Monthly Archives: October 2012

Thoughts on the Debates

Before I delve into the main point of my blog post, I want to say, R.I.P. George McGovern and Russell Means. McGovern was involved in a variety of laudable causes, such as racial equality, women’s rights, peace, and abolition of conscription. In the last year of his life, he publicly supported gay marriage. While I did not always agree with Means’s words or actions, he did important work publicizing the U.S. government’s longtime mistreatment of Native Americans. I was considering mentioning Donald Trump, but I don’t want to give him the satisfaction, since he craves attention. Anyway, I said a while back that I would be giving commentary on the debates once they were over. So here goes:

  1. I really thought there would be at least one question about gay rights. I was wrong. The issue was avoided completely. This was especially surprising in New York. Same sex marriage is legal there, and Mitt Romney has pledged to support a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, so a Romney presidency could be disastrous for gay New Yorkers. I realize that for most Americans, the economy is the most important issue, and that I am highly unusual for thinking that gay rights is the most important. Still, this election could have a serious impact on whether or not millions of Americans are denied equal rights based on an immutable trait, and to see that matter never brought up in the debate was disconcerting.
  2. Speaking of New York, I was surprised that a debate took place there. Given the other debate locations of Colorado and Florida, I was under the impression that the people organizing the debates were planning to set them in swing states. The audience members in New York may have been undecided, but their votes will not impact this election. There is no way that the Empire State is going to vote for anyone but Obama in this election, and because of the way the Electoral College is set up, Obama is guaranteed to get all thirty-one of New York’s electoral votes whether 55% or 95% of the state’s residents cast their ballots for him.
  3. I nearly had a heart attack during the first debate. President Obama seemed to be not all there, leaving Romney to handily defeat him. Obama seemed rusty compared to Romney, who was only recently removed from primary debates, likely had less time to prepare than Romney due to running the country, and was presumably disgruntled about having to work during his anniversary. I went to bed hoping that the president would come back swinging in the following two debates. I was not disappointed. Polls indicated that Americans tended to think Obama had won the second and third debates, and I am inclined to agree. Thus, Obama went 2-1 against Romney. Furthermore, he likely benefitted by winning the second and third, rather than the first and second, because it leaves his good performances fresher in viewer’s minds.
  4. The Biden-Ryan debate is unlikely to have any impact on the election, as I said in a previous post, but I thought I should mention it anyway. Despite supporting the Democratic ticket, I honestly thought that Ryan would demolish Biden in this debate. As was the case with my prediction about a question on gay rights, my prediction was incorrect. Biden came out swinging and held his own against the Republican vice presidential candidate, actually doing much better than Obama had in his first debate with Romney. With all due respect to the late, great Joe Frazier (while I know next to nothing about most sports, I know some about boxing and mixed martial arts), Biden could have been nicknamed “Smoking Joe” on that night.
