He Promised Change

September 17th, 2011

By Richard D. Bailey

Change We Can Believe InHe promised “Change.”

In 2008, with a brilliant strategy, Clinton/Bush fatigue, an aspirational biography and a natural grace and eloquence before adoring crowds that brought the media world and popular culture to wistful, teary longings for the time of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Barack Obama mastered the moment and made history. But in doing so he also planted the seeds of his own political destruction.

69,456,897 people voted for Barack Obama. 69,456,897 voted for “Change”. But aside from the soaring rhetoric of healing the planet and stopping the wars — neither of which has, can or will occur on his watch — he never defined what “Change” he could deliver.

As a campaign slogan it was brilliant. It tapped into the angst and despair of the financial crises and the weariness with President Bush. It was the perfect message for the moment. But it also set too high a bar for Mr. Obama or any mere mortal to clear.  It was and is simply impossible to deliver the magnitude of change that Barack Obama promised to America in 2008. But his brilliant read of the mood of the moment and the employment of such an open-ended message and strategy has inexorably lead us in one direction — disappointment. And that is where we are today.

As a governing philosophy it is impossible to deliver “Change” in a meaningful, big picture way. Our system of government is not set up that way. Checks and balances, whatever we think of them, are in place for the most part to protect the status quo.  To insure that, the changes we do make are gradual, incremental and argued out in Congress, state legislatures and town halls before they are enacted. President Obama, as a political creature, has never really focused on delivering change. But what he has focused on is delivering a more vigorous status quo.

He and his surrogates can blame the Tea Party, George Bush, Republicans, millionaires and billionaires until we are all blue in the face. But the reality is that candidate Obama made a promise that President Obama cannot meet. End of story.

Deval Patrick, whose 2006 campaign advisers later became Obama’s, faced the same trough of despair here in Massachusetts in 2008 and 2009 after his brilliant but open-ended first gubernatorial campaign message of “Together We Can.”  Back in 2006 I needled my friends (including a certain Boston Globe columnist who shall remain nameless – cough, cough Adrian cough, cough Walker cough) and others at the time with.… “Together we can … what?” It was an open-ended feel good message. But it didn’t define or tell us anything.  It didn’t give anyone anything other than warm and fuzzy feelings. It was pure bumper sticker politics and a cynical, flimsy manipulation of the electoral mood. He was ultimately reelected in 2010 but only because the Republican challenger never caught on and the economy in Massachusetts, while crummy, never sunk to the depths it has in other key battle ground states around the nation. Besides, “Together We Can” doesn’t make an explicit promise. “Change” does.

America certainly has changed since 2008. We are poorer, weaker, more divided and less respected than at any time in the last 100 years. I don’t think that was the change Barack Obama had in mind when he said on election night 2008 that “at this defining moment, change has come to America.”

He has brought change all right but as it stands today and in the style of a Greek tragedy — people will vote for change again and Barack Obama will be defeated by the product of his own brilliance.

Richard D. Bailey lives outside of Boston, MA. He holds an M.A. in Communications from Fairfield University and a B.A. in Political Science from Providence College. In his spare time he writes the blog The Accidental Humanist. He can be reached at rdb@rdbailey.com

(This article was also posted at The Accidental Humanist.)


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2 Responses to “He Promised Change”



  1. larry |

    Aw Richard, surely you jest!
    Buried deep inside all the rhetoric and he said, she said is change. The problem is how we as voters define the term “change”. Needless to say, Obama and the liberals have fostered great change in this country. Sad to say the great changes were detrimental to the welfare of the voters.


  2. Tom Carter |

    Interesting how many people are fooled by well-delivered speeches in grandiose settings. Obama’s a bright guy who’s well-intentioned, but he has demonstrated that he doesn’t have the leadership skill and experience to do the job. Time to replace him.


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