Memory Lane

Before computers were friendly and usable, the geeks among us loved the asterisk.  Forgotten by most, it shares a flat with number “8” on the northern row of the keyboard.  As a wildcard for filenames, file extensions, and directories, the asterisk was – and still is – a great way to list, find, move, and copy files if you’re a man with no need for mouse. *

To capture all files, *.* is the whole enchilada.  The first asterisk selects all filenames and the second accepts all file extensions.  It’s the ultimate populist wildcard that makes sure no file is left behind.

In politics we use the asterisk wildcard all the time — sometimes to our peril.   The best and most recent example is President Obama’s, “Change We Can Believe In.”  “Change” acts like an asterisk because we attach our own meaning to it — good or bad.

For those on the Left, “change” is a wildcard for universal health care, renewable energy, Gay rights, progressive tax laws, closing Guantanamo, etc.  Unlike our lingering presence in Afghanistan,  Obama’s progressive agenda items were the change they voted for.

For moderates and independents that supported Obama in the general election, “change” meant a new guard that was youthful, well-educated and fully committed to effective governing and bipartisanship.  So far, we haven’t seen this change.  Yes, universal healthcare became law, but what’s the point if costs are not contained?  Yes, torture is wrong, but giving Miranda rights to a terrorist and losing valuable intelligence is  stupid.  In the general election, Obama ran as a moderate.  As a president, he’s governed to the Left and then to the Right, always trying his best to deliver change — whatever that means.

Of course, conservatives take a more jaundiced view of the change asterisk and the only change they want is a more fiscal approach to governing. Very simply, the Right interprets change as too much government and anything Obama proposes is suspect. 

By the way, conservatives have their own asterisk in the form of the Tea Party Movement.  All sorts of causes have attached themselves to this grass roots initiative, but when you poll Tea Party members if they want their Medicare changed, the back pedaling begins.  Yes, please change everyone else’s safety net, but don’t you dare touch Medicare.   

Occupiers of Wall Street, Oakland, et al, have a tougher time defining the asterisk.  Their * ranges from taxing-the-rich to overthrowing capitalism.  Without a spokesperson, it is the wildest of wild cards.

Unfortunately for political sloganeers and elected officials, there comes a point when asterisks lose their wildcard status; change becomes real and vague imagery and flowery language turns into executive orders, bills and law: it’s like butterflies turning into caterpillars.   Reagan’s “Shining City on the Hill” was a great campaign asterisk that appealed to moderates and conservatives but ultimately it took definition and his “city” was fairly conservative on most issues. 

So far, the “change” Obama represents was a hard Left after the presidential election on health care reform and Gauntanamo, then a shift to the Right when he signed the Bush tax cuts into law, and now back to the Left to raise taxes  on top wage earners.  The Great Triangulator, Bill Clinton, jockeyed his administration to the right after a dismal midterm election and did a pretty good job of keeping his wild card asterisk in play throughout his administration – no pun intended.

With threes years under his belt, Obama’s change has been all over the map.  Many believe he will steer to the Right as the general election approaches and then move back to his comfort zone — the Left — for the second term.  Unfortunately for him, the voters may be ready for yet another change in White House.


* I recently had a visit down memory lane when Vista crashed on my home PC, the mouse died, and I had to copy all my JPEG photos to a large flash drive using just my keyboard.  I typed:   xcopy c:/users/Jim/my documents/my pictures/*.* g: \p   and, nervously, hit enter.  It worked!  Like Chris Mathews, I felt a tingle down my leg.

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