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Elections 2012

Tag Archives | Elections 2012

Heeding the Echoes of History as Global Leadership Shifts

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President Barack Obama with Xi Jinping earlier this year. Martin H. Simon/EPA

The obsession with changing world orders and premature assumptions that the world is in flux is endemic to the human character.

President Barack Obama with Xi Jinping earlier this year. Martin H. Simon/EPA

In this sense, we have never stopped being millenarian, hoping that somewhere along the line, the true order of things will stand before us, crystal clear and optimistic. Two significant events have and are taking place: the concluded US presidential elections, and the 18th Communist Party Congress in China. Several other states in the Northeast Asian region, notably South Korea and Japan, will also see transitions in their leaderships over the next six months. The urge is then to speculate if these might actually change the contours of power, if at all.

In 1991, US President George H.W. Bush spoke of a “New World Order,” buttressed by the nonsensical claims of Francis Fukuyama that history had ended with the triumph of liberal capitalism. With the end of the Cold War, the tedium of peace would set in, until the butcheries of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia muddied the idyll. In 2000, it was again assumed that a world of peace would descend upon the earth, only for this vision to be marred a year later by acts of spectacular violence when planes flew into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The language of fundamentalism and weapons proliferation replaced the language of hope, creating a new collection of concerned powers keen on preventing others from acquiring nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

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President Obama Wins a Second Term for Whom?

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President Barack Obama delivers remarks from the White House briefing room

The Democrats could not have won so handily without the Citizens United ruling. That is what enabled the Koch Brothers to spend their billions to support right-wing candidates that barked and growled like sheep dogs to give voters little civilized option but to vote for “the lesser evil.” This will be President Obama’s epitaph for future historians.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks from the White House briefing room

Orchestrating the election like a World Wrestling Federation melodrama, the Tea Party’s sponsors threw billions of dollars into the campaign to cast the President’s party in the role of “good cop” against stereotyped opponents attacking women’s rights, Hispanics and nearly every other hyphenated-American interest group.  In Connecticut, Senate candidate Linda McMahon spent a reported $97 million (including her earlier ego trip) to make her Democratic challenger look good. It was that way throughout the country. Republicans are pretending to wring their hands at their defeat, leaving the Democrats to beat up their constituency and take the blame four years from now.

Obama’s two presidential victories represent an object lesson about how the 1% managed to avoid rescuing the economy – and especially his own constituency – from today’s rush of wealth to the top. Future political annalists will see this delivery of his voters to his Wall Street campaign contributors control as his historical role. In the face of overwhelming voter opposition to the Bush-Cheney policies, the President has averted popular demands to save the economy from the 1%. Instead of sponsoring the hope and change he promised by confronting Wall Street, the pharmaceutical and health care monopolies, the military-industrial complex and big oil and gas, he has appeased them as if There is No Alternative.

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The GOP: Retrograde or Reformist?

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Former Governor Mitt Romney campaigning

The Republican Party is in a state of disarray and needs to change. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, and the extreme positions from which he is now trying to distance himself, provides insights into this situation.

Former Governor Mitt Romney campaigning

It is not surprising that Governor Romney tacked hard to the right during the Republican primary and is now emphasizing a more moderate brand in his latest incarnation of himself. Nonetheless, I am concerned about a range of public policy issues: the deficit, a disastrously dysfunctional Congress and the rising cost of higher education. I am also worried that there is no overarching strategy that underpins American foreign policy today. Yet, as this election cycle painfully draws to a close, what bothers me the most is the current state of the Republican Party and its dismal prospects for the future.

During the next two years, the party leadership (and others) should think long and hard about the type of party they’d like to be and what that means given America’s irreversible demographic trends (towards a less white, more ethnically diverse electorate) and the way that peoples’ positions on social issues are shifting. The Democrats have their far-left crazies for sure, but I am worried that Republicans may be cornering the market on insanity.

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Prelude to Election: The Third Presidential Debate

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Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during the debate. Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

There were no spectacular implosions, no remarkable points of stumbling.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during the debate. Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

The third and last debate between President Barack Obama and contender Governor Mitt Romney was not the most exciting affair, though it showed Obama to be far more accomplished, and the result for Romney acceptable. Sitting down, Obama could assume the role of academic in viva mode, searchingly probing Romney on vulnerable points.

