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Cenk Uygur

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What Did Obama Mean by Change?

Posted: 05/30/2012 8:28 am

No reporter has ever asked him as far as I know. I don't know if any will ask this time around. What did you mean by "Change" anyway? He ran a whole campaign on it and does anyone really know what Barack Obama meant he was going to change?

I'm in the camp that he hasn't changed a damn thing. People will counter with Lilly Ledbetter. It's a lovely law, but does anyone really believe that's what was meant by the grandiose statement "Change"?

Of course I use Lilly Ledbetter as a symbol. President Obama obviously has more accomplishments than that. He really did change the laws and many people's perceptions on gay rights for example. Don't Ask, Don't Tell is history. The government is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act. And the President of the United States is finally for gay marriage. But did people really think Senator Obama meant he would change gay rights legislation? Is that what the 2008 election was about?

A little bit of financial reform (which so far has proven to be as ineffectual as progressive critics predicted) certainly doesn't qualify as "Change." Thirty million more Americans insured -- maybe, hopefully, by 2014 -- is a good thing. Is it transformational? Has Washington changed as we know it? Have we gotten "Change"?

Here is the common sense interpretation of what "Change" is -- changing the way Washington works. In fact, this is exactly what was promised, specifically by Barack Obama. He even made a campaign ad about it:

That's an example of the same old game playing in Washington. I don't want to learn how to play the game better; I want to put an end to the game playing.

And by God, what have you done to that effect? I would venture to say, almost without refutation, absolutely nothing. Even the most ardent Obama supporter can't in good conscience or sound mental state argue that President Obama has changed the way Washington works. He's just played the game a little better, if you're being charitable on how you keep score on that count.

But here's what should really burn you up -- he hasn't even tried. Not even close. Has there been a single piece of legislation backed by the White House that would stop the way lobbyists or big corporate interests or any special interest groups buy our politicians? In 93% of the cases, the person with more money wins their Congressional race. Democrat or Republican. Obviously the controlling factor is not ideology, party or even votes. It's money. And it's obvious.

And the president has done what to "Change" that?

Nonetheless, I'm insanely optimistic and naïve. So, I say we give him one more chance. But there is no way you should just trust him and hope for the best. He has to actually do something this time instead of just hanging a campaign placard up.

Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky has introduced a bipartisan bill that would amend the constitution to say that money cannot control our elections. Will the president make this one of his top priorities? Will he campaign on it? Will he do everything in his power to pass it if he is re-elected?

If he does, then we should let bygones be bygones. The slate is wiped clean and God bless second terms and the concept of redemption. If the president makes a real effort on the campaign trail to emphasize this as one of his core issues, then progressives should turn out to do everything they can to get him elected, whether it's voting, donating or volunteering. We're not asking for much in return -- just deliver on your original promise.

On the other hand, if he can't even do this, then it's obvious that the Democrats will never, ever help us. It will be painfully clear that they are part of the same corrupt system and have no interest in ever changing it. In fact, they love that system because it is what keeps them in office.

But this is not a decision for me to make. It is for the president. Which way will he go? Will he continue to play small-bore politics? Will he continue his rhetorical games and hope we don't realize that he is being too clever by half? Will he play the same old Washington games and hope to play them just a little better? Or will he actually lead and bring us real change?

Despite all the broken promises and all the cute political tricks, I still have the audacity of hope. I'm just waiting for President Obama to put it out one last time, so we can really go to war against Washington -- all of it. Democrats and Republicans alike. The public has a pox ready for both of their houses and only one man has the antidote. Let's see what he does.

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