Great presidential campaign slogans capture both the character of the candidate and the mood of the voters. In the recent election the Obama campaign found one that did and “Change We Can Believe In” will follow “I like Ike” into history as one of the great ones.As hard as great slogans are to find, presidents often find them even harder to live up to after election. Woodrow Wilson’s “He kept us out of war!” sank in the wake of troopships carrying Doughboys to France. Herbert Hoover’s promise of “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” broke in the breadlines of the Great Depression.
Polls since Barack Obama’s election confirm that voters continue to demand change, but they also show considerable differences as to what that change should be.
Do these differences doom Obama to breach faith with the slogan that elected him?
It seems not, so far.
America is quickly finding that the President-elect recognizes that the first change we need is in how decisions are made so that he will make better decisions than his predecessor.
Obama’s first “Change We Can Believe In” is to drastically expand whom he will listen to while making decisions.
For the last eight years we have been governed by an administration driven by an ideological approach to decision-making. Listening to or debating views contravening the ideology was often viewed as irrelevant, unneeded and unwelcome, leaving many decisions pre-ordained by a neo-conservative view of right and wrong.
This is where we need real change. Not a change to a different ideology, but rather a change to an openness that recognizes that no single ideology has all the right answers for moving our country forward and that most ideologies contain at least the seeds of some right answers.
As evidence of Obama’s belief in this, consider that his Cabinet nominations have been of strong, smart, experienced and opinionated leaders who are guaranteed to give him a wide range of views vigorously argued. Rather than discouraging different opinions among his advisors, Obama is demanding them, even including opinions from members of the preceding administration. This new President believes that he can reach the best decisions by listening to people who see things differently than he.
Similarly, Obama has confirmed the value of differing opinions from those outside his new administration and his own political party. By inviting Rev. Rick Warren to offer the inaugural invocation, Obama does not signal agreement with Warren’s religious and social views, but rather shows his respect for all people of good faith whose opinions may contribute to full debate and better decisions. Ernest Hemmingway observed: “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
We need a change to an administration that listens to and draws from a spectrum of divergent ideas; the key being to both listen to and draw from the full spectrum of ideas available to it.
We need a change from an administration that shuts out those that do not agree with its preconceived ideas of what is right, to an administration that understands that everyone can have useful ideas and is prepared to listen to them.
We voted for change. Let us let our new President make that change by listening to a wide range of views, especially those views that he and his supporters may not agree with. Our new President has looked pretty smart so far. Let us give him a chance to hear from everyone and then count on him to be smart enough to make the best decisions. This would be a change we can believe in.
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