I watched the third debate the night before last, and at first came away thoroughly discouraged. What’s the use? I thought. These guys are both the same. I almost cancelled my plans to host a “Ten Days to Win” phone call party at my home next Saturday. But while it’s true that the third debate revealed remarkable similarity between the candidates on foreign policy, their differences on domestic policy kept me from cancelling. Even more so did consideration of the candidates’ diverse bases of support, and the hope that Obama’s base offers (in contrast to the man himself). Let me explain.
To begin with, the third debate displayed two candidates converging around at least 10 highly destructive myths:
- The U.S. is the one indispensable nation in the world.
- U.S. foreign policy is aimed at fostering “a peaceful planet.”
- Those same policies favor democracy, free elections, international law, and human rights – especially those of women.
- Terrorism, whose causes remain mysterious, must be stopped at all costs.
- To that end, drone strikes anywhere in the world are good and necessary.
- Iran is a major threat to us, so sanctions against it are reasonable and moral.
- Nuclear capability is a crime.
- Dollars spent on the military are a valid measure of commitment to national security.
- Israel’s policies must be supported as if they were our own.
- Climate change is irrelevant to foreign policy.
Of course none of those ten myths is true. What is true is that:
- In terms of “a peaceful planet,” democracy, free elections, international law, human rights (especially those of women) the world would be better off if the current incarnation of the U.S. dropped off the planet. (Please think about that. I am serious here.)
- Terrorism’s causes are not at all mysterious and almost all are connected with U.S. foreign policy. In fact, as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman pointed out long ago, the U.S. is the most prominent purveyor of “wholesale terrorism” – state terrorism – in the world. What it has declared war against are expressions of “retail terrorism” which are small potatoes (even 9/11) by comparison – basically “blowback” to U.S. state terrorism.
- Extrajudicial killings even by remote control contravene the “international law” both presidential candidates so solemnly invoked. (By the way, according to Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, the Benghazi debacle was in direct response to the June 4th 2012 drone killing of the insurgent theologian, Abu Ayahya al Libi. At 49, he was a hero of the Libyan Revolution and one of the most senior members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Revenge was sworn at his death and postponed till the anniversary of 9/11. This has received no mention I’m aware of in the mainstream press – certainly none in the presidential debates.)
- As Joe Biden pointed out, Iran poses no threat at all to the United States. On the contrary, for the past three years and more Iran has been the one threatened on a daily basis by Israel which has itself covertly developed deliverable nuclear weapons. So if any nation has reason to launch a preemptive attack, it would be Iran against Israel. But no such threat has been made.
- What does “nuclear capability” mean anyway?
- Absolute security is a goal impossible to attain. Its pursuit via already astronomical military spending benefits no one but the military-industrial complex.
- Israel has been an international outlaw at least since November 22, 1967, when the U.N. unanimously adopted Resolution 242 forbidding the occupation of Palestinian territories annexed in the Six Day War. Israel’s assault on Gaza, its secret development of nuclear weapons, and its crimes on the high seas interdicting ships bringing aid to Palestinians interned in Gaza have only compounded Israel’s fundamental crime of illegal occupation. Hence U.S. support of the outlaw nation of Israel not only contradicts U.S. national interests but amounts to aiding and abetting criminal activity.
- Given its importance to the future of the planet, climate change should have been the focus not only of this “foreign policy” debate, but of the entire presidential campaign. It was mentioned not once in any of the debates.
How should awareness of these myths and their evident contradictions influence us in the general elections just two weeks off? Here’s what I’m thinking:
- There is no doubt that the presidential candidates have adopted almost identical approaches to foreign policy.
- However they differ on domestic policy in non-trivial ways:
a) Romney wants to retain tax breaks for the 1% while Obama does not.
b) Romney intends to further deregulate the market undoing the mild reforms introduced after the crash of 2008. Obama will resist such measures.
c) Following the lead of Paul Ryan’s “economic plan,” Romney will drastically cut domestic programs for the country’s most vulnerable. He will attempt to privatize Social Security, make Medicare a voucher program, and do something similar with Medicaid. Meanwhile, Obama’s austerity measures will be less drastic though also basically unfair – because austerity for the 99% is unnecessary in the face of the nation’s unprecedented concentration of wealth.
d) Romney will appoint more neo-conservatives to the Supreme Court when the opportunity arrives.
e) On social policy, life with Romney will be harder on women, gays, the poor and labor unions.
To repeat, while such differences are not as wide as some of us might desire, they are not at all unimportant. However one really important difference remains for me and is determinative for my voting.
That difference is the one between Romney’s base of support and that of Obama. Romney’s base is made up of Tea Party folks. They are basically white, religious literalists, evolution and climate science deniers; they are corporate-friendly, male-dominated, less educated, and angry about the ascendency of minorities. Obama’s base is more diverse. Blacks and Hispanics overwhelmingly support him. So do union members, liberal Christians, gays, atheists, and those with university educations. Women tend to be more Democratic than men.
In an evolving world, history is on the side of the Obama’s base rather than the Romney’s. Simple population trends kicking in as I write, are running swift and fast against the Republican base. As someone has said, they’re running out of angry white guys. So even the passage of four more years without GOP control of the White House (not to mention the Congress) will buy Obama’s base and their interests more time. That means the political conversation is likely to shift in a more liberal direction even over the next quadrennial.
Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy is on the horizon.
That’s why I’m going through with that party next Saturday. That’s why I’m voting for Obama (while firmly holding my nose). I’m buying time.