Mr. Word’s definition of the day: to change

“To alter; to make different; to cause to pass from one state to another; as, to change the position, character, or appearance of a thing; to change the countenance.” — Webster, 1913.

Barack Obama is the official candidate of change. In last night’s debates in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton boasted that she was a bigger candidate of change than Obama, and further, she had been changing for thirty-five years! Mitt Romney, the next day, agreed with his Democrat cousins, when at a rally he said, “What is needed is change.” All of the other candidates, both Democrat and Republican, agree, more or less stridently, that change is a requirement for the new president.

By the way, an informal statistical count I conducted in last night’s debate shows Fred Thompson using this word the least. Obama, of course, used it the most.

Change is such a strong word, so often found in political rhetoric, because it is infinitely malleable. What makes it so powerful is that you define, to yourself, what change means. You then project this definition onto your candidate of choice and assume his definition is the same as yours. So when the candidate speaks of change, it is as if he is speaking directly to you.

That is, as long as the candidate does not go too far and make a statement that actually contradicts what your definition is. So the more the candidate vapidly speaks in generalities about change and concurrently avoids specifics, the better it is for that candidate, in the sense that use of change has the power to convince the largest number of people that the candidate believes as they do.

Change is also a weak, nearly meaningless, word because anything that happens in the future will be a change from what happened until now. It is hardly necessary to say that George Bush will not be president next year. His exit will be a change that whomever wins the election will bring. World events will certainly change by 2009, and the new president will certainly have to do things differently in the future to meet these exigencies. The membership of Congress will certainly be different in 2009, and this new Congress will put forward new bills which the new president will have to sign or not. So again, the new president will have produced change.

Change, then, is certain. No matter who is elected, that person must bring change, and so every candidate is therefore a candidate of change. It is impossible that they not be so. Therefore, to seek out the candidate of change is a useless activity.

Though perhaps you were thinking, what you really meant by change was, for example, when Obama said, “We need a change in foreign policy.” You assumed he meant by this an “abandonment of the Bush ‘Doctrine’.” And you might be right, but this was only a guess on your part. It is proof, however, that it was you who were defining what change meant. You cannot be sure it is what Obama also thinks unless he explicitly says what a change in foreign policy actually is.

As a note, it is also empty for a candidate to say, “We need a change from the Bush ‘Doctrine'” unless that candidate is also prepared to explicitly define what the “Bush Doctrine” is.


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