Political Animal


October 15, 2012 3:55 PM Change and “Safe Change”

By Ed Kilgore

Greg Sargent argues today, quoting no less an authority than Stan Greenberg, at whose feet I often sit for enlightenment, that Mitt Romney’s recent polling gains, and with it a renewed chance to win the election, is attributable to his success in the first presidential debate in presenting himself as the candidate of “change.”

For months [Romney] operated from the flawed assumption that he could win by making the race all about Obama. Romney began surging only when he broke through at the debate with an affirmative case for his own agenda — because voters began entertaining the idea that Romney represents change, Greenberg says.
Obama was caught flat footed by this at the first debate, and didn’t make a clear enough case that he would pursue major changes himself in his second term. This was in striking contrast to his successful convention speech, in which he did lay out a case for major second term change, via investments in clean energy, manufacturing, the auto industry and education.
Greenberg says his polling suggests the American people favor Obama’s vision of future change — when it is clearly defined for them. If it isn’t, Romney will become the candidate of change in this race. “These are tough times — voters want to know that there is the possibility of real change, that the big issues facing the middle class will be addressed,” Greenberg says.

Now I couldn’t agree more than Obama needs to improve significantly in the ability to define a second-term agenda (something he didn’t do terribly well even in his convention speech). After all, you can’t have a successful “two futures” strategy without presenting your own vision of the future. And I also agree that the name most glaringly missing from Obama’s words in the first debate was “Bush,” in terms of depicting Romney’s entire agenda as a leaner and meaner version of W’s.

But that doesn’t, in my opinion, mean that Obama cannot and should not also go after Romney’s radicalism very directly—the “leaner and meaner” part of the equation of Romney = Bush.

Romney, much like Bush in 2000, is presenting himself as the candidate not just of change, but of safe change—the hyper-confident moderate technocrat, who will assess the country’s challenges each day without fear or favor, and do what is best without worrying about his party’s “base” or the radical ideologues who represent it. Like W., Romney is touting a reputation (in Mitt’s case, a bit questionable and long in the tooth) for working with Democrats, and is also asserting a degree of empathy and “compassion” notably lacking in the GOP these days. This ingredient of his latest self-presentation is just as important to his cause as the mantle of “change.”

So while it may seem complicated for Obama to label Romney as the candidate of the same-old, same-old, and also as a radical, it is both accurate and effective. The two candidates have different agendas for the future, and while one is well-tailored to tough current challenges, the other is essentially an effort to advance the worst qualities of Richard Nixon and the worst policies of George W. Bush and Barry Goldwater.

It shouldn’t be that terribly hard to distinguish a reactionary from a change agent. “Change” isn’t always good when it’s not “safe,” and a better alternative is readily at hand.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on October 15, 2012 4:21 PM:

    my buddy and I were talking yesterday, both baffled at why the citizens of the nation, clawing themselves out of the Great Recession created by the Republican Party during George W. Bush's eight years, would want to knowingly return to the exact (maybe worse) type of decisions under a Romney/Ryan ticket. That's not Change, that's the opposite of Change. Eight years of terribly wrong-headed decisions, countered by four years of trying to dig out from under those decisions, and apparently they are ready to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.
    I just can't see why a person would do that?

  • Kathryn on October 15, 2012 4:26 PM:

    For quite some time, I have believed Obama campaign needs to tie Romney's positions to Bush's, it's true for one thing, Clinton has done so masterfully several times.....Bush policies on steroids. Let's not forget the war mongerers on his foreign policy team also though that might be saved for the foreign affairs

  • Mitch on October 15, 2012 4:42 PM:


    "I just can't see why a person would do that?"

    Because most Americans are totally ignorant about our political system, and also current events.

    Nearly everyone seems to think that the President has full control of policies. They seem to think that having a Dem in office instead of a Repug automatically means that the government is going to follow the ideology of the Democratic Party. I think that most Americans view the President as "The King of Democracy" (to quote America: The Book), with nearly unlimited ability to carry out his desires and ideas. They do not understand the power of Congress, or the limitations of the Oval Office.

