The pollsters and pontificators are moving at breakneck speed to produce the correct prediction as we move to within just a few days of the election. It seems that this campaign has been going on forever. We quickly delete the campaign related e-mails that seem to appear on our smartphones every other minute, and immediately tune out the obnoxious and incessant political ads that appear on our TVs endlessly. We know without even being told that an enormous amount of money has been spent during this midterm election cycle. The intensity and negativity of the messages being screamed at us have made this a particularly distasteful process. Though the elections are local, the tone that has existed in Washington D.C. over the past six years has seemingly just become part of our national political culture, trickling down to the local level. The current political environment and seeming political paralysis does make it difficult to get excited about voting, yet to sit this election out is to give into those who will gain the most if you don’t vote.
We have been told by those in the know that this election will be determined by turnout. That is, of course, always the case, but in this cycle it is particularly true. While the gerrymandering that took place in 2010 created a significant number of “safe” GOP Congressional seats, there are many more that are not so “safe”. Though there is no expectation that the House will change to a Democratic majority, holding the Republicans to a narrower majority would make it more difficult for them to ride rough-shod over potential legislation. There are many congressional districts where a strong Democratic turnout could make the difference. The Senate is in true danger of shifting to a GOP majority. Anyone reading this blog post understands the implications of this change. Not only would it endanger the progress of the past six decades made in minority and women’s rights as well as health care, but it would seek to erase the Obama legacy as if this Presidency never existed. It is clear that Obama and all that he represents is anathema to the GOP and all that it stands for.
As we all know, the GOP has sought to block progress on almost every issue that is important to the progressive majority of this country. Polls have shown majority support for immigration reform, gun control measures, increase in the minimum wage, and equal pay for equal work to name a few issues. How is it than that the GOP has been able to block action on any of these issues? This is particularly troubling when you realize that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans, The simple answer is by controlling the legislative process on the local, state and federal levels. How do they do this? By getting their supporters elected. They spend a fortune on elections, they corrupt the voter registration and polling processes and they gerrymander the districts when they can. They are happy to make these election cycles as distasteful and nasty as they can to turn you off. They want you to sit this election out because you are so disgusted at the whole thing. The lower the turnout the greater chance of victory for them.
It is amazing that so many of the key senatorial races are polling within the margin of error. This means that despite the President’s low polling numbers and the sense of chaos being promulgated by the GOP throughout the country, the voters don’t necessarily see the GOP as the solution. Most importantly, it means that if you vote, you can deny them their wish. They don’t want you to vote. They are doing everything possible to discourage you from voting. What does that tell you? Well, here is what I am telling you. Every vote counts! Your vote can make a difference! If you don’t vote, you forfeit your right to complain!
When I was a kid in the Bronx during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s I remember being told that there were certain parks and playgrounds we couldn’t go to because we might catch whooping cough or polio. This was particularly so during the summer months when it was thought that these highly contagious diseases spread quickly and without warning. There was great fear and those who could escape the hot congested cities for the less crowded and less disease-ridden countryside did so. These diseases created an ongoing national crisis, severely afflicting young children, often leaving them with lifelong health challenges. We all knew of kids who became ill during those years and seeing children with leg braces or crutches resulting from a battle with polio wasn’t out of the ordinary. The fear was fact-based and rational, yet there was not a national hysteria nor any kind of politicization of this widespread health crisis. Now let’s fast forward to today. America is certainly not the same country it was in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Now instead of taking responsibility for the health and safety of our own families without looking for someone to blame, we have become lazy, ignorant and irresponsible. Welcome to the enlightened third millennium.
The Ebola hysteria of the past several weeks has exposed the worst that America has to offer. The fear-mongering so evident on cable TV and among those whom we elect to lead with knowledge-based solutions is astounding. The GOP has seen this as an opportunity to cast aspersions on the Obama Administration as if he is responsible for the introduction of an Ebola case into this country. They are calling for a virtual end to air travel into this country from nations within West Africa. They are adding legitimacy to all of the non-science-based theories that are bandied around on TV and in public pronouncements. This group who has had nothing but disdain for science is suddenly respectful of the science of virology. However, at the same time they misstated it. Rand Paul has pronounced on several occasions in the past few days that Ebola is highly contagious and spreads easily. Rep. Joe Wilson stated that Hamas could bring Ebola across our southern border. According to an article in the Washington Times by Jessica Chasmar on October 2nd, Rev. Louis Farrakhan argued in a blog post that the Ebola virus is a race-targeted bioweapon created by white people. Not surprisingly Fox News has been the greatest perpetrator of Ebola hysteria. Elizabeth Hasselback of FOX News demanded that we put the country on lockdown, banning travel in and out; Fox Host, Steve Doocey suggested that the CDC is lying about Ebola because they are part of the administration. Despite a major effort by public officials to explain that this virus can only be spread by exposure to bodily fluids after a patient shows signs of illness, a Harris Poll published last week indicated that three out of four of those polled said that they are concerned that people carrying Ebola will infect others before showing symptoms themselves. This is obviously a result of the misinformation that is being perpetuated by both the media and the GOP.
