Making Change in a 'Ballotocracy'

"Ballotocracy is not democracy." -- Richard Haass, president of Council on Foreign Relations.

I'm old enough to remember when parents actually made their children go outside and play. Matter of fact, when I was a kid some of my kinfolk would even suggest where to play. "Hey, Sean, why don't you go play in traffic." They were joking. I think.

Maybe it was the Marine in him, but my stepfather's go-outside-and-play ethic didn't let up, even on special occasions like the Super Bowl. I think it was the year the 49ers gave the Broncos a world class horse-whoopin, Pop said something like: "Why are you watching people play on TV? Never mind watching the game. You should be outside doing it yourself."

Times have changed.

But to be fair, it was easier go out and play when I was a kid, back when TV went off the air in the wee hours to sound of the national anthem; back when there were only three or four channels, including all of those snowy channels on the UHF dial; back when Super Bowl winners stomped their opponent into oblivion by halftime. There wasn't any of this down-to-the-wire, New England Pats style games where the game is won by a field goal or because of a referees call. Nope. In my day, the Super Bowl was over by halftime. "Oh, it's 48 to 3? Let's go outside and play football, like the man said!"

So, I suppose my stop-being-a-couch-spectato childhood helped condition me to be skeptical - maybe even cynical - about presidential politics, which has all the trappings of a spectator sport where muted questions lurk in the dark recesses of the mind: why am I rooting for this team? Who cares which teams wins? I don't win anything, other than the fleeting and overrated feeling of I-told-you-so pride. Nothing changes for me or anyone I know.

I know the conventional wisdom. Voting is a civic duty. Election '08 is a watershed historical moment. "Change" and "hope" are in the air. Reminds me of when Bill Clinton's political star was on the rise, only to be followed by him "feeling our pain," while marching the Democratic Party steadily rightward.

With Mike Huckabee and Barack Obama being the underdog winners in Iowa, "change" and "hope" are with us again. And that's a good thing.

Like most Baptist preachers, Huckabee is a smooth talker; though Obama's Iowa victory speech was on the next-level - genuinely moving and probably a lock for Great American Speech Hall of Fame status. But, all this "change" rhetoric is a little suspicious. And it's not just the voice of my step-father talking.

After studying the foreign policies of past presidents, whenever I hear presidential candidates talking about "change" I reflexively sneer: yeah right. Because one of the most striking aspects of the foreign policy decisions of past presidents is their consistency - not in style, but substance; no matter who's in the White House defending the "national interest" abroad. The consistency being that "national interest" is understood to mean business (class) interest, as Maj. General Smedley Butler tried to tell us in "War Is A Racket" back when FDR was in office.

Change? One of Hillary's key advisers is Madeliene Albright - the diplomat who, when asked on 60 minutes if she thought the 500,000 Iraqi children who died under the U.S.-led sanctions (during the Clinton years) was worth it, answered: "we think the price was worth it."

One of Obama's foreign policy advisers is Anthony Lake. The same Anthony Lake who was "pushing for the invasion of Haiti" as a diplomat in the Clinton administration, as he told PBS' Frontline in 2004.

On the Republican side, Huckabee is reportedly yukking it up with political strategist Dick Morris, Clinton's former adviser. And Huckabee's national campaign manager is GOP insider Ed Rollins, Ronald Reagan's former campaign director.

Guiliani is down with Norman Pohoretz, author of "World War IV" and the conservative intellectual who thinks we should bomb Iran, like, yesterday.
In Sen. McCain's corner is Alexander Haig, whose record overseeing U.S. policy in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua sends shivers down the spines of peace-lovers everywhere.

Mitt's man is Cofer Black, longtime CIA officer and Blackwater USA executive.

Change? You want that in quarters or dimes-and-nickels?

Sean Gonsalves is a syndicated columnist and an assistant news editor with the Cape Cod Times. He can be reached at

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