Something has happened to America recently. Perhaps the confluence of innovation and tragedy – technology coupled with 9/11 – has foisted upon the people a sense of urgent and personally gratifying results. Technology has granted us the license to communicate cheaply, globally, and quickly. We no longer wait. We no longer have patience. With September 11 still in our rear view mirror and two wars in the side mirrors, the calculus is to fulfill our desires, today.
I remember living in France during my junior year in college some twenty-five plus years ago. The highlight of the month, or more likely every other month, was to unexpectedly encounter a group of diverse students huddled outdoors in a public area, a sure sign that a broken pay phone was ahead. The group – Caucasian, African, and Middle Eastern - would assemble for hours, all with the giddy anticipation of possibly placing a “free” call back home and hearing the voices of our loved ones for a few splendid minutes. More often than not, the gendarme would arrive and the students would scatter. A handwritten letter sent across the pond, received in seven to ten days, would serve as the logical and ethical substitute. Until the next broken phone could be found.
Such technological simplicity is unimaginable in today’s world. While one would not necessarily welcome a return to those dinosaur days, the point is merely that in days past, gratification had to be harnessed, delayed and savored at a future date. The payoff was always at the end of a long journey. Today, we are no longer savers. Neither money nor emotional spirit is collected or conserved. Homes are often purchased fresh out of college, jobs are terminated frequently, and friends are recycled. The words ‘girlfriend’ and ‘boyfriend’ have lost their former meaning, if not their importance.
Political candidates must fit this new paradigm. They must be pristine, responsive, and willing to channel the sentiments of this audience. “Change” is more than Obama’s mantra; it is also the written representation of the fluidity of life in the 21st century. Look ahead, embrace change, accept that newer is better, and memories be damned. Sentimentality holds little reverence. The press, lapdogs to any new angle that can generate a large audience, especially a relatively young audience, plays along and pushes the storyline. Chris Matthews, a sexagenarian eager to join the parade, even gets a thrill up his leg.
In this milieu, Hillary Clinton never had a chance. Change trumped experience, young beat mature, optimism defeated history. The economic wonder years of the 1990s, the Clinton trophy, were relegated to a mere circus sideshow – an oddity from another era.
The flipside is that such impatience is real. Change may be good, but changes to policy positions are not. I suspect that too much refinement or reversal of prior held beliefs, beliefs that engendered considerable goodwill and gratification, will not be endured indefinitely. Or else today’s impetuous crowd will be looking to anoint the next change agent.