The Same Old Change

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

We will likely see a lot of political “readjustments” come January, once President-elect Barack Obama and many new Democratic congressmen assume office, and the Republican administration leaves.

Take the filibuster. For much of the Bush administration, out-of-power Democratic senators defended it as a hallowed tradition of American politics. But as the ruling majority, they will soon probably redefine the filibuster as a sort of nihilism practiced by bitter Republicans to obstruct the Obama agenda. Of course, when in power, Republicans themselves once deplored the filibuster as fossilized obstructionism.

Remember all the trouble President Bush has had with court appointments? The Senate Democrats for the last eight years stalled confirmation hearings, denying the president the traditional prerogative of selecting qualified jurists who shared his philosophy.

Much to these same Democrats’ dismay, beleaguered Senate minority Republicans may soon agree with the past use of such roadblocks and learn to impede simple up-and-down votes on judicial nominees. To them, such tactics will be reinvented as necessary to stop Obama-appointed liberal judges from flooding the courts.

Recently, Democrats called for unity and an end to the politics of personal destruction against our new, shared President-elect Obama. So let us hope that New York publishers will now refrain from publishing any more foul novels like Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint, whose characters debate the wisdom of assassinating George W. Bush.

Let us also hope that when Barack Obama is nearing the end of his term, filmmaker Oliver Stone does not offer the electorate a damning mythic film called H that emphasizes the wild college days of President Barack H. Obama when, decades ago, as he freely admits, he used both hard drugs and marijuana.

Public financing of campaigns was a liberal given for over a quarter-century. Democrats argued that conservative big money and national big politics always made a toxic brew. Then the suddenly cash-rich Obama renounced that old liberal gospel, rightly betting that his Democrats could out-raise even fat-cat Republicans.
Now with Democrats enjoying the advantages of incumbency — but fearful of wounded conservatives determined never again to be outspent — will majority liberals become born-again supporters of public limits on fundraising in the upcoming elections of 2010 and 2012?
Most polls reveal that American voters believed that their media was biased in favor of Obama. The popular journalist Chris Matthews even bragged that it was his job responsibility to see that President-elect Obama succeeds.

So when a few disgruntled Obama administration officials leave government to cash in with tell-all memoirs about the president’s shortcomings — and some always do — will journalists, as they did with the numerous Bush tell-all apostates, praise them for their voice-in-the-wilderness candor? Or will they, as Republicans once did to their own defectors, blast them as crass publicity-seeking turncoats?
When fickle and self-interested Europeans once opposed strutting cowboy George Bush, they were praised as sophisticates. Now if they resist renewed calls from hip and cool Barack Obama to shoulder more responsibilities — and they will — are they to be suddenly scolded as unappreciative and self-centered?

Abroad, we were told that it is time to change the policies of George Bush that were unilateral and offensive. For example, pushing missile defense on Eastern Europe was said to be needlessly provocative to Russia. But will that still be true if President Obama decides to support it?

There are lessons here for everyone. Polarized Republicans and Democrats justify the means by which they practice politics by their self-described exalted ends. The only constant is they’ll each do anything when out of power to regain it — and anything while in power to retain it. All candidates say almost anything to get elected and call it idealism. Then when in office, they renege on what they promised and call it realism.

The media, meanwhile, should be careful not to abandon fairness and discretion for short-term political advantage. When the wheel turns — and it, too, always does — what you did or said will come back to haunt you.

Obama and his giddy Democratic majority sound like they think they will now be novel exceptions to these iron laws of politics, as if they really believe their hype that they are the “change” we have been waiting for, with cosmic power to stop the planet from heating and the seas from rising.

But the only real difference from the past old politics is that the present avatars of “hope and change” apparently don’t believe that the age-old adage — “The more things change, the more they remain the same” — will really apply to them as well.

©2008 Tribune Media Services

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