The theme of the debate was foreign policy, a suggestion that irked some commentators. Ezra Klein, writing for The Washington Post, put it starkly: we shouldn’t be having a foreign policy debate at all. “Gas prices are set on a global market. Flu pandemics with the possibility to kill thousands or even millions of Americans begin on farms in Asia. Food safety is no longer a domestic question when you’re importing your grapes from Chile.”

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U.S. Politics and the Middle East

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President Barack Obama visiting NASA's headquarters in Florida. Photo: Bill Ingalls

US elections are manifestly linked to the Middle East, at least rhetorically.

President Barack Obama visiting NASA’s headquarters in Florida. Photo: Bill Ingalls

In practical terms, however, US foreign policies in the region are compelled by the Middle East’s own dynamics and the US’ own political climate, economic woes, or ambitions. There is little historic evidence that US foreign policy in the Arab world has been guided by moral compulsion. When it comes to the Middle East – and much of the world – it is mostly about style. The country’s two leading political parties have proven equally to be interventionists. In the last two decades Democrats seemed to lean more towards unilateralism in foreign policy as in war, while Republicans, as highlighted by the administration of George W. Bush, are much less worried about the mere definitions of their conducts.

The US administration of Bill Clinton (1993-2001) maintained a draconian siege on Iraq that caused what former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark described as ‘genocide.’ Two years later, W. Bush chose the direct war path, which simply rebranded the ongoing ‘genocide’. In both cases, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis died. Despite the warrior-like saber-rattling by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney about his intentions to transform the Middle East to suit US interests shall he be elected, few would take that as more than despairing attempts at reaching out to the most zealous members and groups of his party, especially those who wield political influence, media access and, of course, funds. The pro-Israeli gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson is referenced more than others, but there are many others who demand such satisfactory rhetoric before reaching out for their checkbooks.

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Romney’s Proposed Foreign Policy: Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

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Former Governor Mitt Romney on the campaign trail

“I believe that if America does not lead, others will—others who do not share our interests and our values—and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America’s security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years.” – Mitt Romney

Former Governor Mitt Romney on the campaign trail

Stuck in a Cold War, Ozzie and Harriet time warp, Mitt Romney is living in a black and white dream world where America’s foes are easily identifiable and manageable, military solutions are preferred and effective, and America simply cracks a whip and everyone else snaps to attention. This was in clear evidence at yesterday’s VMI speech, in which Romney characterized America as a weak and feckless power under President Obama, and where every enduring high profile conflict in the world has a simple solution and would simply disappear as he waves a magic wand as president.

The VMI speech was a chest-beating exercise, designed to establish some foreign policy credentials (since he has none), convince any undecided voters who might be listening that Romney is a patriot who is aware that America has enemies throughout the world, and demonstrate that he will stand up to them in a George W. Bush way. We saw how well that worked in Iraq; Romney proposes to do much the same thing in Syria.

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Mitt Romney Comes out Swinging

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Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama in Denver. Shawn Thew/EPA

Verdicts on the first presidential debate of 2012 overwhelmingly favour Governor Mitt Romney.

Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama in Denver. Shawn Thew/EPA

Romney articulated his message with a sense of clarity about the political ideas and principles he represents. In contrast, President Barack Obama conveyed his arguments with the deftness of a policy wonk, the clarity of his own vision overshadowed by dense policy explanations. The debate was always Obama’s to lose, with a senior Romney advisor noting that voters expected Obama to prevail in the debates by a margin of 25 points. The Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows points out that Romney was destined to exceed expectations, both through his proven debating skills, and by mere virtue of being seen on an equal footing with the President.

As such the key question is not who “won” on the night, but rather what the debate reveals about the ability of each candidate to bring his own strengths to bear on his opponent’s weaknesses. The debate exposed a growing strategic divide between the candidates over the perceived importance of emphasising a clear ideological vision versus a concrete policy program. The reason for Romney’s crisp delivery may ultimately be his greatest weakness; while the source of Obama’s sometimes turgid responses may yet propel him to victory in the November election.

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A Look to the U.S. Presidential Debates

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Workers put the finishing touches on the stage for the final presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Source: Minnesota Public Radio

For political junkies, US presidential debates can be both exciting and formulaic. There are too many restrictions and candidates invariably pull out numerous stock phrases that sound excessively scripted.

Workers put the finishing touches on the stage for the final presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Source: Minnesota Public Radio

However, there’s also the possibility for drama, doublespeak and, most entertainingly, mistakes or miscalculations. The first of the three presidential debates, moderated by Jim Lehrer, will be held in Denver on October 3rd. It will cover domestic policy. The economy and jobs should dominate the agenda, but questions on healthcare and “the role of government” will also receive significant attention.

