Since the days of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists our Republic has always been, more or less, a house divided, and it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Even wars don’t typically unite us. To move the nation often requires an economic crisis, and then we argue about how to respond. What then is a politician to do if he or she believes that change is necessary, for example, in health care? Move too far to the right or left at any given time–unless there is a grave crisis, for example, the Depression–and your legislation is unlikely to make it through Congress or face repeal down the road. And even if it isn’t repealed, there is the risk that it will not generate enough support to move the legislation off the books and into the real world.
When Obama said that he offered change that we can believe in, most on the right and left took him to mean change that was so different, we could believe in it. The argument seemed to be about whether we wanted dramatic change. But this is not what someone with his temperament and political philosophy would emphasize. It wasn’t the dramatic nature of the change that we were being asked to believe in, but its staying power, its resiliency, its endurance.
Am I pleased with all of the moves that Obama has made. No. Do I think that he has gone back on his campaign pledge? Hardly. What he asked us, and is asking us, to believe in is legislation that will stick, in policies that will have staying power, ones that will take root over time and lead to other changes. But this is the route of the sell out, those on the left say. Of one who has given up on principles. No. It is a reasonable way of trying to get as much of the cake as possible given the nature of our political and economic system, which is not changing in a fundamental way any time soon. Of course those on the left may disagree about how much of the cake might be acquired. This, however, is a debate about the possible, which is just how Obama approaches these matters. In this regard, the slogan was always there for all to see. Come the next presidential election I don’t doubt that one of Obama’s major themes will be: I brought you change that was positive and sustainable. (If you think it is a weak message, I ask you to consider how many “mainstream” Republican politicians are furious about health care. I submit that one reason, and a big one, is that they know his plan can stick and it will be a game changer, and not a good one for them over time.)