  5. I am going to give readers a surprise. I did not find Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” comment objectionable. He was basically saying that he had wanted to increase the number of women in his Cabinet and tried to do this by practicing a form of affirmative action that took gender into account but did not involve quotas. So much as I dislike Romney, it sounds like he did the right thing here.
  6. In the event, Heaven forbid, that Romney is elected president, I really hope that he will keep his promise not to cut taxes for the rich. At one time, Republicans believed that high amounts of spending had to be balanced by taxes to keep from foisting debt onto future generations. When Lincoln fought the Civil War, he signed a law authorizing an income tax. If George W. Bush had been fighting the Confederacy, he would have probably tried to pay for it with a loan from China. Well, actually, Karl Rove would have probably told him to avoid fighting the Confederacy, so as to appeal to social conservatives. So since I don’t see the war hawk Romney significantly decreasing federal spending, he had better cover the tab by keeping taxes on the rich at a reasonable level.
  7. I was disappointed but not surprised during the foreign policy debate that neither candidate really tried to address the issue of America’s belligerent, reckless, interventionist military policy. Since the War of 1812, presidents from Madison to Bush and even, much as I like him, Obama, have waged wars against countries that did not attack us. We have waged wars supposedly for human rights while abusing our own citizens. It cannot continue. We have been endowed by God or Mother Nature, whichever you believe in, with one planet that can sustain life, and the fact that humans have not completely destroyed the Earth through warfare and pollution by now is a pretty good argument for the existence of an active, benevolent deity. But if we are to avoid nuclear Armageddon, we must adopt a new foreign policy. Under this policy, we will cut off trade with nations that have bad human rights records and work to oust them from the U.N. and the Olympics. However, unless a nation attacks the U.S. or is proven to have plans to do so, we should never go to war with them.
  8. Piggybacking off of #6, Romney claimed that the United States Navy was the smallest it had been since 1916 and that this was unacceptable. PolitiFact labeled this claim this as bogus, but I think it raises a good question. Why, precisely, would it be so bad if that were true? The size of the U.S. Navy expanded in 1917, because Woodrow Wilson launched an unnecessary war to defend American economic interests and claimed he was interested in promoting freedom and democracy. Wilson was a Democrat, so by seemingly indicating that he views World War I as necessary, Romney missed an opportunity to lay the blame for one of the biggest foreign policy disasters in U.S. history at the feet of the Democratic Party.
  9. I would also like to have seen more discussion of civil liberties in at least one of the debates, because it is an important issue that has received little attention from either party. But to the consternation of myself and my fellow ACLU members, the topic once again received little attention during the debates. Again, much as I like President Obama, I have to confess that there doesn’t seem to be that much difference between him and Romney in this area.
  10. Conclusion: These debates did not even make me hesitant about my choice to vote for President Obama. Of course, in order for me to have become hesitant, Obama would have had to have changed his position on gay rights, which never happened. And in order for me to be open to be voting for Romney, the former governor would have had to have said he supported equal rights for gay people, including marriage equality.
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Democratic and Republican Shifts with Regard to Free Trade

