REGIME n. Mode or form of government

I’m glad John Kerry is hitting back hard at the chickenhawks who are questioning his patriotism for questioning the judgment and skill of the Chickenhawk-in-Chief. And I will cheerfully vote for him if he’s the Democratic candidate next year, though I doubt he would be the strongest candidate.

But I think Kerry’s use of the term “regime change” to describe his (and my) hoped-for visit of the moving vans to 1600 Pennsylvania was … ill-chosen … to use no stronger term, for two reasons.

First, comparing Bush to Saddam Hussein, or the GOP to the Ba’ath, which is at least implied by saying that we need regime change in both countries, simply can’t be justified: surely Kerry wouldn’t make those comparisons explicitly.

Moreover, whatever you think of Bush, his leaving office after being defeated in an election would not be a change of regime. It would be an expression of the fact that the regime — the Constitutional order — is functioning nicely.

A regime change means a change in the ways of governing (“new modes and orders,” in Machiavelli’s phrase). Arguably, the only regime change or changes in the history of the country came in the period 1775-1789, though one might also add — in decreasing order of profundity of change — the Civil War, the New Deal, and the Jacksonian transformation, as “regime changes,” because although there was in each case continuity in the institutional framework there were profound changes in structure and operations. (The Second Reconstruction was a true change of regime, and a true social revolution, in most of the South.)

Nothing so profound is called for today; or, if it is, Kerry certainly hasn’t called for it. He merely wants to remove the multimillionaire preppie Yalie at the head of one of the country’s two political parties from the Presidency and replace him with a multimillionaire preppie Yalie from the other.

Fortunately for us, that simple change would be sufficient to significantly influence important aspects of public policy. That’s the advantage of republican government: it can change policies without changing regimes.

We’re getting enough apocalyptic language from the “World War IV” crowd without trying to match it from what is supposed to be the sensible side of the debate. Kerry should retract his rash statement: as Churchill said, one’s own words are often a nourishing diet.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: