calls for each voter to take a pencil and fill in the blank.
Modern politics, especially modern presidential politics, is an inherently vacuous enterprise, and you see why when you read or listen to the candidates, most of whom you might mentally depict in robes and pointed hat, like Mickey Mouse in "Fantasia." A bolt of lightning, and behold -- change! It seems to suffice. But it shouldn't. It's patronizing as well as counterproductive.
When a candidate goes around babbling about "change," you sort of infer he or she hasn't had a fresh idea in a while. It is not that many things -- perpetually -- don't deserve freshening and refurbishing. They do. We all do. A campaign based on "change," nevertheless, is a campaign without content; one that merely says, We don't like things right now.
A lot of people don't. Even warm, or warmish, friends of the Bush administration wish the whole thing were over and the war in Iraq wrapped up. The apostles of "change" make it all sounds so easy. Just vote for them. They'll "change" things, all right. How they'll do it, they tend not to say. No one, including Barack Obama, believes that a President Obama would miraculously bring us all together again. But he implies he can. No one believes -- well, maybe Hillary Clinton does, actually -- that Hillary Clinton can unknot the tangles in our system of health care delivery. But she implies she can.
The "change" agenda that drives presidential politics is an agenda of rejection rather than affirmation. Nothing wrong with rejection when something -- pick your own target -- requires it. On the other hand, a "change" agenda never, save in the broadest terms, suggests how things should be made to look, following the act of rejection. We want "change"! Rarely does any more need saying. Rarely is any more said.
It's too bad. We're storing up trouble for ourselves down the line. Or, to put it more precisely, the candidates are stirring it up for themselves. They're riding for a fall.