I have observed before that this is the first election in which a major party candidate has “come out” in support of gay marriage. But watching last night’s debate, I sensed another area in which it was different: each candidate is seemingly trying to be more anti-free trade than the other. The Obama campaign has relentlessly accused Mitt Romney of outsourcing jobs overseas, while Romney has attacked Obama for failing to impose tariffs on products from China. The Democratic and Republican parties have both gone through shifts on “free trade.” When it was originally established, the Republican Party was clearly more protectionist than the Democratic Party. To fully understand this, we have to look at the GOP’s origins. A major aspect of the Republican Party’s platform was opposition to the expansion of slavery. However, two political parties—the Liberty Party and the Free Soil Party—had previously been organized with antislavery platforms. The Liberty Party had been fairly explicit about its abolitionist, anti-racist sympathies and, not surprisingly, had crashed and burned. The Free Soil Party had carefully avoided calling for universal emancipation and indulged in racism that, while mild for the era, was still rather blatant. It too had crashed and burned. The powerbrokers in the 1850s Republican Party knew that they had to use a variety of issues, including slavery, to create a party that would represent Northern interests and become dominant above the Mason-Dixon line. One of these issues was tariffs. I am almost hesitant to raise this issue, because many people claim that Northern Republicans’ support for tariffs per se caused the South to secede. This is not the case. The South seceded over slavery. Tariffs did play a role in the sense that some plantation owners feared that the tariff could spell the doom of slavery by lowering the economic value of slave labor products. But the idea that tariffs as an issue separate from slavery played any significant role in causing the South to secede is simply not supported by the facts. At any rate, in antebellum America, Southern merchants had two options for trading their agricultural products. They could trade with Northern businessmen, or they could trade with European nations. Northern businessmen, not surprisingly, wanted to corner the market on Southern agricultural products and prevent the South from trading with Europe. One method of accomplishing this goal was tariffs. A few years before the Republican Party was formed, some Northern politicians had been rumored to have voted for protections of slavery in the Compromise of 1850 in exchange for Southern support of tariffs. So a key policy of the Republican Party became enacting tariffs to cut down on foreign trade. Following the policy of earlier Democrats such as Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk, the Democratic Party was less supportive of tariffs throughout the 1800s. Looking at the case of William Jennings Bryan, the man who was the Democratic Party nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908 is instructive. Bryan was a populist based in Nebraska and originally from Illinois. His primary constituency was white, rural, and low income. In this day and age, one would expect him to be exactly the kind of Democrat who would rail against free trade. Yet Bryan was adamantly opposed to tariffs. In 1930, Republican Herbert Hoover signed a protectionist bill drastically raising tariffs. Contrast this with FDR, who generally favored free trade. In the early 1990s, we saw a strange form of bipartisanship: both major party candidates in the 1992 presidential election, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, favored the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.) And when it came time to vote on NAFTA in the House and Senate, the bill had both bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. In the House, both liberals like Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi and conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Bob Dornan voted in favor of it. Liberal and left-wing representatives such as Bernie Sanders and John Lewis voted against it, as did conservatives such as Roscoe Bartlett and Jim Inhofe. A similar trend could be observed in the Senate. Trent Lott and Ted Kennedy both voted for NAFTA, while Larry Craig and Russ Feingold both voted against it. Outside of government, Jesse Jackson and Pat Buchanan, united by little else besides anti-Semitism, opposed NAFTA. In a 1996 book, Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, liberal pundit and future Senator, Al Franken, mocked Buchanan for opposing NAFTA. In Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American, left-wing film director, Michael Moore, took a hard line against NAFTA.Yet in spite of some anti-free trade sentiment sprinkled across the political spectrum, the Democratic and Republican parties were dominated by pro-free traders during the ‘90s and early 2000s. Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry all favored NAFTA. Similar to George H.W. Bush, 1996 Republican presidential nominee, Bob Dole, had been heavily involved in promoting NAFTA while serving in the Senate. George W. Bush took the free trade policies of the previous two presidents further by favoring the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA.) Presidential candidates who opposed free trade were third party challengers like Ross Perot and Ralph Nader. In the 2008 election, Barack Obama vacillated between pro and anti-free trade positions but spoke in support of modifying NAFTA and repealing CAFTA. John McCain, who was significantly more supportive of free trade, compared Barack Obama to Republican Herbert Hoover. In this election, however, the days of the Clinton and Bush years in which both candidates spoke warmly of free trade are a hazy memory. Bill Clinton’s DNC speech last month clocked in at a staggering forty-eight minutes, and not once did he say a word about NAFTA, one of the centerpieces of his administration. Had he done so, he might well have been booed off of the stage, as one of the major themes of the convention was the evils of outsourcing jobs via free trade. While Mitt Romney will not be following in the footsteps of Old Abe when it comes to civil rights, speaking softly and carrying a big stick in foreign policy (something our sixteenth president actually did better than Teddy Roosevelt), or open immigration, one thinks Lincoln might derive some satisfaction from watching Romney try to outdo Obama in terms of support for protective tariffs.