    Most people are also totally unaware of the fact that the GOP members of Congress have done everything in their power to block any legislation that might have helped during the Recession. Our fellow citizens are mostly clueless to the fact that the GOP has spent the past four years committed ONLY to making Obama have only one-term. They are also unaware of our policies, any and all policies.

    But who can be surprised by such ignorance? Almost half of our population thinks that the world is no older than 10,000 years. Knowledge and observation are not high on the list of priorities for far too many of our fellow citizens.

  • c u n d gulag on October 15, 2012 4:43 PM:

    Maybe they're NOT color-blind?

    All Obama needs to say is, "Mitt Romney, when you talk about the economy, I'm waiting to see a DeLorean. If you want the American people to go "back to the future" with you and your George W. Bush on steroids economic policies, you need a DeLorean. Or is it a Caddy, in your case?"


  • LAC on October 15, 2012 5:06 PM:

    The amount of stupid pills you have to take to believe that coke addled salesman version of Romney at the debate is the real deal is staggering. He is slimy and a liar and only because of a bunch of left wing hysterics in the media and stage four Obama Derangement syndrome sufferers on the right is this race tightening. Jesus, if the media did what Martha Raddatz did in the vice president debate with Ryan, it would be Romney having to respond to questions about his actual policies, and not having media hacks giving him a tongue bath about his "presentation" while kevetching about Obama's performance.

    I am no genius, but I get the difference. Besides speaking like Jim Ignatasky on Taxi ("what does a yellow light mean?" "Slow down." "Whaaaaaaaaat doessssssss aaaaaa yellowwwwwwwww ligggght meannnnnnnnn?") How much spoon feeding does Obama have to do with folks?

  • rk21 on October 15, 2012 5:46 PM:

    I think I can attempt to answer your question. I am an American though not by birth, and have spent a large part of my childhood and adolescence in different countries. I have seen that on average Americans are profoundly ignorant about every thing, not just politics. It has nothing to do with the education system, but a lot to do with culture. The culture celebrates sports and mocks knowledge. All else flows from these attitudes. The teachers in this country are some of the best in the world, but they cannot do it on their own (most parents are ready to blame teachers for the lack of their child's achievement). My point is that when a population has such a poor knowledge base it will always be attracted to low intellect, low knowledge know-nothings, like Regan, Bush and Romney-Ryan. Ryan passes for an intelligent wonk in this country. In some other countries he would be laughed off the stage. The only reason Obama got elected was because somewhere in the collective brain was fear and the realization that Bush screwed up big time, but it took less then two years for the lesson to be forgotten and republicans were handed back congress. The tragedy for the world is that the most powerful nation on earth has probably the most ignorant people on the planet.

  • Dredd on October 15, 2012 5:56 PM:

    There needs to be significant safe change, not just in the U.S., but in other places we interact with under dangerous circumstances.

  • T2 on October 15, 2012 6:53 PM:

    @rk21- I will take exception to your comment about America being the most ignorant people on the planet. That ,prima facia, is an ignorant comment.
    I lay the problem at the foot of the American Media, owned principally by Conservatives, dedicated to Kill the Goverment goals for their own enrichment. I"ll give you this, there are some stupid people here.

  • Anonymous on October 15, 2012 7:02 PM:

    Are we the most ignorant nation on Earth? No.

    Are we the most ignorant 1st world nation? Sadly, we almost certainly are.

    And we are also—by far—the most powerful. That's a very bad combination.

  • Ed Drone on October 16, 2012 11:51 AM:

    When Rmoney talks about change, what occurs to me is:

    He claims to be for change, but somehow it seems to me,
    Bad to worse is not the kind of change we need to see.

    (Stolen from a song I wrote about George W. Bush)