Chump Change

Friday, January 4, 2008

Times change, more so in some aspects of our lives than others.

In the few decades I’ve been around, the pace of technological advance has been nothing short of phenomenal.  It’s been bold and profound, exciting and sometimes scary, all at once, each breakthrough building upon the one before it at an accelerating pace, one discovery in one field leading to another in another with a remarkable synergy among traditional and emerging disciplines.  Very cool, and what a rush.

Most days, I wear jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt to work in my office.  My father wore a suit.  (Actually, I’m not sure, but I think he may have slept in one, and my mother in her house dress.)  There you go.  Is this a great country, or what?

Social change, by comparison, takes time, and usually seems faster in retrospect than during the times when it was actually occurring.  Unquestionably, we’ve come a long, long way in just a couple of hundred years, and in my lifetime for that matter, changing our behavior and attitudes in profound and enduring ways while we struggle to keep up with the accelerating pace of our lives.  The progress we’ve made is impressive.  It’s not easy preserving the best of what we are while living up to our potential as individuals and as a people, without fully understanding what’s happening to us along the way.

The motto of the college I attended was “Ever changing, yet eternally the same.”  It was a good college, and a great time to be a student high on the excitement of political and social events which would affect forever how I think about myself and our country.  There was an unpopular war, and a political movement of historic proportions and impact which grew out of the fears, frustration and exuberance of my generation.  And I met my wife on that campus, without question the best single thing that’s ever happened to me.  It was a time, and I was of an age, when the prospect of change was a sure thing.

This piece isn’t an endorsement of any particular candidate.  It’s a commentary on the abuse of a word.  They can talk about it all they want, but no one, however well meaning or determined, is going to bring about any fundamental change in the way our government works during the time he or she is in office.   I don’t want change, I want progress.  I want a smart, efficient universal health care program, for example.  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t, but that’s not the point.  I want to get it done, or not, and to stop talking about it.  I want to get over the feeling that what we’re paying for our government amounts to tipping a waiter for just being there.  I want to feel like I’m getting my money’s worth for the taxes I’m paying.  The more our candidates promise change, the less I think they understand the meaning of the term.  More to the point, it’s not even what I want.  It’s off point, and I’m tired of their rhetoric.

I seldom go out to the movies any more.  My wife and I are busy, and there’s plenty to watch on TV while we do stuff around the house.  When I do go, I want it to count.  A few months ago, I’m sitting in the back of the theater while my wife reads the credits like she’s related to the caterer and can’t wait to see his name on the big screen.  Two rows in front of me, another man sitting next to his wife rises to his feet, looks down at her and says exactly what I’m thinking.  “Well, that’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.”  That’s pretty much how I feel about Presidential campaigns.

Could the candidates please stop promising change, set a limited number of objectives for their Presidency that they might actually be able to accomplish, and explain precisely how and over what period of time they’re going to do it?  I don’t want change from my government.  We, the people, will take care of that.  He or she isn’t going to be the “Leader of the Free World.”  We are – provided, of course, that we prove worthy of the title.  The President is our employee.  I don’t want a President who changes anything.  I want results from an intelligent, savvy, professional manager, through a realistic agenda within the context of the current bureaucracy.  If only there was someone like Michael Bloomberg running for office.  (Did I say that out loud?)


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