Election Day: It’s Here, God Help Us
Well, it’s here. Why, it seems like only five short years ago that Mitt Romney declared his intention to run for the highest office in the land, failed spectacularly, waited a few years, ran again, and won the nomination by virtue of competing against a field of absolute idiots. I mean, remember those guys? Good grief. To use a wonderful English expression, Perry, Bachmann, and Cain couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Lucky Romney doesn’t drink.
Now, Americans get the chance (in states where the vote isn’t being suppressed) to select between a man who ran from January to October as a “severe conservative”, only to shaft his base and dump all his previously-held convictions on the night of the first debate, and President Obama, who as I’ve previously stated is the man best qualified to lead the nation through the next four years:
During the coming presidential term, whoever is in the Oval Office will be faced with a great many tests, both domestic and foreign. …Based upon what Mitt Romney has shown us of himself, I do not trust him to secure America’s future in a manner that is just, equitable, and reasonable at home, and builds relationships, protects America’s interests, and advances the right values abroad. Barack Obama’s record indicates, by contrast, that he would be best suited to guiding America through the next four years.
I feel that both Mitt and Obama have completely different paths for our country. I think [Romney] would undo a lot of the work the president has done in the few years of his presidency. We’re already on one track; let’s give it a chance and see where we are in another four years. I liked Romney’s answer to my question better—his business experience swayed me, but the third debate swayed me towards Obama. That was a commander-in-chief test. Romney looked uncomfortable; he didn’t look presidential like he did in first debate. How are you gonna lead if you’re uncomfortable?
As we stumble towards the conclusion of this stupidest election season since the last one (Sarah Palin, anyone?), perhaps now would be the best time to highlight my favourite moments from the campaign. This has to include the primary season, since nothing really happened after that, save the exposure of a lot of secretly-recorded video tapes, some Daily Caller ‘scoops’, and something to do with a chair and binders full of women.
Debate Night in America: Romney Gets Pwned
Twelve hours after the fact, the thing that sticks in my mind about last night’s town hall is what a jerk Mitt Romney was. Backed into a corner by President Obama assertive manner (after his lackadaisical approach in Denver), Romney became even more fastidious about the rules, acting unnecessarily aggressively towards both the President and the moderator, Candy Crowley, who did a fine job under the circumstances. The good work he did disowning himself during the first debate, creating another, altogether more kindly, moderate, and personable version of Mitt Romney (3.0? 4.0?) has been undone.
Constantly squared up to each other — though it was all largely handbag stuff — there were two critical moments where Romney, in his haste, managed to get totally, for lack of a better word, pwned. The first was during an exchange which he should have won, when Kerry Ladka asked Obama who “refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans”. Obama evaded, as he had to since there’s no good answer to that. But later, Romney said, “It took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror”. Crowley as moderator in reference to Obama’s Rose Garden speech noted, “It — he did in fact, sir. He did call it an act of terror”, with the President adding helpfully and maybe a little bullishly, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”. The transcript notes applause and laughter.
The second, late on in the debate, was a display of Romney’s agitation when any reference to his investment portfolio is made, including the infamous Swiss bank account (and the Cayman Islands… and Bermuda…). Romney defending himself said, “Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust. And I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in — in Chinese companies. Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?” He kept asking, “Have you looked at your pension?”. Obama’s response: “You know, I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours, so it — it doesn’t take as long”. Again, applause and laughter. And again, what a jerk.
Also, this happened:
The Little Lies That Matter
It was the line that would jumpstart his ascendancy: “I’m Jimmy Carter, and I’m running for President. I will never lie to you.” When Gore Vidal first heard this remark, he was standing with the late Senator Frank Church of Idaho. Church, so Vidal records in his memoir Palimpsest, turned to him and said with morose delight, “Now Carter wants to deny the very nature of politics.”
In the case of President Carter, it was not a lie that destroyed his presidency. As it transpired, the American people did not much care for the truth either, promptly throwing him out of the Oval Office in favour of an acting president who had spent most of his life earning a crust by making audiences believe just about anything. Reagan’s administration would be thrown into chaos by one gigantic lie, or occlusion of the truth: the cover-up of illegal arms sales to Iran, and the misdirection of profits from those transactions to purchase weaponry for the Contras in Nicaragua.
These all-encompassing lies which engulf administrations and have the whole nation talking are not in fact the ones we ought to be concerned about the most. After all, the American people in this regard have traditionally been rather good at distinguishing the colossal, harmful lies from those not worth a second thought.
While conservatives believed it to be a scandal worth fighting over, the majority of Americans understood that it was not the business of Kenneth Starr or anybody else for that matter whether President Clinton did or did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. At once, the Watergate scandal and all that came with it – obstruction of justice, abuse of power, financial irregularities – forced Richard Nixon to become the first the resign the presidency.
Of Deficit Hawks and War Hawks
When John McCain – the national security president that never was – ran for the highest office in 2008, foreign policy received top billing in the Republican Party’s platform, affirmed by a pledge to “defend the nation, support our heroes, and secure the peace”. It is the sign of not just how much things have changed under Mitt Romney’s stewardship, but out in the country at-large as well, that notes pertaining to American exceptionalism in the world have slipped to the back of the book in the 2012 platform.
Jobs and the economy are much on everyone’s mind, and Osama bin Laden’s corpse having dissolved into the Arabian Sea, the War on Terror and international relations are suddenly of secondary import. Even the party’s foreign policy platform tacks back to matters fiscal, arguing that “the best way to promote peace and prevent costly wars is to ensure that we constantly renew America’s economic strength. A healthy American economy is what underwrites and sustains American power”, it concludes.
