Call me cynical, but I’ve had just about enough of the empty platitudes this presidential election season — particularly the candidates’ emotional appeals for "hope" and "change." Change? From inside the Beltway? You can’t be serious, can you?
Washington is a multi-billion dollar, monolithic entity — composed of hundreds of career lawmakers, as well as thousands of agencies, corporate lobbyists, and lifelong bureaucrats. Aside from the 535 members of Congress, many of whom are faceless even among their own constituents, this Leviathan operates in a manner that is entirely unaccountable to the voting public.
In short, Washington is a bureaucracy — arguably the biggest, most bloated bureaucracy on this planet — and bureaucracies, by their very nature, are designed to stifle, not stimulate, change.
That said, even if Washington was an environment capable of responding to such idealistic expectations, neither the Democrat or Republican ticket is offering anything other than business as usual.
For all of Sen. Obama’s talk of change, there’s been little accompanying action. As a senator, what reform-minded legislation did Obama shepherd through Congress? Seems to me that the first-term senator has spent the bulk of his limited time in office campaigning for the White House rather than representing the needs of his constituents or championing for "change" from within.
Obama’s VP pick, the senior senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, is an anathema to change. Biden, who won his senate seat in 1972 at age 30, has spent more than half of his total time on Earth as a Washington insider. Of course, having lorded over American taxpayers so long, Biden can — unlike his running mate — take responsibility for numerous pieces of legislation. For example, during the mid-1980s, Biden was the chief senate architect of the federal anti-drug laws that re-established mandatory minimum sanctions for various drug possession crimes, and established the racially based 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crimes involving the possession of crack versus powder cocaine. Many academics have credited Biden’s law as one of the primary reasons why America now possesses the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, and why approximately one out of every nine young African-American males are now in prison. (Ironically, had Biden’s running mate and former admitted cocaine user Obama been convicted under federal law, his future political aspirations would have been limited to Barry the janitor, not President of the United States.)
Like all good politicians, Biden recently issued a verbal mea culpa for his role in disproportionately expanding the U.S. prison population (does saying "I’m sorry" count as "change"?), stating: "Our intentions were good, but much of our information was bad." Seems to me I heard the same thing from the GOP as it pertained to invading Iraq.
Of course, Republican presidential nominee John McCain is no better. The senior senator from Arizona has held his seat since 1982 — back when gas cost $1.28 a gallon, a new car cost under eight grand, and you could buy a new home for about $80,000. By my count, McCain has had 26 years in Washington to deliver the sort of "changes" he’s promising now. Has he?
On the flip-side, Alaska I’ve-yet-to-serve-one-full-term Gov. Sarah Palin is the antithesis of a Washington crony. That said, the greatest "change" she brings to Capitol Hill is being nominated for the second most powerful seat in the nation while possessing virtually no credentials, aside from arguably her gender, to have earned it.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite my jaded tone, I’m a strong believer in "change." But I look for it within my community, and more often than not, within myself. True "hope" and true "change" come from within one’s soul; they don’t emerge out of shallow platitudes uttered by career politicians residing 3,000 miles away in Washington.
This article originally appeared in the Vallejo Times Herald.