David Brooks writes today about the “weirdness” of the current race, noting that Obama has become the candidate of “policy change” and McCain has assumed the mantle of “systematic change”, apparently referring to McCain’s desire to balance the a $400 billion deficit by reducing pork-barrel spending. But as Brooks even points out in his own column, Obama was once the agent of “systematic change” (though he doesn’t mention that McCain was previously the “experience” candidate). But who cares? This, as Brooks points out briefly and then ignores, is the point.
The Obama change is more responsible and specific, but it has all the weirdness of a Brookings Institution report. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The McCain promise of change is comprehensive and vehement, though it’s hard to know how it would actually work in office.
I’m not sure if it’s always been this way — and maybe its part of some self-sustaining survivalism on behalf of the punditry — but the whole point of government is to govern, so it’s frustrating to see people who know better waste their time fetishizing the aesthetics of governance. Politics are the means through which government runs, but politics are not in themselves the end. So long as democracy demands politicians are held accountable to popular opinion, there will always be a need to cater and shape public perception. No amount of blustering about cutting pork-barrel spending will change this basic tenet of democracy, and more importantly, these symbolic gestures are mostly just that: symbolic.
The simple fact of the McCain campaign, as Brooks seems to note but not particularly lament, is that McCain’s posturing is purely political. As Brooks also notes, but does lament (as early as June), Obama’s policies have always been steadfastly liberal, even if his rhetoric assumed some aspects of post-partisanship. Why is it that leading intellectuals like David Brooks decry the politics required to implement “responsible and specific” change, while lauding those who advocate essentially unsubstantiated, and more importantly, impossible to implement “systemic change?” The politics aren’t the point, the policies are. Grow up.