Commentary Magazine


Spared Change

Last night secured John McCain as the breakaway frontrunner for the GOP nomination and showed Hillary Clinton to be (at least) tied with Barak Obama on the Democratic side. Party voters have demonstrated their decided comfort with the two most obvious “establishment” candidates out there.

Which brings us back to that whole “change” thing. Candidates and pundits have been saying this election comes at a uniquely ripe moment. Enervated by wars without end and uninspired by Bush-Clinton-Bush, Americans are poised to enter a new age: no more business as usual, paradigm shifts are upon us, etc. From the more formidable huffing and puffing out there, you’d think it’s France in the year 1789. But in truth, we’re far closer to the best of times than the worst. Americans continue to be perfectly comfortable with the existing conditions, because America continues to be uniquely successful in living up to its twin dictates of freedom and prosperity.

Americans are stirred by “change” in the exact manner in which it’s currently on offer—as a faint daydream in the margins of reality. Taking part is an entirely different story. We’re like spoiled children who threaten to run away from home and find that merely registering the possibility is enough of a thrill. In fact, Hillary may win the nomination because even her detractors are somewhat soothed by knowing what to expect. Never mind that epochal wind at Obama’s back; Hillary’s got the power of the status quo behind her.

Americans are so wary of change that their “change candidate” is actually more retro than change. Obama seeks (and finds) comparisons to American icons as varied as Ronald Reagan, JFK, and Marin Luther King. Funnily enough, nothing in this election has the flavor of revolution quite like the dynamism that’s pulled John McCain from the dog house and made him a frontrunner. Perhaps this is because his momentum is hitched to actual change—the surge of U.S. forces—in a nation—Iraq—that really does recognize, and welcome, the genuine article.