Change is good. Everyone says so. But easier said than done. Just ask Barack Obama, who sold the prospect of “change” with the fervor of a patent-medicine salesman on the back roads of beyond. Alas, presidents, unlike medicine-show men, can’t move on to suckers in the next town.
When the president offers change to a surly foreign enemy, he gets insults. He went on Arab television - nothing wrong with that, and he blew off the New York Times while doing it - and delivered an artless half-grovel to the Muslims that America loves them as much as it loves monsignors and Methodists. “To the Muslim world,” he told his interviewers, “we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” He wants to “restore” America’s relations with the Islamic world to what they were in the good old days “as recently as 20 or 30 years ago.” (But the Iranians shouldn’t get any ideas, please, about reprising the taking of American hostages, which is what they were doing in Tehran 30 years ago.)
Before the president could resume the upright position, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran told him there will be no settling for a dime-store friendship or cheap talk about unclenched fists, even from an American with a Muslim middle name, roots in a grade school in Indonesia and with a dotty Aunt Zuni in a Boston attic. Islam deserves nothing short of a full grovel, with an apology for American “crimes” and misdemeanors. He expects “deep and fundamental changes” in America, and why haven’t Americans done anything about his earlier suggestion they convert to Islam? No more Christmases, white or otherwise, and no more Easter Parades. Passover must be passed over, permanently. No more ham sandwiches at Subway. (Sheep’s eyes, anyone?)
Back at home, “change” continues to be as elusive as ever. The Democrats think they’ve died and gone to the heaven without virgins, festooning spendthrift Son of Bailout with dozens of bridges to Nowhere. Nowhere will soon be the easiest destination to reach anywhere. Nancy Pelosi and her San Francisco Democrats, with an assist from her sidekick Harry Reid, will use the bailout (and bailouts to come) to remake America into the liberal utopia they’ve been dreaming of. So no change there. The Democrats are as mired in their expensive ruts as they ever were in the Great Society that banished poverty forever.
The Republicans, so far, aren’t buying Son of Bailout, but with Republicans you never know. No change there, either. They’re insisting that nothing short of a complete overhaul, eliminating all the wasteful dreamy-eyed bits, will persuade Republican senators to stand up straight and do their duty. This is the test of Mr. Obama’s oft-told tale of his determination to restore “a bipartisan spirit” to the business of Washington, where Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, male and female, will live only by the Great Obama Nonpartisan Do-Right Rule: “Do it our way lest we do it all over you.”
“I think it may be time,” says Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, “for the president to kind of get ahold of these Democrats in the Senate and the House, who have rather significant majorities, and shake them a little bit and say, ‘Look, let’s do this the right way.’ I can’t believe that the president isn’t embarrassed about the products that have been produced so far.”
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second Republican banana in the Senate, was blunt, too: “When I say start from scratch, what I mean is that the basic approach of this bill, we believe, is wrong.” The “basic approach” of the House bill, which earned no Republican votes, would cost $819 billion; the Senate version, which might get a few Republican votes because some Republican senators came all the way to Washington just to sound retreat, would cost $900 billion, and counting. Hey, it’s only your money, and it might work.
Everyone agrees that the condition of the economy is grave, the hour late and somebody has to do something. But not “something” even if it’s wrong. The president seems to understand that the responsibility for the “something wrong” will be his, particularly if it’s medicine with a Democratic label and the recession falls into the Hoover-like depression we were told could never happen again. Presidents get the credit, but presidents get the blame. “Life,” in JFK’s memorable proverb for politics, “is unfair.” Not even Barack Obama can change that.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.