I am a champion of change — change in Washington, change here at home, change you can believe in, and change that challenges your beliefs.
I witnessed the beauty of change just this past weekend when I braved the change in the weather and made it over to the Arts Council of Princeton for a reception for donors. I have walked and driven by the new Arts Council and marveled at the transformation of the old WPA building at that site, but this was the first time I was able to step inside.
It was a marvelous transformation, an amazing amount of space — wonderfully balanced between small studios and work spaces and larger rooms meant for exhibits and performances. And it was all packed into what appears to be the exact same blueprint that the original building covered.
All of which, I have to add, is a testament to the power of change. The Arts Council and its board had the original vision for the remake at the corner of Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place. But the neighbors argued (and the Planning Board agreed) that the original scale of the new building was too large for the site. So the Arts Council and its architect, Michael Graves, literally went back to the drawing board and earned the approval of the planners with this scaled back, but still highly functional, design. Let’s call it change that’s worth fighting for. I’m all in favor of it.
I share my change philosophy because — with 55 days or so to the November presidential election — I want to make sure that everyone knows where I stand. Given that change has joined mom and apple pie in the highest tier of American political icons, I don’t want to be caught short in November.
Barack Obama, of course, has been about change from the very beginning and we have written plenty about him. The new agent of change is his opponent, John McCain, who embraced change in one grand moment: The selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. Was it ever grand! As one conservative commentator chortled: “The liberal media just doesn’t know what to make of this.”
I don’t make enough money, or reach a big enough audience, to qualify as liberal media. But I can’t resist the opportunity to make something out of the Palin candidacy.
First the experience issue, and the notion that she has as much or more experience as Obama. One conservative and reasonable professor from a midwest college sent out a column comparing Palin to Harry S. Truman who took over for FDR just three months after the 1945 inauguration. As a result of his sudden ascent to the Oval Office, Truman revamped the relationship between the president and vice president, paving the way for someone like Palin to be reasonably prepared for that event after just a few months in office. (The Truman-Palin comparison breaks down, however, since Truman began his adult career as a haberdasher but was also a U.S. senator for 10 years with combat experience in World War I and head of the federal War Preparedness committee during World War II.)
As for Obama vs. Palin, Obama has one piece of modern-day experience that Palin lacks. He has had two years of nonstop campaigning, putting himself and his family in the spotlight, being battered by formidable opponents such as the Clintons, and coming out still standing and still smiling. We know that he and his people are capable of running a Presidential campaign and from that we can judge (positively or negatively) how he might run the country. That’s true also of McCain and Joe Biden, but it’s not the case for Palin.
About that Palin family. When liberals first heard that the 17-year-old daughter was pregnant, they no doubt saw it as a sign of family dysfunction that would cripple the candidacy of the soon-to-be grandmother (especially after the sermonizing the conservative media enjoyed when Britney Spears’ little sister showed up pregnant).
But for the Republican right this was no cause for embarrassment. This was a wonderful expression of family values — what pro-life is all about. “Bristol and the young man” will marry, the proud Palin announced on Labor Day. (I can imagine the pitbull side of her expressing it differently to the 18-year-old daddy-to-be: “No, I don’t have four eyes, you dumb cluck. Those are two barrels of a shotgun you’re looking at.”)
You go, girl.
John McCain brags that Sarah Palin will really change Washington. Let’s assume the Republicans win the election again and Palin takes over on Day 2. Women friends of mine who are not particularly liberal say that, for the first time in their lives, they actually fear the outcome of an election.
But how much change would President Palin, even with God on her side, really bring to the country? I will worry more about the future of Bristol’s “blessed” marriage than I will about our country. The fact is that agents of change have rolled into Washington with regularity and our system always changes them far more than they change the system.
Jimmy Carter, armed with his Bible, was hell-bent on changing Washington and ended up poring over schedules for the White House tennis courts. He ultimately had more impact after he left office than while he was in office.
When it comes to balancing conflicting goals insiders usually do better than outsiders. Neither John McCain nor Barack Obama riding in on a stallion would have done better than the regulars of the Princeton political scene and the longstanding neighborhood group in resolving the impasse that threatened the Arts Council building. I like change, and I like the new Arts Council building. And I can say — with a confidence that Sarah Palin surely would understand — that God likes it, too.