Thursday, January 10, 2008

Equivocally "Changing" the Game

Unless you've been in a coma for the last year or have been watching too much Survivor Man on your DVR than you've heard about the heated battle for the White House unfolding in recent months.

As we all know often times in elections (especially modern presidential elections) , rhetoric is the weapon of choice for candidates blazing the campaign trail. While logic and reason can change the voters' mind, rhetoric and emotion can change their hearts. This is not to say that anything is wrong with the use rhetoric and as history has shown, the best leaders have mastered its art. However, what a candidate gains in eloquence by the use of rhetoric is lost in ambiguity. This, I believe, is where the true danger in the power of rhetoric in politics lies. With so many clashing opinions on subjects across the board it is hard for one to keep track of each candidates unique definitions or terminology. For example in the 2004 elections words like "patriotic", "support for troops" and "national security" meant completely different things to John Kerry and George W. Bush.

In 2008, already in the primaries we've seen a similar effect take place. Specifically with the word "change", a bizarre shift in meaning has taken place between different candidates. It is a word that is being heard in every speech and on seen on every poster. Barack Obama introduced the idea of "Change We Can Believe In" to symbolizes a vision of "new politics" characterized by bipartisan politics and broader coalitions. Then just before the Iowa Caucuses Sen. Hillary Clinton positioned herself as a candidate for "change". The Clinton campaign however, uses the phrase "Ready for Change" to illustrate a need for change in status quo (i.e. the current administration). She also uses it to mean that she is ready to make changes on the first day and to promise immediate results or changes when she takes office.

After the success of Obama's campaign for "change" in the Iowa Caucus several other candidates have adopted the idea of "change" (e.g. Romney, Huckabee, Edwards). Romney's says "We all want change... not necessarily in the White House, but inWashington". While it might not be perfectly clear what Mitt Romney meant by that, what is important to note here is that we see multiple meanings in the word "change". Each candidate has shaped its meaning in order to fit their campaign.

When the exit polls showed that voters were responding to Obama's message of "change" all the other candidates wanted to cash in on the momentum and somehow incorporate "change" into their own message. Now all we hear about is change.

With all the talking heads and pundits in the media paired with the vague rhetorical messages of candidates deciding on a candidate can be a puzzle. Today's elections are no longer about who is right, but who can seem right. That is precisely why we rely on the rhetoric. In the end we're all playing the same game-the candidates, both parties, the voters- everyone. We can only hope that in 2008 people will vote on the side of the real underdog this year... truth.

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