Mitt Romney is not a particularly inspirational candidate and his campaign has been far from brilliant. He is behind in the polls, including most of the battleground states. So he has left himself with no other option: he must outperform Obama in these debates and a disappointing performance next Wednesday could do irreparable damage to his candidacy. So what might be on Mr. Romney’s mind leading up to the debate? And how should he approach the task at hand? Aside from feeling a hint of panic, Romney may be thinking that it’s now or never. Clearly, Romney should go after President Obama on the economy—early and often.

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Failed legacies of Bush and Obama

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President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden of the White House

The former first lady, Laura Bush, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed wrote of the harrowing and long drawn out ordeal of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, who in 1989 was placed under house arrest by the ruling Junta.

President Barack Obama in the Rose Garden of the White House

Aung San Suu Kyi, chairperson of the NLD party, won a resounding victory in 1990, garnering 59 percent of the vote. She never wavered in her belief that the voices of Burmese are important and should be listened to. In 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This past week, Aung San Suu Kyi was presented with a Congressional Gold Medal that she was awarded in 2008.

Bush expressed her respect and immense admiration for the courage and bravery displayed by Aung San Suu Kyi and was so inspired Suu Kyi’s plight, that she herself took up in the fight to free Aung San Suu Kyi by drawing greater public awareness to her situation, in the hope that this action would eventually force Burma’s rulers to succumb to international pressure. While under house arrest, Suu Kyi’s cancer stricken husband was not allowed to visit her and when he eventually died, Suu Kyi was kept from saying her last goodbyes. Laura Bush seemed genuinely moved by this particular travesty to justice and by all accounts, appeared wrought and emotionally perplexed by the junta’s lack of respect for basic human values – a respect that so many of us Westerner’s have come to take for granted.

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Some Thoughts on a Frustrating Presidential Race

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Mitt Romney accepting the nomination in Tampa. Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour

Barack Obama inherited a mess, but his presidency has been, by most historical standards, a massive disappointment.

Mitt Romney accepting the nomination in Tampa. Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour

Obama has had some foreign-policy successes, but most Americans could not care less about foreign policy. Besides, he has alienated the left-wing of his party by perpetuating (and even expanding upon) many of the counterterrorism policies of his predecessor. Obama is telling the American public that we need to move “Forward” and that Mitt Romney would be a step backward for a host of reasons. It would appear that Obama’s strategy is working.

The fact that Mitt Romney has a reputation as a “flip-flopper” does not guarantee that President Obama will be reelected in November. What does make it likely that Obama will be reelected (aside from some recent polling in swing states) is the fact that pundits are lamenting the Romney campaign’s ineptitude and utter lack of policy coherence. How much time does Mr. Romney need to get his act together?

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Romney’s Contribution to the Unrest in the Middle East

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Mitt Romney campaigning in New Hampshire. Photo: Marc Nozell

Among the things that are consistent about Mitt Romney are the chameleon-like nature of his political character, his incessant pandering to the small-minded among his political constituency, his frequent flip-flopping on major policy issues throughout the course of his political career, and his ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Mitt Romney campaigning in New Hampshire. Photo: Marc Nozell

None of this would serve him well as president in a country as divided along ideological lines as the United States of America today, but even less so in a world convulsing with political change and yearning for thoughtful leadership. Mr. Romney’s reaction to the terrible events in Benghazi provide good insight into what may be expected of a Romney presidency.

A Romney supporter may be inclined to justify his ill-advised response to the tragedy to the fever pitch of the political campaign, but this is further evidence — as if any were needed — that Mr. Romney has a tendency to speak without thinking much about the consequences of his actions. His trip over the summer to the UK, Israel and Poland provided ample indication of Mr. Romney’s ability to put his foot in his mouth with allies. Benghazi has demonstrated that Mr. Romney has the ability to further inflame already volatile situations abroad, and little comprehension of the nuance required to conduct foreign affairs.

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Chicago Teachers Strike: Targeting the Teaching Evaluation

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Teacher's striking in Chicago. Spencer Tweedy/Flickr

Teacher’s striking in Chicago. Spencer Tweedy/Flickr

“This was a strike of choice, a bad choice for our children and not necessary.”

– Decried an irritated Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

350,000 students and 26,000 teachers have stayed out of classes now for two days as contract negotiations take place between Chicago Public School officials and the city’s teachers’ union. This is not small beer – the strikes are taking place in the third-largest school district in the U.S.

