Whose Change?
Impressions from Iowa.


Rich Lowry

Republicans always accuse Democrats of class warfare, usually because Democrats want higher marginal tax rates. But this is real class warfare. This is a presidential candidate reading a whole class of people out of respectability, and promising, basically, to wage war on them. It’s a view that leaves no room for legitimate differences in point of view — on one side there are class enemies preying on the American people, and on the other, those who want to stop them. Edwards sprinkles hope in his message, but it still verges on the hateful, and if it were taken seriously would almost be scary.

For Edwards, change is confrontation.

Following the Edwards event, seeing Illinois senator Barack Obama next in Ottumwa is a welcome relief. The Obama event is held in a school gym with a couple of hundred people. Much smaller than Obama crowds I saw at the beginning of the year, but still large. Going to an Obama event is like entering a “nice zone,” where everyone is earnest and helpful and the young volunteers tend to be mop-haired boys and pretty girls.

When I saw Obama earlier in the year, there was something hesitant about his performances, like he was holding something of himself back, as though he didn’t want to give into the hype around him. At this event, he was holding nothing back, making the case for himself for an hour, in detail and in earnest.

Like Huckabee, he talks about transcending partisan differences, and explains how the unlikely nature of his own campaign is a testament to its virtue and its supremacy in the political process. Obama has basically the same anti-corporate sentiments as Edwards and generally the same policy priorities. It’s his style that’s a contrast, and Obama dwells on the difference as Edwards begins to rise here.

He implicitly contrasts himself with Hillary Clinton, as he has for a long time: “some candidates seems to change slogans every two weeks”; some people say they know Washington so “they play the game better,” but what’s necessary is “to put an end to the game-playing”; it’s unfortunate that some people allowed themselves to bend to “conventional wisdom on something as profound as when we go to war.”

Then he turns to Edwards. The argument is being made that “he’s too nice,” “not mean enough, not angry enough, not confrontational enough.” But Obama says he doesn’t need lectures about “how to bring change,” since he worked for it as a community organizer and civil-rights attorney, instead of taking high-paying jobs from law firms. He says we don’t need “just more anger toward Republicans,” but rather, we need true knowledge and belief in principles, which make it possible to reach out. Moreover, he promises to create “a working majority” for change.

Finally, he returns to his patented theme of hope. He says his belief in hope is not “naive,” that he “understands how difficult change is going to be and that’s exactly why [he] talk[s] about hope.” Great causes, he says, rely on hope — from the American Revolution, to abolitionism, to the civil-rights movement. “Hope is that instinct within us all — you know we can do better.”

For Obama, change is hope.


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