Skip To Content
Back to Opinion

The Change We Need

It’s a requirement of electoral politics that candidates must present themselves as all things to all people. What looks like hypocrisy is actually just common sense: The more precisely you define yourself, the more potential voters you drive away. The smart politician campaigns by promising people what they want but then governs by giving them what they need and trusting them to know the difference.

Barack Obama seems to have understood this well when he campaigned on a promise of change, of giving us something different. He sensibly left us a lot of room to decide what that something different might be. A lot of Democrats seem to have assumed that he would change things back to the good old days of the New Deal. Baby boom liberals clearly expected him to follow their various laundry lists in the realm of gender, identity and perception. There were even some Republicans, it turns out, who thought he might change the Democratic Party into something that looked more Republican.

Now that the president-elect has begun unveiling his administration, some are disappointed, and understandably so. The team he has presented so far looks like a phone directory of Washington insiders: Clinton administration retreads, Beltway policy wonks and even Bush administration holdovers. That, it could fairly be said, is not change — it’s more of the same.

But in fact, what Obama seems to be setting in motion is precisely the sort of deep change that’s needed. It’s a change from incompetence to competence, from policy-making based on fantasy and rigid ideology to governance based on flexibility, pragmatism and honest engagement with reality.

Nowhere is the disappointment greater than in the antiwar movement. Many activists assumed that because Obama understood the folly of marching into Iraq, he would simply reverse course and march right out. Alas, that’s as unrealistic as the fantasy that got us into this mess. It would have been better if America hadn’t invaded Iraq, but we did, and the consequences were enormous. It does no good to shut our eyes and wish it weren’t so. In the adult world, you can’t make a mess and then just walk away.

The most important change President-elect Obama can give us is to create a government that knows what it’s doing. Thankfully, that seems to be what he’s got in mind.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.