Old Is the New New
Obama, McCain, and the politics of change.


This is “change you can believe in”? I mean, if this is the “change we’ve been waiting for,” then we could have been doing a lot better things with our time. We might as well have been waiting for Godot and “hoping” for a rainout. The only change here is that the pig is a little fatter. More money for this subsidy and that one.

But if Sanders and Obama haven’t changed, the times may have. This is an obese bill in lean times. And not just an ordinary, cyclically lean period, either. We have entered that era when the promises made to the Baby Boomers are coming due and we will not be able to grow ourselves out of our obligations. The big slush fund is drying up, and $300 billion to buy the votes of 1 percent of the population suddenly seems like more than just small change.

One senses that the mood out in the country is one of grim frugality. And exasperation with a Congress that doesn’t seem to get it, that will vote to buy sugar from domestic producers at a price higher than market and then sell the same sugar to ethanol refiners at a price that is lower than market, sticking taxpayers with the difference. Some of those taxpayers are thinking, “Hey, I may have been born at night but it wasn’t last night.” And when one of those taxpayers hears some politician, fresh from voting for the farm bill, shine on about how he is going to “change the way Washington does business,” he feels like he’s being conned, and like the grifter won’t even take the trouble to make the con sound convincing.

John McCain, however, opposed the farm bill. And he supported the forlorn Bush veto. McCain seems consistently offended by this sort of cavalier pork barreling, and he is not shy about letting people know it. He’s even gotten a reputation for being mean and bad-tempered about it. Gets mad and gets in peoples’ faces. The man, we’re told, can be downright rude.

One can imagine a lot of voters hearing that and saying, “Well, yeah. You go, John. Get after it.” They might prefer a little profane, red-faced anger to ethereal promises of change. Maybe the times don’t call for dreaming and hoping as much as they do a little sweaty, hard-nosed grappling with reality. The reality, in this case, being a government that is big, unaccountable, inefficient, and unaccustomed to getting its butt kicked. And maybe that feisty guy McCain is the man to do it. He might even enjoy it. Might sit in the Oval Office with a pen in his hand and a sinister grin on his face, just praying those wimps down the street will send him a bill to veto.

Make my day, Pelosi.

Maybe the old guy is the right guy, this time. Here in Vermont, we can tell you that talk about a new kind of politics is getting real old. We’ve been hearing it for a long time now. And we still ain’t seen the change.

And maybe, for a lot of voters out there, that’s an outrage.

– Geoffrey Norman is editor of


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