That wacky trickster of a free market. I tell ya.

Particularly enjoyable is the recent spin that the federal government, should it inject hundreds of billions of dollars into the market by buying the “assets” of troubled multinational corporations, stands to make a lot of money as it sells those assets back into a stabilized market.

So don’t worry taxpayers, small businesses, retirement investors and you silly people who had your 401k plans die a sudden death—this isn’t the failure of the free market, it’s the ultimate triumph!

The federal government does such a bang-up job of management as it is, we should clearly be elated at the prospect of American bureaucracy showing all those overpaid corporate executives with golden parachutes the blunt end of some good old-fashioned government know-how. But, hey, if you’re one of those naysayers who, for some unfathomable reason, is a teensy bit skeptical of the government’s ability to responsibly handle multi-billion dollar private sector deals, don’t fret—in all likelihood, private contractors will be brought in to actually coordinate such endeavors.

What? Some of you are troubled by the $555,436,125,946 (at the exact moment of this writing) boondoggle of a war that has lined the pockets of private contractors without producing substantive results? Whatever, pansies—this is a totally different situation.

Does sarcasm translate well in print?

On the other end of the spectrum are the belt-tightening pragmatists. “Whoever ends up winning the presidency is going to have to rein in their goals,” we’re told.

It’s a logical supposition. The government is nobly overextending itself in order to protect us from imminent collapse and total economic meltdown. Historically, it hasn’t worked out too well to just keep printing money like there’s no tomorrow, so expenses will need to be reined in, leaving no “mad money” for the next president to spend on social justice programs or maverick reforms.

The message is this: Don’t expect much out of whoever becomes the next president.

It’s a seductive kind of trickle-down wisdom that makes sense on the surface. As armchair pundit/citizens, we can feel comfortable repeating it to one another while nodding sagely. I must have sat across a table from a half dozen people last week who were lamenting the pre-ordained hamstringing of the next administration. I alternated nods and head shakes, capitulating to this sad inevitability and buying every word of it. Until I suddenly realized it was a load of crap.

Call it a media conspiracy or an accidental meme, but adjusting to the idea that the next president will be forced to devote all his time to recovery and modest pragmatic bookkeeping is the same as adjusting to that most pervasive of American political influences: apathy.

Such thinking, when parsed, has a decidedly partisan take as well. According to a Pew poll released on Sept. 18, only 39 percent of Americans believe maverick-reformer-rebel-outlaw US Sen. John McCain is capable of bringing about any real change. At the same time, 53 percent believe US Sen. Barack Obama is capable of effecting change, a full 7 percent more than can be reliably polled as actually supporting Obama. Thus when rhetoric spreads that disallows the possibility of change—placing it beyond the president’s control—it is Obama who suffers. Nobody expects much out of McCain anyway, it turns out, other than stoically serving a new term of internment as Prisoner of the Whitehouse.

That same poll suggests 71 percent of Americans find Obama inspirational, while only 43 percent feel the same way about McCain. In other words, people who aren’t even willing to vote for Obama are roused by his speeches and his presence. It must be great consolation to the Obama campaign that, should it all go south, as they say, their candidate can make a healthy living as a motivational speaker. It is a bizarre revelation into the mass American political mind to realize that a huge percentage of voters are actually afraid of the candidate who most inspires them and most promises a national transformation.

Unfortunately, many Americans are so afraid of change, they won’t even change direction to avoid driving over a cliff. At a local sporting goods store, I recently saw a poster taped to the counter where gun sales are handled. The poster certainly accepted Obama as capable of making changes, mostly changes to gun laws that would restrict the use and purchase of hand guns and assault weapons. Apparently, the regulatory measures that Obama supports, such as restricting individual purchases of hand guns to only one per month (only 12 per year!), conflict with survivalists’ rampant guns and ammo hoarding. If they can’t purchase enough guns, they can’t make it through the new dark ages that will follow the economic collapse caused by the status quo laissez-faire approach to free market capitalism.

That’s a lack of change you can believe in.