The question posed to Missourian readers is what change would we like to see in 2009. Before we get to that, let's take a quick survey of the changes we're going to see, no matter what we want.
Nationally and locally, big changes are guaranteed, and not all of them will be pretty. The two biggest -- and the most welcome to most of us -- will be, of course, the changes of occupants in the White House and the governor's mansion.
Like you, I've been reading as pundits of left and right pick apart the pre-inauguration actions of our president-to-be. From where I sit, here in what Howard Dean used to call the democratic wing of the Democratic Party, the guy hasn't set a foot wrong yet. He has told us from the beginning of his campaign that he is a pragmatic progressive. What we've seen of his plans so far and his major appointments are all consistent with his self-description.
I'll be astonished if Mr. Obama pulls the kind of Rovian bait and switch that transformed still-President Bush from compassionate conservative to right-wing ideologue. At the very top, we're getting change we can believe in.
For me, at least, Gov.-elect Nixon is more of a mystery. That may seem odd, because he has been around forever. But what he has shown us during all his years on the public stage is more his toughness than his vision. He says he wants to create more jobs and improve education and health care. Sure. Even Republicans say that, though they're a lot more believable on the former than on the latter.
We have yet to see what Mr. Nixon's real, die-in-the-ditch priorities are. We'll get more clues in his first address, a few days hence. We'll really get to know our new governor, though, when we get to deal-making days in the legislative session.
Meanwhile, at least we can be relieved that our beloved Boy Governor has found gainful employment as a money manager in the Romney family empire. It's interesting how these political dynasties look out for each other.
Locally, we look forward to new leadership in the Columbia Public Schools. We owe a good deal, I think, to outgoing School Board president Michelle Gadbois. With remarkable energy and courage, she has led the transformation of the board from its rubber-stamp tradition to a much-needed and overdue activism. The question to be answered is who will take over her leadership role.
We also owe thanks to care-taker (and care-giver) superintendent Jim Ritter, who has come off the bench again to calm his team and his community. We can only hope the board this time chooses more wisely than previous boards usually have in hiring an outsider as our next superintendent. The public schools are Columbia's greatest asset, and the asset is at risk.
Some of this year's changes, the ugly ones, are previewed in the economic numbers and the budget-cut scenarios ordered by the legislature. Local and state governments are going to get leaner, and Missouri's legendarily stingy social services will get even meaner. That's change we can count on, unless we somehow change ourselves.
The change I'd most like to see in 2009 would be a rebirth of the communitarian spirit that produced two little-noted positives for the new year: The state's minimum wage goes up again, by 40 cents an hour, as we citizens ordered in a referendum, and Social Security checks increase, a gift from an earlier generation that keeps on giving.
Sometimes, we and our elected leaders have risen to the occasion. Sometimes, crisis has produced real progress. We've got the crisis. We've got new leaders. We'll get the change we deserve, the change we demand.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.