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Celebrating Brutality: Reflections on Columbus Day

There are only four men—and, perhaps reflecting our society’s sexism, no women—who have a national holiday in the United States. In January, we have Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In February, we have what is officially recognized by the federal government as George Washington’s birthday, but is colloquially referred to as “President’s Day.” Christmas is for Jesus’ birthday. And sandwiched between George Washington and Jesus is Christopher Columbus. Today is Columbus Day. I cannot think of anyone in my lifetime for whom the public view has changed so drastically. When I was in elementary school in the late 1990s, Columbus, Washington, Lincoln, and King were treated as the four great historical heroes from different eras. The way we were taught, Columbus discovered America, Washington founded the country, Lincoln freed the slaves, and King ended segregation. I remember back when I was in first and second grade, wondering, How could Columbus have discovered America if the Indians [I hadn’t learned the word ‘Native American’ yet] were already there? And isn’t it kind of weird to claim land for Spain when there are already people living there? By the time I started high school, the well-deserved scholarly spanking that Columbus had received in A People’s History of the United States and Lies My Teacher Told Me had settled into the public mind. However, I will provide a recap of Columbus’ transgressions. The first tribes that he encountered on Hispaniola were the Arawaks. Deciding that the Arawaks were easy picking, Columbus left some Spaniards behind, headed back to Spain, and persuaded the king and queen to give him more ships, supplies, and men. However, when Columbus returned, he discovered an inconvenient development. Probably thinking that the Arawaks would not fight back no matter how badly they were treated, the Spaniards had enslaved them and forced to them to pan and mine. Pushed to the breaking point, the Arawaks had finally killed and possibly eaten Columbus’ men, as well as destroying his fort. Rather than acknowledging that his men had brought their unhappy fates upon themselves, Columbus reacted savagely. Some Arawaks were sent to slave markets. Of those who remained on the island, each was enslaved and forced to find enough gold every three months to fill a quota. If they did not find enough gold, their hands were cut off, and they died from blood loss. As if this body of evidence was not enough to demonstrate the moral turpitude of the Spanish voyage, it is known that Columbus’ men raped native women. When Native Americans’ rights activist Russell Means said that Columbus made Hitler look like a juvenile delinquent, the statement was wrong only because it understated the crimes of Hitler. Columbus is basically for Native Americans what Hitler is for Jews. Now, we have the matter of the national holiday. There are hundreds of phenomenal individuals in both American and world history who do not have a national holiday in the United States. Let us look at John Brown. John Brown has been castigated for taking part in killing. Why, pray tell, did Brown take part in violent killing? Because he hated slavery. He let himself be hung from the end of a rope so that millions of slaves could be free. Do we have a holiday for John Brown? No. The Governor of Virginia has not even sit fit to issue a posthumous pardon for him. Yet every year, we have a special day marked off for a man who enslaved other human beings and butchered those who resisted. How on Earth has Columbus Day not been abolished yet? Most students now know what a loathsome, vicious human being he was. Are we really so glad that he “discovered” America for white people that we are just willing to overlook the matters of slavery and slaughter? What, indeed, did Columbus’ “discovery” lead to? More outrages inflicted on indigenous people: enslavement, murder, rape, loss of land and culture. We should indeed mourn the fate of the Arawaks and other Native American tribes. There were admirable aspects of their cultures. Chattel slavery was often less prevalent, women often had more rights, gay people were often less stigmatized, and children were often treated more humanely. But more importantly, nothing gives someone the right to invade a land and treat the indigenous people the way that Columbus treated Native Americans. If we celebrate Columbus Day, then based on what it says about us as a nation, we should not just mourn the horrors inflicted on Native Americans; we should mourn ourselves.

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Dan Savage is Correct

As he so often does, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is once again the victimizer playing the victim. At a speech at Winona State University, controversial commentator and founder of the “It Gets Better” Project, Dan Savage, proclaimed that “every dead gay kid is a victory for the Family Research Council,” and that “Tony Perkins sits on a pile of dead gay kids every day when he goes to work.” Perkins is so upset that he is contemplating a lawsuit. So what exactly did Dan Savage mean? Savage’s explanation can be read here: (http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2012/10/03/im-dan-savage-and-i-approvedand-stand-bythis-message) But the two most compelling points he makes are:

  1. Perkins has publicly blamed the fact that gays have a higher suicide rate than heterosexuals on the fact that, in his mind, homosexuality itself causes emotional problems. I will explain later in the post why Perkins’ claim is ridiculous.
  2. The homophobia that Perkins promotes causes parents of gay children to reject their children’s sexual orientation and helps foster a climate that leads to bullying. This, of course, causes more gay teen suicides. In fact, Perkins bitterly denounced the “It Gets Better” Project.

