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Fall Edition
Volume 100, Number 2


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Members of the Messiah community share their thoughts on change

On politics

Why is "change" such a major point of focus in so many political campaigns? 

Change has, indeed, been a focus in many presidential campaigns throughout American history. Thomas Jefferson, invoking the “will of the majority,” regarded his triumph in the election of 1800 as a second American revolution. Likewise, Andrew Jackson’s election to the presidency was regarded as symbolic of the mass democratization that was sweeping the country in the 1820s and 1830s. Jackson saw himself as the embodiment of the popular will and trumpeted his “outsider” status. Perhaps the ultimate “change” agents were the Progressive reformers of the early 20th century. Progressive presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson campaigned for social, economic, and political reform. With regard to the latter, they championed direct democracy and criticized the system of separated powers/checks and balances that was established by the founding fathers. It is difficult to say why “change” has been central to so many campaigns throughout history. But it is worth noting that, in the United States, those who advocate “change” typically employ the language of “rights” and “democracy.” The most successful change agents have persuaded Americans that their ideas are consistent with America’s most cherished values, as expressed in beloved documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.          

How quickly (or slowly) can change really happen on the national level? 

Well, according to the aforementioned Progressives, change does not happen fast enough. The constitutional system devised by the founding fathers was and remains a system in which “veto points” abound. In other words, each branch of the national government has the power to obstruct and defeat the actions of the others. The House of Representatives can reject the legislative decisions of the Senate (and vice versa); the President can veto acts of Congress; and the Supreme Court can declare the acts of both the legislative and executive branches to be unconstitutional and thus void. According to the most thoughtful framers of America’s political institutions, the advantage of our constitutional order is that hasty and ill-contrived policies have an extremely difficult time surviving the political process. The problem, according to reformers like the Progressives, is that the political system lacks accountability and energy. Not only is it difficult for voters to know where to place blame when things go wrong, but the government often cannot keep pace with the changing social and economic demands of Americans.        

 

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