Politics & Policy

The Change You’ll Get

Americans will finally learn what Barack Obama really believes and really wants.

Who says you can’t have it all? The Democrats — the Left — now have the White House, control of both houses of Congress, a majority of governors’ mansions, a majority of state legislatures, the entertainment media, the elite news media, the unions, the educational establishment, the lion’s share of the philanthropic community, and increasing power over the courts.

Will President-elect Barack H. Obama use this awesome power to strengthen America’s defenses in a time of global conflict and repair America’s economy in a period of financial distress? Or will his goal be to solidify the Left’s grip for the long-term, for example by shutting down conservative talk radio and perhaps other pockets of media resistance, by growing the percentage of Americans dependent on government programs, and by using immigration policy and gerrymandering to create a permanent Democratic majority? Your guess is as good as mine.

#ad#Give Obama his due: It is an exceptional politician who can win the support of Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, and Kenneth Duberstein, former chief of staff to President Reagan; of William Ayers, an unrepentant terrorist, and Christopher Buckley, son of William F. Buckley, founder of modern intellectual conservatism; of Rashid Khalidi, an Israel-hater, and Edgar Bronfman, former head of the World Jewish Congress. Here’s a not-very-bold prediction: A year from now, someone is going to be sorely disappointed.

Thomas Jefferson famously said that “every generation needs a new revolution.” Could this be ours? I know: On Tuesday, we had an election, not an insurrection. But look up revolution in the dictionary and you’ll find it means “change” — sudden, radical, or fundamental change. Is that not what Obama has been promising?

The thing about revolutions is that very few succeed. The American Revolution was an exception in large measure because America’s founding revolutionaries were not utopians: They believed people had a right to govern themselves — even if they governed badly. They saw freedom as a means, but didn’t claim they could envision the ends. They understood that no system of government, however clever, can guarantee happiness — only the right to pursue that elusive state of being.

The more ambitious French Revolution that soon followed deteriorated into what became known as the Terror — mass executions that Robespierre defended as “prompt, severe, inflexible justice.” Pace Zhou Enlai, it is not “too early to say” that the French Revolution was a failure.

In the 20th century, revolutions in Russian and China failed on a grander scale — millions of innocent people murdered, imprisoned, and tortured, again in the name of justice.

And soon it will be 30 years since Iran’s Revolution. We have no idea how much suffering theocratic fascism will inflict on the world.


But back to more prosaic matters: John McCain did not win the Republican primary — he did not defeat Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, et al. Rather, each of those campaigns imploded or eroded — and McCain was the last man left standing.

I thought it possible that something similar might happen in the general election. Had the race become a referendum on Obama — his lack of experience, his links with so many unsavory and radical characters — a majority of Americans might well have decided to at least wait a few years before giving him the keys to Air Force One.

#ad#In another era, the mainstream media might have seen it as their duty to probe deeply and reveal to the public as much about Obama as they could. But the days of a fiercely independent, disinterested, tough-but-fair press are over. Too many American journalists have become partisans, propagandists, and lackeys. This, also, is a kind of revolution.

In another era – say, four years ago — independent political groups would have focused the public’s attention on such issues. One reason that did not happen this time: restrictions on political speech — gussied up as “campaign-finance reform” and championed by none other than John McCain.

Those who helped the Swift Boat Veterans tell their tales about serving under John Kerry’s command were warned by their lawyers that it would cost them more than just money if they were responsible for ads questioning Obama’s fitness for office. They’d be served subpoenas and find themselves confronting hostile congressional committees. They might suffer other forms of harassment as well.

Of course, McCain himself could have forced this debate into the public square. But he was either unwilling or unable to do what needed to be done. Though a military man by breeding and training, as a candidate he shot rubber bullets and pulled his punches.

There were other factors, too — enough to fill books, and that will happen. So long as national security was the issue foremost on voters’ minds, McCain was a contender. But when the economy went into a tailspin, McCain threw away his advantage. He raced back to Washington in an effort to show he was a work horse, not a show horse. Huddling with the confused and querulous politicians who had caused the crisis did not enhance his image as an elder statesman.

Obama was well-advised to stay on the campaign trail and stay on message, continuing to offer “hope” and to promise “change.” Soon now, we’ll find out what that really means.

– Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

Clifford D. May — Clifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...

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