CHANGE….Andrew Sullivan on Barack Obama:

He is very, very careful not to get too angry as a black candidate. Perhaps too careful for his core message: real change. What he needs to do is find a way to explain how serious he is about change while explaining that he alone can overcome the boomer polarization that has prevented it.

I hear this a lot, but I wonder if it misreads the American mood at the moment. Sure, the public is ready for “real change,” but what kind of change? There are several obvious possibilities:

  • A change from George Bush. Yes, definitely. But all three of the major Democratic candidates offer this.

  • A change from movement conservatism. Ditto.

  • A change from the the bitter polarization of recent years. This is obviously what Obama is hoping for, but how deep is the evidence for this? There’s no question that Washington elites have a jones for bipartisanship — which is why this gets written about so often — and if you ask a vague poll question about whether politicians should stop squabbling, of course everyone will say yes. But beyond that, I’ve seen very little evidence that the American public is yearning for a round of Kumbaya. In fact, among both Democrats and Republicans, and even among many Independents, it strikes me that people want someone who will stick up for their values and fight like hell for them. Polarization is not their #1 concern.

  • Change from the “I’m on a mission from God” style of leadership. George Bush figured he could change the world by ruling from his gut. The result has been six years of ceaseless tension and drama, from Terry Schiavo to Iraq to Social Security to Katrina. In this sense, I suspect the American public wants less change. They’d like to see someone who can simply govern competently, someone who actually takes policy seriously, and someone who can restore an American consensus on foreign policy overseas. From this perspective, Hillary Clinton is the agent of change, not Obama.

The strengths and weaknesses of the three major Democratic candidates bubble just slightly below the surface, I think. All three are electable, for example, but which one is most likely to help with downballot races? (My guess: Obama.) All three have similar healthcare plans, but which one is most likely to get something decent passed into law? (My guess: Hillary.) All three kinda sorta want to get us out of Iraq, but which one is most likely to do it? (My guess: Edwards.) Take your pick.

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