Stop us if you've heard this before
Presidential candidates this election season are once again promising "change," enormous volumes of it. Needless to say, they're not the first aspirants for the job to vow fundamentally different and better days. With two exceptions, the following 11 excerpts are from acceptance speeches made by presidential nominees of both major parties at their respective conventions going back to 1960. See if you can figure out who said what. Better yet, see if you can decipher any instructive pattern whatsoever. The answers are below. (Only sticks-in-the-mud peek.)
1. "Today our concern must be with [the] future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do."
2. "[M]y fellow Americans, something new, something different has happened. It is the end of an era and the beginning of a new day."
3. "The time has come to leave the valley of despair and climb the mountain so that we may see the glory of the dawn—a new day for America."
4. "We are entering a new period of important and hopeful change in America, a period comparable to those eras that unleashed such remarkable ferment in the period of Jefferson, Jackson and Roosevelt."
5. "I respect the convictions of those who want change in Washington. I want change, too."
6. "Together, let us make this a new beginning. ... Tonight, let us dedicate ourselves to renewing the American compact."
7. "Now that we have changed the world, it's time to change America."
8. "This nation is daring and decent and ready for change. ... My fellow citizens, we can begin again."
9. "We have it in our power to change the world again."
10. "Change we can believe in."
11. "I've made the greatest change."
1. John F. Kennedy in 1960. The four quick sentences came shortly after he said: "Our task is not merely one of itemizing Republican failures." Take that, Nixon.
2. Hubert H. Humphrey in 1968. In kicking off a campaign in the middle of a war in Vietnam and riots in Chicago streets, he also said: "We must make this moment of crisis a moment of creation."
3. Richard Nixon in 1968. It was his revenge for what Kennedy suggested about him and President Eisenhower in 1960.
4. George McGovern in 1972. He followed up by saying: "We reject the view of those who say, 'America -- love it or leave it.' We reply, 'Let us change it so we may love it more.'" Nice sentiment, though not the most musical of lines.
5. Gerald Ford in 1976. His call to action was a bit crisper when he also said: "After 22 long years of majority misrule, let's change the United States Congress."
6. Ronald Reagan in 1980. "We need," he added, "a rebirth of the American tradition of leadership at every level of government and in private life as well."
7. Bill Clinton in 1992. For populist measure and possible future use by the First Lady, he added: "I have news for the forces of greed and the defenders of the status quo: Your time has come and gone."
8. George W. Bush in 2000. In the same way that opponents warn that a McCain presidency would constitute a third Bush term, Bush alluded to Al Gore's ties to Bill Clinton by saying: "This is not a time for third chances, it is a time for new beginnings."
9. John Kerry in 2004. "America can do better. And help is on the way." He repeated this many times, albeit changing prefixes each time.
10. Barack Obama's campaign signature in 2008. It probably will show up again at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.
11. John McCain in Portsmouth, N.H., in 2008. Determined not to be either outdone or outchanged, he'll probably say something like it again at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in September.
Anyone who is compelled to say "the more things change, the more they stay the same" (even in French) is disqualified for obviousness.
Mitch Pearlstein is founder and president of Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis. He thanks Andy Cook, an intern at the Center and a student at Colby College, for his research for this column.
This commentary originally appeared in the Star Tribune on June 22, 2008.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted.