Seeking Change by @DavidOAtkins

Seeking Change

by David Atkins

The New York Times has a cheery thought for you as you try to get back to work after the holiday break (assuming you can get work in this economy):

At the end of one of the most bizarre weather years in American history, climate research stands at a crossroads.

Scientists say they could, in theory, do a much better job of answering the question “Did global warming have anything to do with it?” after extreme weather events like the drought in Texas and the floods in New England.

But for many reasons, efforts to put out prompt reports on the causes of extreme weather are essentially languishing. Chief among the difficulties that scientists face: the political environment for new climate-science initiatives has turned hostile, and with the federal budget crisis, money is tight.

And so, as the weather becomes more erratic by the year, the public is left to wonder what is going on.

This is what it has come to: not only do we not have the political will to do anything about the greatest crisis our generation, we don't even have the political will to study the issue.

The various factions on the left can argue endlessly whether there's any point to seeking change through the ballot box, whether the President has done enough to advance liberal causes, and what the best course of action might be in the future.

But no matter what, it's painfully clear that the current system is broken, and small tweaks aren't going to fix it. The system is in need of a major overhaul.

The President's defenders would argue that he wasn't capable of making that overhaul alone. They would be right. But the problem is that before the overhaul can happen, people in positions of elected leadership are going to have to make the case for an overhaul--not just some folks occupying a public park.

And this is the core problem with most institutional Democrats. Given a system desperately in need of big and bold changes, almost the only ones making the case for radical changes and getting noticed are the psychos on the Right, not the Left.

Now, because most people don't really agree with the Right's "solutions"--if indeed they offer any at all, as on climate change where their "answer" is to do nothing--it may well be that Democrats will gain and/or hang onto power for a time.

But as the system itself breaks down and belief in the system deteriorates, the public will become increasingly enamored of those promising radical change. Any radical change.

The President promised that sort of change during his campaign. The President's defenders may say that he never did promise those things, that he only promised to "change our politics," and that far from taking bold, radical stances, the President simply promised to make partisans in Washington work more cooperatively together.

Well, if that's the case it hasn't worked. But more importantly, whether it worked is less relevant than the fact that whatever the President may have said about what he meant by "change," that's not what most people heard. What people heard when the President talked about "hope" and "change" was that we would get real changes in our lives that would truly give us hope again.

Now again, perhaps the President was not in a position to deliver it--perhaps no President could. In fact, there's no "perhaps" about it. There's no way a President could singlehandedly create the change that the Americans who elected Obama hoped he would bring. Those lofty expectations were never destined to be realized, not even if FDR had risen from the grave to take the oath of office.

But the President at least would need to make the case that these transformative changes are necessary, and that he is doing everything in his power to make them happen--even if, as with the case of the Boehner House, his power to make them happen is next to nothing. Whether the President actually even wants to make those changes is another issue, of course, but it scarcely matters one way or another what lies within the President's heart; what matters is what he says and does.

If safe and staid Democrats don't start promising some real populist changes to the system, the public will end up electing Republicans who promise a very different kind of populism we've seen all too often before, with disastrous results.

Here's hoping more Democrats change their rhetoric and priorities, and it doesn't come to that.