Backing Up the ‘Change We Need’

By Beacon Staff

For most of history in most of the world, power has only changed hands as the result of violence. In the modern era, still only in a minority of the world, democracy has changed that. Democracy makes real change possible by a peaceful process of elections.

In the record-breaking and historic election that just occurred in the United States, the American people by the free casting of their votes, have peacefully but powerfully changed the leadership of our country. Change is coming in January, and in the months to follow each of us will have to decide if it is indeed the “Change We Need.”

Given that more than 80 percent of Americans feel the country has been on the “wrong track,” there is a consensus for a change of direction. Those on the conservative side of the political spectrum are understandably skeptical that the change the new president will bring will be the kind of change that they believe we need.

Obama supporters, though, are enthusiastic about the outcome of the election, and most McCain supporters, in the democratic tradition, are thoughtfully reserving judgment on the performance of our new commander-in-chief. After all, if the President’s program is successful, the benefit will be to our country. If Obama succeeds, the country will succeed.

The goal of a successful political campaign is to defeat your opponent. In successfully governing it is to co-opt him. Obama proved to be a tough, resourceful and relentless campaigner, but in playing to win, he also employed the rhetoric of a unifier. A much-repeated line in his campaign speeches was, “I am running for President to set aside the old ideological debates and unify this country once again.”

President Bush used an appeal to bipartisanship, as a political candidate, but was never successful in working with his opposition. As a senator, John McCain did succeed in reaching across the partisan divide, but that tendency weakened his support among core Republican conservatives.

Obama will have the same problem. He must keep faith with his loyal supporters, but they alone do not make up a unified country. He needs to reach beyond them to prove his rhetoric is real.

One powerful and positive signal our new President can send that would clearly show he is serious about governing inclusively is the selection of Republicans to his cabinet. He has indicated a willingness to do this, but if he does so in a way that implies tokenism, there will be no unifying result.

However, if for example he were to name Republican Senator Richard Lugar, perhaps the Senate’s most respected expert on foreign policy, to the hugely important position of Secretary of State, he would demonstrate both change from the old order of doing things, and that he is sincere in his promise to invite his opponents in, and give them a meaningful seat at his table.

Likewise, Obama’s selection of former prosecutor and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to be attorney general would send a similar signal.

Job one for our new President will be to focus on getting America back on the right track domestically. Our economy already appears to be mending, but the reassuring leadership that Obama projects well will be critical to stabilizing and improving our economy.

On the international scene, America needs to engage more broadly, and politically, with rest of the world. We are not viewed as the respected leader that we once were. By his name and appearance, Obama projects as a citizen of the world, and therefore, may be in the best position of any head of state to exert positive leadership for democracy and freedom on a global basis.

Obama is the product of democracy. His dramatic and peaceful ascension would not have been possible in any other system. His challenges are great, but so are his opportunities. All loyal Americans now wish him well.

Bob Brown, former Montana State Senate President and Secretary of State, is a Senior Fellow at the University of Montana’s Center for the Rocky Mountain West