The Nation's Pulse

Chump Change

Yes, voters are thirsting for change -- from change.

By 10.3.08

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When you think about it, Senator Obama and the Democrats are right, voters are thirsting for change. Only it's not the kind the left has in mind. What Americans really want these days is change from change.

I think the candidates in general and the left in particular have it backwards. America is a land of constant opportunity. Change is what we live with. This is due to our constitution of liberty.

We were attacked and got into a war. What we thought would be a blissful peaceful commercial-minded post-historical age changed into a violent war of religion that could go on for generations, until they change their attitudes. Then we had climate change, then we had urban damage caused by uncontrollable turbulence in the atmosphere -- if that's not change, what is -- and now all we hear about is changing the rules by which we do business. I thought the reason investors "flocked" to the U.S. is that we are predictable, rule of law and all that. Some pols in Washington want to make drastic changes, but others are standing in the aisles and saying, "Stop!" They want to protect our land of free men and free markets, I hope.

I say I hope because frankly I am not so sure what the House revolt against the Paulson plan means. After the spending binges they went on, or let their colleagues go on, I think the average Congressional freeloader does not deserve the benefit of the doubt, just the opposite. Unless he can show me where he tried to change the way things are done not by improving them but by getting rid of them, I consider the Congressman suspect of being a porker and a pro-change man.

Because there is change and change. We know this. There is change for the better and there is change for the worse. In Washington, anything that subtracts from the whole is change for the better. But usually what they do is add a layer.

LIGHTENING UP is in the public interest, as well as being good for both body and soul. I know this from direct experience.

Every time I turn around someone in the neighborhood is saying, "I can't take it any more, bro'." I know, as they say, where the man's coming from. He needs a change -- from change.

This is when they're not asking me for loose change, which I have got used to carrying around. A Muslim friend -- I have a few -- told me once that when you return from a trip, you should give alms to the first beggar you see. It's easy for him -- in the airport in his main city, if you can call it that -- I'm not sure there are any other airports or any other cities -- the beggars are practically on the runway, so he can discharge his religious and customary obligations even before feeling the jet lag.

However, I followed his advice. I found a guy on my second day back from France a week or two ago, and I could have written the script before he spoke it, "Where you been, man? Hey, my man, can you lend me five?"

I decided to lend him five and forget about the previous fifty, so next time I am in my favorite African Muslim country I can tell them I am right with the Lord, okay, so I don't need any comments about the flask I've got in my laptop case. Truth is, they are courteous about that, very tolerant.

THE DISTINGUISHED SENATOR from Illinois has been changing all his life. I hope every American voter reads his autobiography. It is a chronicle of constant change. The senator's life changed so much that he scarcely had time to become anyone. As Midge Decter used to say to me, You need an address.

Now I am trying to remain objective in this campaign, but my sense is that the Illinois senator never really had an address. He has a nice address in Kenwood, the priciest neighborhood in Chicago, but is it his address in the sense Midge meant? I hope I am wrong. Still, why does he talk about change all the time? The only possible references, since his oratory, though elegant, is empty, are to what he has done. And what he has done, always in short spurts, has been to promote (usually with very mitigated success) radical change. The one major change with which readers of this magazine know he is closely associated and which was successful is the one which bears a heavy responsibility for the mortgage melt-down and the subsequent credit crisis and financial wrack and ruin, though I think -- pardon me -- that will change for the better if we give it a kick and then leave it alone.

The distinguished senator of Arizona endorses change as a general principle. However, you have to admit he does not refer to it as an either-or matter for the survival of our Republic. He notes that change comes. It comes with progress, with the weather, with the ebbs and flows of tyranny and freedom in the world beyond our shores. The question is, he notes, not change as such but what we do about it and what kind we, with the limited means of sinful mortal fallible humanity, achieve.

The senator himself fought against the kind of pernicious change that brought millions into slavery and death in the 20th century, the kind promoted by totalitarian movements. He paid dearly for his fight, never complained about the price. The Illinois senator befriended and worked with on an important educational foundation -- perhaps more, but this much we know -- an impenitent activist in one of those movements.

As well as I know, this is not controversial, it is a fact.

THE WHEEL TURNS, the country changes. There is no escaping that. Big things happen and small things, superficial and profound things: we can all make our lists. I am happy for the changes in my neighborhood, which are for the better; for the jobs the family business creates; for the improvement in the tennis level of our Chip n Charge Social and Athletic Club and Annual Picnic, Assn.

Change is fine, but history is a record of the harm done by people who think they know better than thee what fine change be. Those who've presumed to know more than the common lot of mortals have doomed others to perdition, until they themselves gave in to despair, a sin --

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

Macbeth as a proto-totalitarian? I shun such analysis. He was a political gangster, and without implying any abusive comparisons, that is sufficient evil to caution us about quick-change men.

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About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.