Let Us Now "Change" The Campaign Rhetoric

Different though they were overall, the two recent political conventions managed to sound quite similar in one respect. At least, that's the opinion of Contributor Timothy Noah, Senior Writer for the online magazine "Slate":

"Change" is this year's political watchword.

Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, said "change" 15 times in his convention speech. His running mate, Joe Biden, said "change" 20 times.

Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin said in her convention speech that Obama was using the word "change" to promote his career.

But in his convention speech, Republican presidential nominee John McCain said "change" almost as much as Obama - 10 times.

When did obsessive, context-free repetition of the word "change" become the music of American politics?

I date it to 1988. In that year, Michael Dukakis announced in his race against Vice President George H.W. Bush, "I want to be a force for positive change."

At that year's GOP convention, President Ronald Reagan answered: "We are the change."

Good change? Bad change? Reagan didn't say.

In large part, the "change" mantra reflects the decline in Democratic Party affiliation.

That's forced the two parties to compete more fiercely for the votes of political independents.

What do independents want? If you could generalize, they wouldn't be independents! They'd have a party of their own.

In addressing this diverse group of disaffected people, it pays not to promise anything specific. Hence, "change."

Change can obviously be good or bad. Jonas Salk was a change agent when he invented the polio vaccine. Pol Pot was a change agent when he slaughtered nearly 2 million of his countrymen in Cambodia's killing fields.

The store clerk makes change. You change the TV channel.

The mere promise of some undefined "change" would seem a weak basis for choosing the most powerful officeholder in the land.

Our political rhetoric, I submit, needs to, er, um ... become different.