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Hope v. Solutions

This is the new narrative that the Clinton campaign is trying to promote. As the Obama juggernaut marches through February, Clinton has had to shift gears again. The simple fact that she is modifying her tactics and strategy is not something about which she should have to be defensive. Her choice of tactics, however, needs to be exposed for the very cynical and counter-productive approach that it is.

Solutions? Sen. Clinton's experience and battle-tested message has fallen flat and she is trying to "inflate" it by promising not merely to work hard and smart, but to actually solve our problems.

For a salesperson to promise that their product will solve a consumer's problem is one thing. For a candidate for elective office in America to promise solutions is something entirely different.

It is, in fact, the worst kind of false promise because it is neither achievable nor desirable. Our political system was not designed in a way that would allow politicians to solve people's problems. By going to this rhetorical device Sen. Clinton is embracing the one element of conservatism's critique of liberalism in the U.S. that contains an element of practical truth. Government in America is not capable of, nor designed to, solve people's problems for them.

She is contrasting her promise to solve problems with Obama's promise to lead a movement for change as if her promise was achievable and his was not. She wants voters to see a contest between hollow inspiration and achievable perspiration, between hope and problem solving action.

This is ironic because our political system is designed to prevent politicians from using their positions to compel the imposition of particular solutions. Indeed, our government's framers created a system that would at best help people manage their problems over time. The only people who can actually solve problems like flawed education systems, inadequate healthcare and narrow-minded foreign policies are the American people themselves. Moving toward solutions requires the American people to take action. Leadership is about moving people to action, not acting for them, or simply cheering them on.

For conservatives, progress is best accomplished without much government involvement. For John McCain, trusting the ingenuity and strength of the American people means getting off their backs and freeing them up to solve their own problems. For liberals, the American people can solve their own problems best by working together with, within and without government. Barack Obama is not promising to solve problems. He is promising to lead Americans in their efforts to solve their own problems and to enlist the resources and ingenuity of a people who are the government. Government "of, by and for" the people can't possibly require the artificial separation sought by conservatives. Nor can it mean that Americans are merely political consumers, or utility maximizers, whose vote should go to the candidate who will do the most for them.

In a competition so important, over-promising is hard to avoid. My approach is to support the party and the candidate who moves me to action without limiting the arena for action, not those who promise to act on my behalf, or those who promise to simply leave me alone. We don't need a manager or a cheerleader, we need a leader.

Jerold J. Duquette