Now, I should point out that I do not agree with Dan Savage on all subjects. I do not believe, as some have claimed, that he is racist. And I defended him several months ago for a comment he made about the Bible. Still, he has certainly said some things that I disagree with. In this specific case, I would perhaps have not phrased my point quite the way he did. However, I agree with what he said. I will get to that in a moment, but first, I want to make a point to people horrified by Dan Savage’s recent bombastic comment. Let me tell a story. I am lucky enough to be a member of Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation, a church that actively fights bigotry rather than promoting it. Last February, the church was able to bring in Reverend Joseph Lowery to speak. Lowery, for those who have not heard of him, is a ninety-year old veteran of the Civil Rights Movement. Lowery is not known for avoiding controversial statements, and this speech was no exception. At one point, he stated that white people owed him something. Did he phrase that sentiment in a good way? Probably not. But let us consider than Joseph Lowery is a black man who grew up in Alabama when Jim Crow was alive and well. He was a middle-aged man by the time black people in Alabama had equal rights. So to my mind, if he feels angry about what he went through and wants to vent when he has a public forum, I feel like that is his prerogative, even if I would use different words. Just like Dan Savage with heterosexual people, Lowery has never said that whites should be denied equal rights. He made a point of saying he knew that there were good white people and bad white people. Now think about Dan Savage. Every gay person in this country has been a second-class citizen since the day they were born with a sexual orientation different from the majority. Dan Savage has had it worse than many, however. He had to grow up in the late 1960s and 1970s, when homosexuality was illegal in many states, and America was overall far more homophobic even that it is today. I think most of us would be a little angry if we had grown up in those circumstances. As far as what Savage said, we have to consider things logically. Tony Perkins took evidence of the destructive effects of homophobia—the higher rate of suicide by gay teens—and tried to spin it to support a homophobic viewpoint. The reason that he did this is because he knows that every time a gay teen commits suicide because of homophobia, it brings negative attention to Perkins and the Family Research Council. Does anyone really believe that Perkins’ claim that homosexuality itself naturally causes emotional problems that lead to suicide? One of the points he used to back this absurd claim up is that the Netherlands, where gay people have equal rights, still has a high gay suicide rate. However, he ignores the fact that problems of bigotry can persist and continue to negatively impact people’s lives long after legal discrimination is abolished. After all, would anyone deny that racism is still a serious problem in the United States? It should also be noted that in a study conducted by Dr. Mark Hatzenbuehler, the rate of gay youth attempting suicide was significantly higher when they were in an environment in which their sexual orientation was not supported. Homophobic individuals seem to want to have it both ways on free speech. They say that they have a right to freedom of speech when it comes to spouting off homophobic propaganda. But when someone calls them bigoted, they whine and say the people making these statements are being mean. It reminds me of the child who pokes his brother or sister over and over again. After about the seventh poke, the disgruntled sibling slaps them. The one who was doing the poking then says, “Mommy, Tommy/Susie hit me!” Mr. Perkins, don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.

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Are Democrats Dovish?

With military policy sure to be an issue in this presidential election, I thought it would be interesting to examine whether or not there is any truth to the claim that Democrats are dovish in military policy or “soft on national security” by looking at the record of every Democratic president from Andrew Jackson through Barack Obama. A couple of notes before I get started: I had some hesitation about two presidents, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Johnson, specifically about whether or not I should include them. Jefferson was a member of the Democratic-Republican Party and is sometimes referred to as a

“small r“ republican. However, he is often considered a patron saint of the Democrats and gets a dinner thrown in his honor by the party ever year. Before the Republican Party was founded, the Whig Party was the Democrats’ primary rival and was much more conservative on slavery than the GOP. If his financial stake in human property had been the only issue, Jefferson could have felt at home in either the Whig Party or the Democratic Party, though almost everything about the Republican Party, from its antislavery platform to its close alliance with industry, would have been an anathema to him. It is his support for states’ rights in certain instances, agrarianism, and Westward expansion that make it probable that he would have been a Democrat had he lived long enough to see the party capture the presidency. So I’ll leave him off of the list but touch on him here. Thomas Jefferson was essentially like Lincoln—not a pacifist but generally reluctant to resort to war. When Britain aggressively worked to restrict trade between the United States and France during Jefferson’s presidency, he responded by cutting off trade between America and all foreign nations. Jefferson’s successor, James Madison’s solution was to launch the War of 1812. Thus, we can consider Jefferson a dove with a major asterisk: he supported military conscription. Johnson was a tough call to make, because he was a Democrat who ran with Abe Lincoln on the “National Union Party” ticket. However, since his roots were in the Democratic Party and since he clashed over policy with a Republican Congress, I am including him on my list. The second issue is civil liberties. If I did a play-by-play of each president that included both civil liberties and military policy, this blog post would become a novel. Therefore, I will focus only on military policy. Suffice it to say that no civil libertarian has ever served as president from the Democratic Party.