Whither Republican foreign policy remains nonetheless an essential and inescapable question. For, since recent polling data shows President Obama up only 1 percentage point over Romney nationwide, and engaged in dead heats in swing states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida, the matter of what a future Republican administration would do vis-à-vis China, Iran, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the transatlantic relationship becomes even more important.
It is immediately clear that, both as a party of the right and as the minority party in government, the Republican Party wishes to portray itself as far more hawkish than the Obama administration. “The current Administration has responded with weakness to some of the gravest threats to our national security”, including Russia, China, and Iran, and has fought House and Senate Republicans over “$500 billion in cuts through a sequestration in early 2013 that will take a meat axe to all major defence programs”. The Republican Party is, by contrast, “the advocate for a strong national defence as the pathway to peace, economic prosperity, and the protection of those yearning to be free”.
But today’s Republican Party has co-opted by economic libertarians, including the vice-presidential nominee, and this trend is reflected in the platform’s innate problem: that its two theoretical foundations are fundamentally antipodal and stand in direct contradiction with each other. On the one hand, in the name of “economic security and fiscal solvency”, the party pledges “articulate candidly to the American people our priorities for the use of taxpayer dollars to address those threats”. Put another way, the GOP tacitly acknowledges that rooting out the oft-mentioned trio of waste, fraud, and abuse are not enough to streamline the defence budget; cuts in real terms will need to be made to depress the national debt.
At the same time, the GOP remains wholly committed to the Reagan era axiom of peace through strength, and the idea, itself based on the false and downright ludicrous premise that the Berlin Wall was deconstructed on the back of having a bloated Defence Department, that “only our capability to wield overwhelming military power can truly deter the enemies of the United States from threatening our people and our national interests”. Thus the party commits itself to maintaining “military and technical superiority through innovation while upgrading legacy systems including aircraft and armoured vehicles” as well as “state-of-the-art surveillance, enhanced special operations capabilities, and unmanned aerial systems”.
The (Partial) Rehabilitation of Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich’s recent appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, complete with an odd line of questioning regarding his favourite zoological creatures, commenced another attempt at a very public rehabilitation. Given the depths to which his failed presidential campaign sunk, including the frequent use of racist and anti-Semitic dog-whistles, this is something that this time around probably ought to be discouraged.
He ought, however, to be forgiven for one, ill-shaped if fairly lucid remark that at its re-airing during the Florida primary was pilloried from the left and right, but in retrospect was more salient that it first seemed. Addressing the National Federation of Republican Women in 2007, Gingrich proposed that since “the American people believe English should be the official language of government”, bilingual education should be replaced “with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto”.
At the time, his comments were interpreted as to show that Gingrich called Spanish specifically a ghettoising language, given the locale of the primary in question. Both the Democratic Party and the Romney campaign thus cried racism and prejudice, and in doing so associated the word ‘ghetto’ with the more seedy aspects of that term, namely poverty, ignorance, and crime. Certainly, on initial reading, it is difficult not to flinch at the way in which Gingrich’s tongue, once more, got the better of him, using unnecessarily provocative in order to make what otherwise might have been seen as a perfectly legitimate argument.
Yet when ‘ghetto’ is taken to mean a condition of isolation, self-imposed or otherwise, then Gingrich was in a sense correct in his remarks. Without the use of English in the United States, Spanish or indeed any other tongue used exclusively does in fact become in effect a language of the ghetto. It becomes a language of solitude and community insularity, one that prevents ascension out of one’s present condition via the normal channels including higher education and employment where a firm grasp of English is necessary.
An American Education, or Why Peter Beinart is Wrong
I choose to believe, given Peter Beinart sends his own children to a Jewish day school, that his recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal is well-meaning. Beinart’s angst seems heartfelt and altogether sincere when he observes that parents who elect to send their offspring to privately-funded Jewish schools in the United States “are often asked to pay top dollar for schools with makeshift gymnasiums and antiquated science labs”.
In order to plug the funding gap which philanthropy alone cannot fill so that religious schools might “flourish”, Beinart’s solution is for the federal government to provide “substantial aid to religious schools”, picking up “pick up part of the tab” for those who wish to give their children a Jewish or indeed any sort of religious education. This approach strikes me has highly irregular, counterproductive, and in the longer term a grave threat to the unique American separation between church and state.
Beinart praises the Jewish schools of Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Indeed, here in the United Kingdom we do possess many first-rate Jewish schools, such as the Jews’ Free School in north London or Beis Yaakov High School in Manchester, which receive government monies (38 in number as of 2011, or 0.19% of all state-funded schools in the country). The schools cited are labelled as voluntary aided schools, where the state employs the staff and sets admissions criteria, but the buildings are owned by the charitable foundation which has a great deal of influence regarding how the institution is run – a model I sense Beinart may favour.
In the United Kingdom, faith schools are largely Christian in character: 22.88% of state schools for run by the Church of England; 10% by the Roman Catholic Church. Places in these schools are oft in great demand in catchment areas across the country. Regarded for their academic attainment and educational rigour, the phenomenon of competitive secular parents appearing at Sunday Mass for the sake of their kids is sadly not uncommon.
But above-average levels of accomplishment or an ostensible sense of religious pluralism does not make the funding of faith schools by national governments correct or just. The very notion of state funding for religious schools is antithetical to the basic principles of public education, which ought to be accessible to and actively encourage interaction between children of different races, religions, and social strata. By their very nature, faith schools are exclusionary, since they discourage admission of those who do not share in the faith of that institution.