Leading up to the October 13th Democratic debate, the New Yorker published an article regarding a secret memo drafted by President Barack Obama’s campaign team in 2007. Among the discussion items in the memo, aptly captioned “How to Beat Hillary Clinton,” was a comment noting “[s]he prides herself on working the system, not changing it…”
The Obama team rode that memo to victory, being the candidate for change in what was the textbook example of a “change” election. Change is so popular, it’s becoming the only constant campaign theme that works.
Even Republicans are using it effectively to win elections, and then promptly failing to deliver. To be fair, Republicans aren’t very good at the revolutionary change business, given the goals of traditional conservatism – respecting tradition and opposing radical change. But that doesn’t stop some of the loudest in our party from demanding radical change and it doesn’t stop some ambitious panderers from promising it. It is what swept Republicans into majorities in 2010 and 2014, and the anger resulting from our inability to provide it cost Eric Cantor his job in 2014, Boehner his in 2015, and Kevin McCarthy his shot at the brass ring.
It’s time to retire the rhetoric of change.
Why? Because radical change is difficult in a governing system specifically designed to prevent radical change.
This is basic high school civics. We all know about separation of powers, checks and balances, how the Senate was supposed to be the “saucer” that cooled hot legislation from the People’s House. Yet every two or four years, we’re tempted by the siren call of radical change coming from outsiders who don’t know what they don’t know. It’s happening again.
The three frontrunners for the Republican nomination have never served in elected office. The Freedom Caucus in the House is demanding radical change to how the House works. They’re also demanding radical change to how the Senate works. Over in the Senate, Ted Cruz is demanding radical change to how the Judiciary works.
None of that is going to happen, just like we all knew that the promises of “hope and change” made in 2008 wouldn’t materialize, either. Gitmo is still open, we’ve still got troops in Afghanistan – nothing really changed.
That’s not entirely a bad thing, either. We need a stable government, not a mutable one that changes every election. Madison made that clear in Federalist 62, when he wrote “[n]o government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.”
Demanding radical change is not a Republican or a conservative value. It’s what you get from mob rule and a tyranny of the majority. We should not be in the business of demanding radical change, any more than we should be looking to Denmark or Norway for examples of how best to run a country. When we threw off British domination, we demanded a system of government that demonstrates fidelity to the object of government, which, as Madison said, is the happiness of the people.
Fortunately, we have that system. The framers gave us the best system of government we could have devised, one that is wholly American, and one that made possible the greatest expansion of economic prosperity and freedom the world has ever seen. America’s system of government isn’t broken. It just isn’t working right now, because we keep demanding of it things it was never designed to do. And in response, we keep electing people who keep promising to radically change it rather than making it work again.
Nobody beats the system, but they can break it. At best, folks like Justin Amash and the Freedom Caucus are disruptors – not the good kind, like Uber, but the bad kind, like a screaming toddler in a library. They can’t work the system, so they break it and then point to the results of their behavior as proof that they were right about the system being broken in the first place. It would be funny if the stakes weren’t so high.
There are only a handful of Republican presidential candidates who have proven that they understand the system, can make it work to get conservative policies implemented, and have the gravitas within the system to effectively change it if it makes sense to do so. Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Lindsay Graham and perhaps Bobby Jindal (although he’s been captured by the radical change rhetoricians) could do it. Nobody else up there can.
Enough with the change rhetoric. We don’t need change anymore, we need stability. We need steady leadership that understands our American system and can make that system work for everybody. Ignore the siren song of change for change’s sake and let’s get back to business.