Can We Really Believe in Political Change?

“The stars seem one thing but they are quite another, these acrobats deceive you brazenly…” — Mirza Ghalib

I was still at school when Labour came to power in the UK in 1997. This landslide victory for Labour was a momentous occasion, and for traditional Labour voters, it was an opportunity for the vision for change to finally become a reality.

More than ten years later, that dream is a distant memory. Did Blair’s government bring about the change that electorate at the time desired? For stanch Labourites anyway, the answer would be a resounding “No.”

My point is, does anything really change in politics?

Fast-forward to the US Presidential election 2008, and it seems like history is repeating itself. No doubt that change is a powerful election-winning drug; seven years of having Bush preside over the White House have made the American public hungry for it.

I’m rooting for Barack, because I think America needs a leader who is articulate and charismatic, and because I want an end to the Iraq war. However, maybe it’s my British cynicism, but I don’t really believe that the election of a new President will bring about radical change in policy. I’ve seen it with Labour in the UK; all the parties promise change but the reality is that it’s a different story after they get elected.

Obama claims to offer “Change You Can Believe In”. Hillary asks you to help her “Make History,” and says her experience shows that she can deliver change. The truth is, every politician since the dawn of time has spouted the same rhetoric to the people. Just refer to Niccholo Machiavelli’s The Prince for evidence.

But the real reason I don’t believe in political change, is that whilst Obama is, (and always was) against the war in Iraq, both the Republicans and the Democrats are united on the issue of “surgical” missile strikes in Iran. Frankly, I find it shocking that Obama could contemplate providing support for Bush’s next war. That doesn’t sound too progressive to me.

I also think the voters are being polarised by issues which really shouldn’t matter. Much of the news coverage I’ve seen resembles this spoof from The Onion (so funny and yet so true!).

I just don’t think issues such as Obama’s religion, or Hillary’s emotional state are relevant. I’m not saying that the majority of the electorate will be swayed by such superficiality, but clearly it will matter for some. I’d like to see a proper debate that goes beyond religious views, race, or gender, and not an election that resembles an episode of Will and Grace. Did you see the one where Will votes for the gay candidate and where Grace votes for the Jewish woman? Great comedy, but would you really want to be duped into a vote based on attributes that are beyond a candidate’s control?

To illustrate my point, here’s an article written by Alec Baldwin in The Huffington Post, which shows what some Republicans in small town America have been writing about Barack. It’s tragic that in this day and age, religion, race or gender should matter, but clearly in the world of dirty politics, anything goes.

Image from a poster by Shepard Fairey.

I’m not a political commentator, but everyone is allowed to have an opinion. Please let me know yours by posting your comments.

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5 comments

  1. btn · February 3, 2008

    We’re hungry for change because we’re finally fed up with the radical changes that President Bush and his cohorts have made over the past seven years. Karl Rove’s divide-and-conquer politics “won” the White House, but at the high cost of fostering bitter partisanship.

    A surgical missile strike (e.g. to neutralize a nuclear weapons site) is a far cry from a full-scale invasion. It’s a proven tactic to avoid war when non-military options fail.

    I do agree that it’s too bad superficial issues matter. However, we are making progress given there’s a good chance our next President will be a progressive Democrat who happens to be a woman or a black person.

  2. evolution · February 3, 2008

    I think that the hunger for change comes after any government has been in office for a long period of time. It’s a similar situation in the UK right now, after 10 years of a Labour government, and it was similar back in 1997.

    Also in order to win an election, each candidate has to promise change to mobilise the electorate. I just really hope that they can deliver, but only time will tell.

    Agreed that surgical missile strikes are not in the realms of a full scale nuclear attack, but I fear that such strikes are a slippery slope to more military action. It comes back to promising one one thing before the elections and delivering another. I don’t anyone could have thought that a Labour government would ever unite with a Republican one to take troops into war.

    I think it is progressive that we may see a black person or a woman could be the next President; I just don’t think it’s not progress enough. Real progress is not when race and gender (or religion) doesn’t matter, but when people can no longer see the difference.

    To quote one of my favourite movies: “It’s not just that our color difference doesn’t matter to her. It’s that she doesn’t seem to think there is any difference.”

  3. btn · February 3, 2008

    It only took Bush three years to start a war in Iraq. It took him less than a year to set back environmental protection and health policies. A President can screw things up in short order, especially when his party controls Congress.

    The fact that Obama is a serious contender for President says a lot about how far we’ve come since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He beat Clinton and Edwards among white, Democrat caucus voters in Iowa (!), which was a big surprise:

    http://www.nytimes.com/ref/us/politics/20080103_IOWAPOLL_GRAPHIC.html

  4. evolution · February 4, 2008

    Progress is progress I suppose. I would check this out article though: http://tinyurl.com/ythkx8

    It talks about how America has no left wing, particularly from a European perspective.

    It’s worth noting that both Republicans and Democrats are pro-war, pro-death penalty, and according to this article, none advocate strict gun control, plus they all reference their religious beliefs. In secular lefty Europe, we’d call that right-wing 🙂

    I just think Obama is a better option than everyone else – but that doesn’t mean I’m any less of a skeptic.

  5. btn · February 5, 2008

    I would argue that Democrats especially, and Republicans lately are not pro-war. (McCain and Romney want to “win” the current Iraq War, but that is hopefully different than saying they’re going to start wars like Bush.) A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll taken last November showed only 31% of Americans supporting the Iraq War while 68% were opposed to it. 63% of Americans also opposed air strikes on Iran, and 73% opposed sending in ground troops. The sampling margin of error was +/- 4.5%.

    Executions have been on a steady decline in the U.S. They reached a 13-year low (42 executions) last year according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The State of New Jersey recently outlawed executions, and other states with capital punishment are in a holding pattern until the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of lethal injections. Thanks to DNA testing, there’s an increasing number of exonerations of death row inmates who were wrongfully convicted. They’re helping the case against the death penalty.

    Gun control is tricky because “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” is in the Second Amendment to our Constitution. Democrats banned “Assault Weapons” in 1994 under Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, that move helped Republicans win control of Congress, and the Republican-controlled Congress ultimately let the ban expire in 2004. The National Riffle Association is a powerful pro-gun political organization in the U.S. They help ensure that any form of “excessive” gun control is political suicide.

    Don’t get me started on religion! 🙂 “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” is the First Amendment to our Constitution yet the Christian fundamentalists who have hijacked a good portion of the Republican Party like to think that we’re supposed to be a Christian country despite the fact that our Constitution is totally secular. The authors of the Constitution understood that the intermingling of church and state is a threat to religion, and religious freedom.

    Finally, regarding taxes to pay for universal health care, it’s not that we can’t afford it. We haven’t done it largely because of capitalism. Some people are afraid that mandated health coverage will lower the quality of heath care available to them, and their choices for heath care coverage. Others feel that they shouldn’t foot the bill for people who can’t pay for it. Still others say they should have the freedom to go without coverage. Interestingly, some people against universal health care also fight the teaching of “natural selection.” 🙂

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