Barack Obama is running almost purely as the candidate of change, and has been for his whole political career. Accordingly, he has the most complex, multi-faceted, and well-developed change message of any major candidate in either party, even ahead of libertarian/survivalist Republican Ron Paul.
When I visited BarackObama.com on Sunday, the first three slogans I saw were
“Change we can believe in” (his overall campaign tagline)
“New Hampshire – Our time for change has come”
“I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington … I’m asking you to believe in yours.”
And it continues from there. Obama has been active in various return-the-government-to-the-people kinds of issues – campaign finance reform, a search engine of government information (which he presented on the debate as a big deal), and so on. His “Let’s be united, not divided” message is couched in terms of change. His recent book title “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream” is full of words with connotations of change. He calls himself a “progressive.” He even compares himself to Martin Luther King. And his campaign hardly shies away from the suggestion that Obama’s very skin color would, if he were elected, represent dramatic change.
John Edwards’ message is similar, but at its core he’s pushing a narrower, classically populist concept of “change.” While Edwards says he and Obama offer a joint message of change, what he’s talking about can be pretty well encapsulated in three simple concepts:
“Defeat greedy and irresponsible corporations” (which unites his trial lawyer successes with his political life)
“Kick the bums out” (which he extends from Republicans and lobbyists to include the Clintons)
“End the Iraq war.”
If all these things happen, the working class and poor will (Edwards implies or says) benefit. A classic example of this approach is one of the oldest and most elaborate ones I found on a web search for Edwards’ “change” messaging, namely a “Change Wal-Mart, Change America” tour in 2006.
Hillary Clinton takes a very different approach to “change.” She certainly wants to change which party occupies the White House, along with many things about US public policy. But as she couches it, change happens one successful step at a time, and she takes credit for a number of such steps over her 35 year career (including the ones that happened on her husband’s watch as governor and President). While John Edwards says what’s most important is a passionate commitment to change, Clinton wants to focus voters’ attention on the actual process of making change happen, through legislation, implementation and — when necessary – compromise. And in many ways, she would be content with change that starts by bringing the United States back to the conditions it enjoyed during the Bill Clinton Administration – healthy economy, balanced budget, relative peace, and all the rest.