Andrew Jackson: Against the wishes of the U.S. Supreme Court, former Speaker of the House and three-time presidential candidate Henry Clay, former President John Quincy Adams, Massachusetts Senator and future Secretary of State Daniel Webster, and much of the Northern public, Jackson put heavy pressure on Native American tribes to give up their land rights. He also started the Second Seminole War against the Florida tribe of the same name. His aggressive stance paved for the way for…

Martin Van Buren: Following Jackson’s precedent, Van Buren used federal troops to initiate the Trail of Tears. He also continued the Second Seminole War.

James K. Polk: A firm believer in American imperialism, Polk provoked a war with Mexico, giving us a huge chunk of new Western territory and laying the groundwork for our current illegal immigration debate as millions of Mexicans eventually attempted to return to the land once owned by their nation.

Franklin Pierce: While trying to avoid wars with other countries, Pierce sympathized with the slaveholding South and sent U.S.  Marines and infantrymen to Massachusetts to ensure that a runaway slave was returned to his master.

James Buchanan: Sympathetic to the South like Pierce had been, Buchanan sent federal troops to stop John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry and stationed them at his hanging to prevent any rescue attempt.

Andrew Johnson: A native Southerner with a strong belief in white supremacy that could verge on racial hatred, Johnson generally favored a lenient military policy toward the defeated Confederacy. Similar to most Democrats, such as Clement Vallandigham and Daniel Voorhees,  who opposed Lincoln’s decision to fight the Civil War, Johnson’s dovish views during Reconstruction were, as indicated, linked to his racism.

Grover Cleveland: Despite sending in troops to stop a labor strike, Cleveland was generally an isolationist in military affairs and even attempted to give Hawaii back its independence.

Woodrow Wilson: While some accused him of not going to war quickly enough and despite running as a peace candidate in 1916 Presidential Election, Wilson placed support for foreign trade above a desire to avoid war. When it became clear that Germany would not allow the United States to trade with Britain, the president chose to go to war, resulting in the deaths of 110,000 American lives. Wilson used democracy as a reason for his “need” to go to war. Democracy, however, did not preclude him from allowing segregation to be brought back into branches of the federal government, which leads one to conclude that Wilson’s real motivation was economic. He also became the first Democratic president to institute a military draft.

Franklin Roosevelt: Roosevelt spent some time planning for U.S. entry into World War II prior to Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack all but killed the isolationist movement in America, allowing FDR to enter the fray. Like Wilson, Roosevelt used a draft to build up the military. Once again, human rights was not likely a reason for Roosevelt’s decision to go to war, given the fact that he condoned segregation in multiple cases.

Harry Truman: After dropping two atomic bombs to end World War II, Truman issued the Truman Doctrine, promising aid to nations fighting Communism. Based on this principle, he brought the United States into the Korean War two years after bringing back military conscription.

John F. Kennedy: In addition to taking a hard line with Russia and Cuba, Kennedy increased U.S. presence in Vietnam. There is evidence that he planned to strongly escalate troop levels to the point of a full scare war, but Lee Harvey Oswald’s timing made this claim subject to debate.

Lyndon B. Johnson: While never officially declaring war on Vietnam, Johnson brought the number of U.S. soldiers into the Southeast Asian nation up to 500,000. Johnson’s use of the draft was highly controversial. Opposition to the Vietnam War and to a lesser extent the draft contributed to internal division in the party, sending the Southern conservatives who did not bolt to Wallace or Nixon into a strange alliance with liberal hawks against the antiwar liberal wing of the party personified by Bobby Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, and George McGovern.

Jimmy Carter: While Carter cut back on nuclear weapons, he also began forcing young men to once again register for the draft, intervened in the Soviet-Afghanistan War, and created Rapid Deployment Forces to intervene internationally.

Bill Clinton: Clinton took military action in various places, such as Iraq, the Balkans, Haiti, and Somalia. His relatively hawkish foreign policy led George W. Bush to promise in his 2000 run for president that his administration would not engage in “nation building.”

Barack Obama: While frequently accused of being soft on national security, Obama continued the United States’ war against Afghanistan and adopted an interventionist military policy toward Libya, causing controversy among the Right and Left.

What this summary should demonstrate is that, far from being generally dovish or “weak” when it comes to the military, Democratic presidents have by and large been overly aggressive in this area.

