Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Change - The American D.N.A

“Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”
- Harry Truman

I’ve been asked many times in the past month or so about why change has become such an important political issue for me in this election. Those who ask can’t seem to grasp why change itself would even be a political issue. Isn’t it the candidate’s stands on issues like the economy, Iraq, the War on Terror, health care, or illegal immigration that should be paramount in our minds as we pull the levers in this election cycle? Isn’t the devil of it all in the details, in the policy positions put forth and promises made? Isn’t this current focus on change just a passing fad dredged up from a linguistic nether world, employed only to mask a sense of purpose and direction?

Where are we going as a nation? What course should we take?

Permit me, if you will, to continue dreaming and hoping. I’m not nearly as interested in policy positions as I am with whether or not we can re-capture our sense of national purpose and faith. I sense the winds of change in the air and feel the need to spread my arms and soar with them. I’m ready for change, and millions of my countrymen are, too.

There an old Chinese proverb that says “If we don't change our direction we're likely to end up where we're headed.” I think is the state of America today. We’ve been too long mired in the old ways and the old rhetoric. For nearly a decade now we’ve been flirting with disaster, pitting interest group against interest group. We’ve color coded ourselves – red versus blue. We’ve lost our way and now need to set our national sail in a new direction. We need a leader who sees this and is prepared to launch us into the deep, pursuing a new and better America.

Why change? Why now?

First, change is the dynamic element of the American D.N.A. It’s as American as apple pie. Ours is a history of lurching left and right, descending to the depths and ascending to the heights, seeking to keep one foot firmly planted in our traditions while stepping old boldly into the history that’s yet to be written with the other.

Second, history, as it always has, is demanding change of us. The future we face is filled with both promise and peril. In order to face the challenges we must jettison the old dogma of division. In order to embrace and fulfill the promises we must unify. Our national task as we move ahead is to ensure that that the pendulum of division that has swung too far in one direction now brings us back to a realization that we must once again be one people.

If we refuse to embrace change we will, as Solzhenitsyn said, become victims of the “pitiless crowbar of events.”

The poet laureate of my generation expressed this theme at another of those times when we were on the brink:

Yes, change is once again in the air. The pendulum is swinging. It’s the one great constant of the American way.

Political leaders from my generation and the generations of our forefathers have also come our way to call upon us to embrace the changes necessitated by history:

“What does the change mean? That is the question that is uppermost in our minds to-day. That is the question I am going to try to answer, in order, if I may, to interpret the occasion. It means much more than the mere success of a party. The success of a party means little except when the Nation is using that party for a large and definite purpose. No one can mistake the purpose for which the Nation now seeks to use the Democratic Party. It seeks to use it to interpret a change in its own plans and point of view. Some old things with which we had grown familiar, and which had begun to creep into the very habit of our thought and of our lives, have altered their aspect as we have latterly looked critically upon them, with fresh, awakened eyes.”
- Woodrow Wilson

“Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.”
- Franklin D Roosevelt

“It is because we, all of us, hold to these principles that the political changes accomplished this day do not imply turbulence, upheaval or disorder. Rather this change expresses a purpose of strengthening our dedication and devotion to the precepts of our founding documents, a conscious renewal of faith in our country and in the watchfulness of a Divine Providence.”
- Dwight Eisenhower

“I do not believe that the Great Society is the ordered, changeless, and sterile battalion of the ants. It is the excitement of becoming--always becoming, trying, probing, falling, resting, and trying again--but always trying and always gaining.”
- Lyndon Johnson

“My fellow citizens, today we celebrate the mystery of American renewal. This ceremony is held in the depth of winter, but by the words we speak and the faces we show the world, we force the spring. A spring reborn in the world's oldest democracy, that brings forth the vision and courage to reinvent America. When our founders boldly declared America's independence to the world, and our purposes to the Almighty, they knew that America, to endure, would have to change. Not change for change sake, but change to preserve America's ideals: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.”
- Bill Clinton

So, the time for change has come. The time for dreams to once again become the currency of American life has dawned. That’s why I believe that change is the paramount issue in this election.

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