This is a photo of an embarrassing misattribution. It features a
quote often misattributed to Charles Darwin: It is not the
strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but
rather the one most adaptable to change.
photo by Colin
One peculiar irony of the 2008 Presidential campaign is that McCain’s
theme was “maverick,” and Obama’s was “change.” Those are
different expressions of the same idea: do things differently.
Those who study family dynamics are familiar with what happens in a
social system when someone tries to change. Essentially, the
person who is initiating change is told it is wrong. Then he is
told to revert to the old ways (change back!), then he is warned of
dire consequences. Also, the others attempt to enlist additional
parties as allies against the agent of change (this is called
This occurs even among others who wanted the change, who welcome the
change, and who think it is a good idea.
Regardless of who won the election, if he really tried to change
things, this was all predictable. Now we see the change-back
response in one of its many forms:
Sure Showed That Obama
By FRANK RICH
Published: February 14, 2009
AM I crazy, or wasn’t the Obama presidency pronounced dead just days
ago? Obama had “all but lost control of the agenda in Washington,”
declared Newsweek on Feb. 4 as it wondered whether he might even get a
stimulus package through Congress. “Obama Losing Stimulus Message War”
was the headline at Politico a day later. At the mostly liberal MSNBC,
the morning host, Joe Scarborough, started preparing the final rites.
Obama couldn’t possibly eke out a victory because the stimulus package
was “a steaming pile of garbage.”
What we see is that the Establishment is trying to marginalize Obama,
discredit him, knock him off stride. Rich points out that this is
Obama already had a reputation in DC. Prior to the campaign, he
was not viewed as a particularly strong agent of change.
Admittedly, among the American Left, he still isn’t viewed that
way. But he is somewhat threatening, if only because of his
efforts at bipartisanship.
When people encounter these change-back responses, therapists often
advise them to stay focused on their goals. If they persist at
making the change for a sufficient period of time, the change-back
responses eventually stop.
I am reasonably sure that Obama can stay focused. He understands
what he is up against. However, I do not think that he will be
successful at achieving bipartisanship. It would not be possible
even if Jesus Christ were President.
In order to achieve some degree of peace between the parties, they need
to triangulate. Not all triangulation is maladaptive.
Indeed, sometimes it is the only path to peace. A three-way
system tends to be more stable. Thus, the solution to the problem
is not to be achieved with bipartisanship. What is needed, is a
Such systems are more adaptable to change. Notice that our
Founders deliberately set up a three-way balance of power in the
Federal Government (Administration, Congress, and Supreme Court).
It is a system that has served us well for a while now. When
things start getting out of line, sooner or later one of the parts of
the triangle tugs the whole system — not necessarily back to the old
path, but on to the sensible path.
Neither Party is interested in this solution. Both Parties make
it difficult for a third party to gain any recognition.
There is a solution to the acrimony in DC, but the solution is not
bipartisanship. Indeed, that is part of the problem.
We do not need a stronger government. We do not even need a
smarter government. What we need is a government that can adapt
to change, including change within itself.
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor
the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change.