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Predictions for the Debates

At one time, debates between political candidates were significantly less common. While Senate candidates and presidential primary candidates had debated before, the 1960 presidential election was the first time that the two major party nominees debated. It could well have been the last. While Republican Richard Nixon probably outperformed Democrat JFK, “Tricky Dick” was a victim of the television set. Many more Americans watched the debate on T.V. than listened to it on the radio. These viewers got to see the handsome, sunny-faced JFK debate Nixon not long after the latter had suffered a knee injury and a bout with the flu. Chastened by his razor-thin loss, Nixon did not debate his Democratic adversaries in the 1968 and 1972 elections. In the 1964 election, Barry Goldwater stated during the primaries that it would be detrimental to national security for an incumbent president to debate. LBJ followed Goldwater’s advice and refused to debate him in the general election. Finally, in 1976, Ford and Carter debated, making the practice a presidential election tradition. So what can we expect to see in the upcoming Obama-Romney debates? Well, in 2008, Obama was judged to have won all three debates against John McCain. So we all know now that President Obama can debate well. What about Mitt Romney? In the primaries, he and Rick Perry developed a very adversarial relationship. At one point, they began arguing about whether or not Romney had passed a law more or less equivalent to ObamaCare while serving as governor. This should have been a slam-dunk for Perry, since Romney had signed a law that specifically required people to buy health insurance against their will. However, Mitt Romney still decisively beat Rick Perry in that exchange. Perhaps one of the primary signs of a good debater is someone who can win an argument when they are wrong. This is what Mitt Romney did in his health care debate against Perry. However, President Obama is no Rick Perry. Rick Perry cannot speak off the cuff to save a life. He is about as articulate as a monkey with a toothache. Bill Maher summed it up quite accurately when he suggested that Republicans thought Perry was a great candidate until he started to talk. So defeating Barack Obama in the debates is going to be tough for Mitt Romney. I predict that Obama and Romney will be more or less evenly matched. Neither man is likely to take these debates lightly. President Obama knows that he has, if polls are to be believed, a lead over Mitt Romney that he can ill afford to lose. Mitt Romney is almost sure to have seen Obama outperform McCain in three consecutive debates and therefore knows that he must be at the top of his game to have any chance of winning. He must also be aware that, with his poll numbers in a bad spot, anything less than a phenomenal debate performance is likely to help cost him the election. At the beginning of the debate, we will see a rather ridiculous handshake that will feel quite disingenuous. Unlike the handshake between the 6’2″ George H.W. Bush and the 5’8″ Michael Dukakis, this handshake will be unlikely to impact the election, since Obama and Romney are almost exactly the same height. We will then see little else in the way of politeness. Expect at least one of the candidates to interrupt the other. I personally think moderators should carry megaphones to restore order in cases when candidates refuse to wait their turns to speak. Expect some anecdotes from both candidates designed to back up their points. Do not expect the anecdotes to give the whole story. Expect there to be some argument about the “47%” statement. One area where we can expect to see a different set of debates than we did in 2008 will be in the area of gay rights. In 2008, both Obama and McCain avoided taking strong stands either for or against gay rights. As a result, from what I remember, the topic never came up in their debates. In 2012, the differences between the candidates in this area are much more noticeable. If Romney is smart, he will steer the conversation away from this subject very quickly, since it is one that Obama can demolish him on. But I would not be too surprised if Romney is determined to win the “Value Voters” and proverbially walks right into President Obama’s fist. Another thing that could cost Mitt Romney if he is not careful is appearing snobby. Both George H.W. Bush and Al Gore are sometimes said to have lost because viewers believed that they showed pomposity. People have sometimes called President Obama an elitist, but in this election, the general public clearly finds him more personally appealing than Romney. On a final note, as an Obama supporter, I am not looking forward to the Biden-Ryan debates. Microphones and Joe Biden go together much like oil and water. I suspect that Biden will not perform nearly as well President Obama. Still, Biden and Ryan are not the ones running for president. The vice presidential debate is unlikely to impact the general election, unless Ryan shoves a nonagenarian, Biden starts screaming profanity at a conservative audience member, or something else equally outrageous.

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