The real agents of change

Paul Jacob

11/9/2008 12:00:07 AM - Paul Jacob

Elections can be good or bad, but they are to some extent clarifying. And that, at least, is good.

So, what is clear after this election? Voters like Democrats a lot better than they like Republicans. And, frankly, voters don’t particularly care for Democrats.

Democrats, having captured the White House and increased the majorities in both chambers of Congress, may quibble about the precise degree they inspire adoration. But the recent, historically low approval ratings for the Democratic Congress suggest their gains came less from their own popularity and more from an electorate simply not finished repudiating the GOP . . . good and hard.

Thus, if Democrats govern by presumed mandate, their reign will likely be short. That is if the Republican Party were to offer voters a real choice by standing for something voters want.

What could that be? A return to their republican roots by advancing ideas such as reasonably limited government, the rule of law, free enterprise, low taxes and basic fairness.

As long as the choice remains between big, bloated, arrogant government and more of the same, well, it’s going to remain hard to pull a lever for freedom and prosperity.

Not so clear was the choice between Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. They both favored the financial bailout, the biggest issue of the campaign. Obama coolly supported the $700 billion economic quick trick, while McCain supported it while erratically suspending his campaign and canceling a debate, only to end up not suspending his campaign or actually skipping the debate.

The economic crisis swallowed the homestretch to this election, drawing the public’s attention away from other matters such as energy or foreign policy. So while polls showed most voters favoring the McCain view on energy policy, few determined their vote accordingly.

Due to the relative success of the surge, the Iraq War faded as an issue, even as the conflict remained unpopular. While increasing violence in Afghanistan brought that war more into the public consciousness, again Obama and McCain favored the same solution: send in more U.S. troops.

We can all celebrate the symbolism of Obama’s election, rejoicing in the progress our society has made from slavery through a century of racist public policies to the civil rights movement and most recently to electing a black man as president in a country where blacks represent only 13.4 percent of the population. Just as we cheer that the color of Obama’s skin matters not, we must realize that his actual policies matter very much.

But few Americans know what his policies are.

What is clear is that the American people voted for the change they thought was offered. My fear? No change at all.

I hope my fears will prove as misguided as a Wile E. Coyote missile purchased from Acme Inc. But just look at the experts gathered around the president-elect — where do you see change? I see the same cast of insiders that have been involved in running our government (into the ground) for decades.

Now an American tradition: We vote for change only to wind up getting the same darn thing.

Back in 1994, Republicans convinced the nation that they weren’t just more of the same. They supported an agenda of reforms in Congress — from closing down the House Bank to the Contract With America’s embrace of a balanced budget amendment and term limits.

The populist term limits issue was critical to Republicans in both firing up the base and, moreover, moving Perot voters into the GOP column. Of course, it was independent citizens, not established politicians, who brought the issue to the fore, placing term limit measures on a record number of state ballots.

But in the end, as we all know, the sirens of power lured too many of the new Republicans to the dark side already occupied by the longer-serving incumbents who just pretended to support reforms like term limits and balanced budgets.

Then in 2006, after years of pork pig-outs, numerous ethical and even criminal problems for GOP members, and an unpopular war, Democrats convinced voters that they were different, that they would clean up the culture of corruption.

And yet if congressional approval ratings mean anything, they mean that even Democrats do not approve of the job performance turned in by congressional Democrats.

Still, hope springs eternal, and the Official Hope Candidate received the nod from the voters, for the presidency, giving to Democrats “unified government.”

This week a friend of mine, who supported Obama, told me he was getting away from politics. He thinks he can now leave the fate of our country safely in Obama’s hands.

That’s folly, dangerous folly — the same folly as thinking that Republican office-holders can be trusted.

Which is why I applaud those who work to improve the Republican Party, to take it back to republican values. I also applaud those in the Democratic Party urging more real citizen input, practical democracy.

But we need a force for freedom independent of those two corrupted institutions. For that, we must work across party lines to empower citizens to more directly reform government and hold politicians accountable.

As for allies in this ongoing struggle, I’m counting on you.

Not the president-elect.