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Spare the Presidential C H A N G E February 3, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Essays, Journalism, News, Trends, YouTube.
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Mirror mirror on the tube, who’s the changiest of them all? Notice how the political rhetoric in the US presidential elections is now down to a single word – change? Once upon a time in elections past, candidates fought to distance themselves from change – or flip-flopping – as it was called then.

Now change is so hot candidates are falling over themselves to flaunt their change credentials. Whatever the political stripes, whether in a dress or in suits, everybody wants to change their spots. Any change will do it seems. String these voices and mash ’em up and presto! The Changiness Chorus:

Spare the change! It’s a word that has inflamed defenders of the status quo and media watchers. Jeff Jarvis, Associate Professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism rants in his blog that change is the “emptiest” word in politics:

“It’s an utterly empty word. Meaningless. The worst of political rhetoric. The worst of political bullshit. Pure spin. Cynical marketing. Juvenile pandering… Oh, just shut up and do something.”

I might be persuaded that progress comes through change, but don’t tell me all change is progress. Democrats will be a big change from Bush. Duh, but change in what terms? Didn’t America vote for change in 2000? Does change imply electing a female or a black President?

Change is the word of choice for an uncritical political culture. Any politician of any stripe can stand behind it without specifics or fear of contradiction:

Notice, when you hear the word “change,” whether the speaker or writer is using it as a noun or a verb. As a noun, the word is an empty abstraction. You don’t have to explain it, or give examples. You can simply invoke it, like “freedom” or “terrorism” or “amnesty.”

As an intransitive verb, “change” rarely helps: as in “I will change!” The politician who offers us the transitive, who gives us an object of the verb — “I will change the way we wage this war” — is at least giving us a small peg on which to hang.


Out in the field, Obama is cool as a symbol and vessel for change. Clinton is cold and shrill in her naked ambition. Excuse me, is anybody thinking for a change? Changing the face and name in the White House is not change. Holding different perspectives and acting on those ideas is.

Blame it on TV and tube talk in an attention economy. So last century to be sure. Throw in the social networkers of MySpace and Facebook and you get a growing disconnect with the cuckolds. Can user generated politics predict election outcomes?

As people begin to switch off their TV and “live” online, the Web will define politics. If this has become a contest about who represents change, perhaps it makes more sense to talk about who owns the change. Voters own change, not candidates. Voters can vote out representatives and replace them with candidates who deliver more than promises.

Come to think of it, change is no big deal. Talking is the easy part. In the final scrutiny, who can change his or her spots?



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