It is also the first time such broad strike action has been used in Chicago since the four week strike of 1987, and many of the issues are similar – teaching conditions, benefits, pay raises, air-conditioning in class rooms. The target may also be, speculates Rick Perlstein of Salon, bullyboy plutocracy. Emanuel, in fits of misdirected toughness, has been forcing initiatives down the throats of teachers, a notable one being the lengthening of Chicago’s school day.

The force and effect of the strike may not be as significant as past actions, for the simple fact that America’s union movement has been well and truly defanged. Since June 2009, the largest teacher’s union, the NEA, has lost 100,000 members, leaving it with a membership base of 3 million (NPR, Sep 10). That said, it would be a mistake to underestimate their influence. In Perlstein’s defiant words, “It’s an inspiration to anyone frustrated that people have forgotten how good it feels to stand up to bullies – and how effective it can be.”

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Reflections on the Republican National Convention and the Week to Come

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Paul Ryan at the Republican National Convention. Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour

I’m not surprised the Republican National Convention was light on policy.

Paul Ryan at the Republican National Convention. Mallory Benedict/PBS NewsHour

What was surprising was that it was so light on policy. I don’t think I’m the only one who was disappointed. I wasn’t expecting the Republican National Convention (RNC) to have the feel of a Brookings panel discussion, but I was still expecting the speeches to have more substance. I was hoping to hear a clearer delineation of the way forward for this country if Mitt Romney were elected president. But I didn’t hear much of that. Instead I heard more platitudes and generalizations. I heard more talk about American greatness and the unyielding virtues of free enterprise.

Essentially, I heard what I, and many others, had already heard. I witnessed a RNC that was too focused on “introducing” Mitt Romney as a person and not focused enough on introducing the policies of a president Romney. While the RNC clearly succeeded in accomplishing the latter, a referendum on Barack Obama’s presidency was substituted for the former. That’s too bad because there are a lot of undecided voters, including this writer, who would have appreciated more details.

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Picking Sides in November

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Mitt Romney at a town hall in Dayton, Ohio. Terence Burlij/PBS NewsHour

November’s Presidential election is coming down to the wire. And with neither candidate holding a clear and decisive lead in the polls, it is still anyone’s guess as to who will be America’s next President.

Mitt Romney at a town hall in Dayton, Ohio. Terence Burlij/PBS NewsHour

In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial the argument is made, “If America were in a better place, Mr. Obama would be cruising to a second term. But most Americans have come to realize the country is in trouble and is heading for worse on its current path. Mr. Romney’s life experience makes him more than qualified for what Mr. Ryan aptly describes as a ‘turnaround.”

Obama might take offense to the argument made in the WSJ. While the American economy is still sputtering along, it’s becoming clearer with each passing day that America is on the road to a slow recovery. A slow recovery is not such a bad thing either. And in fact, a slow recovery is exactly what America needs right now. By funneling huge amounts of capital into the economy, in order to stave off a total economic meltdown, Obama’s first term will forever more be known as the big loan that staved off total financial ruin.

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The Politics of ‘Legitimate Rape’

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Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin

Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin

If a campaign can self-destruct in an inferno of imbecility, then this must surely provide a good recipe for it. Aiken’s grasp of reality, at least when it comes to those of the opposite gender, is slim, caricatured and severe. Enter then, the disastrous move that requires a contrition tour to rival that of Bill Clinton, the antics of Congressman Todd Akin and his remark about “legitimate” rape.  For Aiken, Mitt Romney backer, promoter and slugger, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. [Pregnancy] But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. You know, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

This is familiar territory for Aiken, who is a devotee of that line of thinking that Medicaid funding should be only applied to abortions in cases of “forcible rape”. He sponsors bills to that effect, and has a coterie of zealous followers. That rape might itself have its own taxonomy would be remarkable, even for Akin.

Individuals such as Dr. John C. Willke, who promoted the idea in the mid-1980s that rape, given its awe-inspiring brutality doesn’t lead to conception, share the curious pattern of thinking that afflicts the Missouri representative. For Willke, a woman might well be “uptight” in the face of such a traumatic encounter. “The tubes,” he has stated rather graphically in a treatise lacking an iota of scientific merit, “are spastic.”  In an article in the Life Issues Connector (April 1999), Willke claims that, “Assault rape pregnancies are extremely rare.” In the lurid figures he proceeds to recount, he finds few conceptions to warrant a mention. Women, strange creatures, dare not conceive before the invasions of the molesting phallus.

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