Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How Much Change Could Obama Achieve?

By Alan Caruba

Since “change” is Sen. Obama’s main theme, it’s worth asking and considering how much change he could really achieve as President?

As the authors of “The Genius of America”, a book about the U.S. Constitution point out, “Americans don’t know their own government anymore. They don’t know their own history.” They issue a strong warning against any changes to the founding document, despite its capacity to be amended.

The fact that the amendment process is designed to be very difficult tells you that the Founding Fathers intended it to be that way and for good reason. Since the ratification of the Bill of Rights, approximately ten thousand amendments have been proposed, but only seventeen have been adopted.

“American’s current frustration and anger with their government is sapping their commitment to the principles that have made the country work,” wrote Eric Lane and Michael Oreskes, the former a professor of law at Hofstra University and the latter an executive editor of the International Herald Tribune, formerly a national political correspondent for The New York Times.

“Most of all, we should remind each other that compromise is a show of strength, not weakness.” Politically, Sen. McCain is all about compromise frequently reaching across the aisle to join Democrats. Sen. Obama has voted the straight Democrat Party line.

If Americans are unhappy with Washington these days, they have created the problem by being so politically divided between the extreme Left and Right. Congress reflects this division.

The notion that Sen. Obama, if elected, can change this is an illusion, although a Democrat sweep in November would alter that equation and leave the nation open to a major shift to the Left.

Support for presidents ebb and flow swiftly. After the first Iraq war to drive Saddam’s army out of Kuwait, former President George H.W. Bush enjoyed some of highest popularity ratings any president had enjoyed in decades. That did not prevent him from being defeated by Bill Clinton. The current President Bush now has some of the lowest popularity ratings in the history of the presidency despite the enormous popularity of his response to 9/11 in Afghanistan, his tax cuts, and the initial support for the second war in Iraq.

Promising change and achieving it is a challenge as wide as the great oceans of the world. The fact is Washington, DC has a system in place in which the many lobbying firms, corporate government representatives, trade associations, influential think tanks, and others play an extraordinary role in the formulation of every piece of legislation put forth for consideration and in the outcome of the votes concerning them.

Public opinion plays a role only when there is a massive response as in the case of the last effort to provide amnesty to the millions of illegal aliens among us. A similar bill is before Congress as this is written.

The public and conservatives in particular may have concluded that the federal government is too large, too unwieldy, too inept to respond to the nation’s problems, but there is almost no way that the size of the government will be reduced barring a severe downturn in the nation’s economy or some cataclysmic event.

Indeed, it was the Depression that led to the expansion of the government under the four successive administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but it must also be recalled that the American electorate approved many of the changes such as Social Security, minimum wages, the right to organize, banking oversight, supervision of the sale of foods and pharmaceuticals.

Big government, in this respect, is not necessarily bad government, but for the first 140 years of American history, the federal government played a small role in the lives of Americans.

How likely would a Senator who hasn’t even gotten through one term be able to make any substantive changes? The answer is very unlikely for all his rhetoric and promises.

If elected, Sen. Obama will determine U.S. foreign policy. This has always been the strongest role of the presidency. He could veto legislation as part of the checks and balances built into the Constitution. He could respond to an attack on America as Commander-in-Chief. Beyond that, he would have the power of persuasion and, if the public began to doubt his judgment that could rapidly dissipate.

The outcome of the 2008 national election will really depend on how much change Americans will tolerate in times when the economy is perceived to be in trouble, when the situation in Iraq appears to be stabilizing, when they remain concerned over illegal immigration, a failed education system, and other issues.

Despite the legacy of the Bush administration, a majority—no matter how slim—of Americans may decide to keep the nation politically deadlocked in the Congress and elect a man whom they perceive to be an older, wiser, more tested politician.

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