President-Elect Obama
(November 2008)

I mean this in the nicest way.

President-Elect Obama mantra (and hook) in his long and successful campaign was “change.” As a campaign theme, “change” is about as original as “the best money can by” and “99 and 44/100 % pure,” but from Obama, it meant something different, and was intended to mean something different. He was a“post-racial”candidate, but more than that, he was calling for a new kind of politics, a new shared commitment that overcame partisan rancor. And he was promising something else, though what, exactly, was never quite clear. His young supporters, previously cynical about politicians and uninvolved in politics, thought they knew what it meant: a President Obama was going to be as different and revolutionary as his skin color, and more. It was not going to be politics as usual in an Obama White House. The old ways didn’t work; the evidence was everywhere. So he was going to break the mould, shatter traditions, fill the halls of power with new blood, new brains, new ideas, new hope.

But having charged into the Presidency on the steed called Change, Obama promptly began appointing old Washington hands, veterans of previous Democrat administrations, and assorted usual suspects, some of them with less than impeccable records when it came to stimulating cynicism and suspicion. The new Attorney General, Eric Holder, was the official asleep at the switch when Bill Clinton decided to say thank-you for a huge contribution to his library by pardoning a felon, a fugitive, and a traitor named Marc Rich. New Secretary of Commerce Bill Richardson was the cooperative Clinton cabinet member who gave Monica Lewinsky a job to keep her from ratting out the President while he lied under oath in court. And then there is Hillary Clinton as Obama’s designated Secretary of State. Hillary in power is “change” if you think Machiavellianism is a fresh approach to government. Change for the economy? Obama tapped Paul Volcker, who probably served the same role in the Wilson administration….I have to check. Change in defense policy? Obama is going to keep Bush’s Secretary of Defense around for a while longer.

The President-Elect protests that it is only prudent to put people in charge who know how the system works and have experience…you know, that executive leadership background thing that Obama and his supporters didn’t feel was necessary for the top job. He is dead right, of course. His appointments are responsible. His appointments are reasonable. But do they suggest change?

No way.

My sister, who would have probably voted for ol’ Cold Cash Congressman William Jefferson if it meant getting the Republicans out of office, now tells me that all Obama’s “change” promise meant was that the Republicans would be replaced. Please. Any Democratic candidate could say that, even Dennis Kucinich. Indeed, that claim is so obvious that it doesn’t need saying. Obama, that silver-tongued professor, was only saying that if the Democrats win the election, the Republicans lose? The campaign was dumbed-down, to be sure, but not that much.

No, Obama’s message of change was intended to mean much more, and, incredibly, the public bought it. In this they are like Charlie Brown, who annually counted on his tormenter Lucy to hold a football for him to kick, and every year found himself flat on his back after she yanked it away. The “change” promise, in many forms, is almost always an election ploy, so common and so transparent that it is seldom called a lie any more---which is, of course, what it is. The Washington Post recently called Obama’s actions a “pirouette.” How’s that for a graceful euphemism?

The episode brings us back to the inspiration for the Liar of the Month: Sony’s hilarious argument that its use of a fictional film reviewer named David Manning to give fictional praise to a lousy film wasn’t really dishonest because nobody believes the blurbs used in movie ads anyway. Barack Obama could make the same argument about promises of “change” in presidential campaigns.

Except that some people do believe.



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