I was having a lazy lunch at a sidewalk cafe in the Village the other day, soaking up the last of the summer’s warmth, reading Plotinus.
"Excuse me, sir."
"Got any spare change?"
I looked up from my Cobb salad. It was a young Black man in sockless sneakers, cargo shorts, and a faded Jimi Hendrix T-shirt.
"Change? I’m sick of that word. I’m reading about immutability."
"I don’t mean change, I mean change. You know, jingle-jangle."
"Yeah, like my nerves. Well, since you brought up the subject, are you for Obama change or McCain change?"
"Dunkin’ Donuts change."
"Oh, you switched from Starbucks too. Surest sign of a faltering economy."
"Don’t waste my time, Mistah. Either you got it or you don’t."
"I don’t. I don’t got it and I don’t get it. Back in January, it was all so clear. Obama was that fresh face with fresh ideas we’d been longing for, and African-American too. We were sick of Bush in particular and Republicans in general. We desperately wanted out of Iraq, we wanted action on health care, we wanted a government that actually worked, for a change. Damn it, I’m saying it myself now. Hillary wanted the same things, but she wasn’t change-enough — too Establishment, too practical, too calculating, too Bill. ‘Change’ began to mean personalities, not positions. Even Teddy and Caroline rejected her. They saw in Obama the new New Frontier with that go-to-the-moon mentality. They saw the new Camelot. They saw Martin Luther King’s dream realized at last."
"My foot! Sorry, want to sit down? That was impolite of me. Want something? Burgers are good here."
"Coffee’s fine, thanks. Go on."
"Yeah. It was change-change-change, and we were so hungry for it we didn’t bother to ask what it was exactly, we were just enamored of the very idea of it. A bold, fearless plan to redirect the country would have forced voters to make a choice for or against a real change. But the issues weren’t the issue anymore. And the more Obama tacked to the center and hauled out the old pandering clichés, the more he began to look like your ordinary politician, except with a silver tongue. And if you don’t stand on substance, voters start thinking subliminally. A lot of White people who claim they aren’t racist will turn away from him because he’s Black."
"You’re telling me."
"Then enter McCain, that old war-horse, painting himself as Mr. Change. His positions are all Bush Lite, but by the time of the convention that didn’t matter, and he knew it. So to shore up his emotive base on the Christian right and try to cop the Hillary vote, he got Sarah Palin to run with him. She’s the governor of Alaska."
"That’s out there."
"In more ways than one. It was a brilliant stroke. It’s muddied up the lines all over the place. Home-schoolers are cheering, even though she’s never home. Hillary supporters are shifting over, even though Palin is Hillary’s opposite both on experience and on the issues. Undecided men are looking at her because her voice reminds them of some hyper high-school girlfriend, and she doesn’t wear pantsuits."
"You bet it is, and the worst kind. It’s the real Bridge to Nowhere. But she’s put the sizzle on his tough old steak."
"Good metaphor, man. They call him a maverick, right? But in the Old West, a maverick was an unbranded steer. When I was a kid, I saw some classic TV shows about that on Nick at Nite."
"Exactly. And that’s why he may pull this off. He claims he can run with either herd, so he can ‘get things done’ in Washington."
"But isn’t he reactionary on almost everything?"
"I told you, that doesn’t matter. It’s the image. People think he’s James Garner or something. But if they put him in, they’ll find out who he really is."
"I see. You can put lipstick on McCain, but he’s still McCain."
"I wish I’d said that. So where were we? Have you got any spare change?"
"Not me. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose."
"‘The more things change, the more ...’"
"‘... they remain the same.’ I knew that. You’re a hell of a panhandler."
"Actually, I’m a journalism student at NYU, researching a story. I think I just found one."