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The Times They are A' Changing - Again

The Times They are A' Changing - Again

By Richard Reeves - October 18, 2008

LOS ANGELES -- It is obviously time for a change. A big change. You don't have to be Machiavelli or a trained historian to understand what has happened this year when the Republican candidate for president, in televised debate, attacks the incumbent Republican president.

That moment, John McCain attacking George W. Bush, was the most important thing that happened in the 2008 confrontations between McCain and his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama.

It has been a strange and wild and wonderful campaign. It began, back in 2007, with a compressed primary campaign that most of us thought would produce both Republican and Democratic candidates in the early weeks of this year. In fact, if back then you read and believed national polls, two controversial New Yorkers would be running against each other, Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the Republicans. The question was whether America was ready for a woman president or the Republicans were ready for a tough and sarcastic delicatessen guy who loves the Yankees. Ah, the Stone Age!

Instead we have gotten one of the longest and most draining of campaigns, a contest most people could not have imagined. The Republicans chose a septuagenarian survivor, John McCain, who simply outlasted what passes for flash and dash in his party. The Democrats narrowly rejected the next of the Clintons and chose a 47-year-old black man almost none of them had heard of five years before. And, odds are, the unflappable Sen. Obama will defeat the excitable Sen. McCain.

A black president in a country whose history has often been defined by the tyranny of the white majority? Perhaps. Obama has not only been impressive and innovative as a candidate -- using the Internet to outflank the fundraisers, party heroes, consultants and pundits who had become the middlemen between the public and politicians of both parties -- but has displayed a keen understanding of the presidency itself. And, in hard economic times, the one thing that may trump race is money, not campaign spending but the financial security and hope of the citizenry.

Hope. Presidents succeed because of their judgment and unflappability. They are not paid by the hour; they are paid to react to events that are unpredictable. The great ones understand that the job is not running the government, it is inspiring and leading the nation.

Change. This is the end of the Reagan presidency. For 28 years, the governing of America has been dictated by Ronald Reagan, a skillful leader able to unite the many wings of American conservatism and the Republican Party -- traditional small-government conservatives, economic conservatives, cultural and religious conservatives, the militaristic neo-conservatives.

Even a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, was forced to govern in the Reagan shadow (or sunlight), promising smaller government and delivering balanced budgets. The same thing was true in the 40-year presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Even Republican Richard Nixon had to call himself a big-government Keynesian economist and move ahead with liberal issues, including school desegregation and lefty initiatives such as environmentalism.

Now, whoever wins, we try to start anew. Renewal is what we are about. Obama should win not only because of the disaster that was George W. Bush, but because he is leading a new generation. The change in American attitudes, for anyone who has followed this campaign, has more to do with that change than with changed attitudes about race.

John F. Kennedy, another generational figure, representing the young men and their women who actually fought World War II as enlisted men and junior officers, came to office the first time, winning a seat in the House of Representatives in 1946, under the slogan, "The New Generation Offers a Leader."

Now, the new generation is offering Barack Obama. I am only one of many parents who have seen, proudly, their youngest -- my daughter is an Obama field organizer in Wisconsin -- ignore the rewards of law or investment banking to devote almost two years in 11 states to try to elect the candidate they believe represents their hopes for the future.

(CLARIFICATION: Dozens of readers responded to my column last week about a businessman in Cleveland attacking Barack Obama in e-mails citing the Book of Revelations as predicting that a Muslim in his 40s will bring on the end of the world. In fact, Muslims are never mentioned in Revelations, which was written at the end of the first century, hundreds of years before Mohammad was born. Plus, of course, Obama is not a Muslim.)

Copyright 2008, United Press Syndicate Inc.

Richard Reeves

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