“The issues that have provided conservatives with victories in the past — particularly welfare and crime — have been rendered irrelevant by success,” Michael Gerson, the Bush speechwriter turned columnist, wrote last week. “The issues of the moment — income stagnation, climate disruption, massive demographic shifts and health care access — seem strange, unexplored land for many in the movement.”
In fact these “issues of the moment” have been with us for years now, decades in some instances, but until recently they were either ignored by conservatives or dismissed as the hobby-horses of alarmist liberals or entrenched “special interests.”
He continues with a brief recap of the last thirty years in Washington, with observations that, to my perception, demonstrate that while the Republicans have been making a lot of noise with their ideological agenda, the Democrats have, slowly but surely, been developing a pragmatic approach. The election of Barack Obama, together with Democratic gains in Congress, appears to be the fruit of that labor.
Throughout the campaign there were plenty of people who criticized Obama for choosing to vague a theme with “Change.” At the same time, there were lots of Obama supporters who worried, up until just a month or two ago, that he was not mean enough, not aggressive enough in partisan combat. But I think both groups missed the real message of Obama’s campaign, which was wisely concealed right out in the open. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message.” Barack Obama conducted himself and his campaign in a way that distinguished him from recent politics; he brought a reasoned and measured tone to everything he did. Melding smarts with rhetorical finesse, he managed to appear both pragmatic and inspirational.
The idea of “change” as a campaign theme was a brilliant move because the word evokes something different for everyone. People feel involved. They begin to cause changes. And now, after the campaign has ended, it leaves Americans the way an artful and thoughtful movie leaves them: with something to talk about. What was the “change” Obama kept talking about?