Why would they do such a thing? What is in it for them? Unfortunately, the answer is much too transparent. The simple reality is money and power. Casting aspersions on the Obama Administration just weeks before the midterm enhances the GOP narrative of an administration incapable of taking charge and not able to protect America. This they hope will translate into votes for GOP candidates on November 4th. The money issue is quite simple as well. TV is all about money and entertainment, not information. Fox is doing everything it can to create a compelling narrative about Ebola so that it can increase its viewership and therefore increase its advertising revenues. In both cases they depend on the willingness of people to listen to what is being told to them rather than reading and investigating on their own. Unfortunately that is what has been happening. There couldn’t be a more cynical way of handling the Ebola scare than what we are witnessing. When those in charge of media and political policy begin to play on fear and ignorance they need to be called out on it, but that’s not happening. The GOP wants you to be afraid, very afraid. Show them that you’re not, vote Democratic on November 4th!
As you enter the voting booth you need to consider the following national issues: Ebola, ISIS, immigration reform, gun control, minimum wage increase, pay equity, marriage equality, national debt, voting rights, abortion rights, national security, Benghazi, IRS, VA, tax reform and climate change to name just a few. This of course does not include the myriad local and state issues voters are confronted with. It is not easy to be a responsible voter, so maybe it is simply easier not to vote. Let’s face it, we are not a population known for its studious review of issues and careful analysis of our options. More often than not we vote as our parents did and we vote straight party ticket. But during the past several months we have simply not gotten a break. Everyday brings a new crisis that seems to bring us to the brink and our government seems unable to respond in a forceful and cohesive manner. Does it really make a difference who we send to Washington? It seems not only that the world’s problems are encroaching on our lives, but that Washington is so broken that it can no longer keep the world from sucking us in. How can I begin to understand and make the right decision? Who can I depend on to do the right thing and help me protect my family? In truth, when you get down to it, that is the question I need to answer when I am in the voting booth. Is the American voter willing to put in the time and effort to answer that question or is he so underwhelmed or underwhelmed at the choices and the way they are presented that he will choose to sit this election out?
Our system of government is dependent upon an informed and engaged electorate. Yet, we must ask whether the extraordinary proliferation of media and advertising has, in fact, created a glut of information that is nearly impossible to decipher. When we add the Madison Avenue approach to the “selling of the candidate” and his message we must ask whether we are enhancing the information of the electorate, or simply finding new and better ways to convince the electorate. Add to that the seemingly unlimited funding available to today’s candidates to buy the best and the brightest propagandists and the voter doesn’t have a chance. Today the voter is flooded with seemingly valid but conflicting arguments on any issue he is asked to vote on. It then becomes the obligation of the voter to study and learn the facts in order to make an intelligent and informed decision about which way to vote, yet we are all aware of propositions that have been purposefully worded in a way to confuse the voter.
The reality is that the campaign machines that have been developed are so sophisticated that they are able to target the average voter with information that is incorrect yet plausible. The only way the voter could know about the incorrectness of the information is to have taken the time to study the issue and familiarize himself with the facts. Unfortunately, a small percentage of voters take the time to educate themselves. They tend to buy into the ads and listen to their friends and family. While democracy is dependent on an informed and engaged electorate, Americans are not meeting the challenge and achieving the goal.
It is not good enough to simply go to the polls and vote. To vote blindly is to elect blindly. I have been beseeching everyone to take the time to vote in this most important midterm election for months. But now I beseech you to take the time and make sure that you know what you are voting for. Study the issues and understand how your vote will impact on our future. Let’s work together to enhance our democracy, not belittle it.
Remember that kid in the group you hung with who was against any suggestion anybody made? You know, you’re sitting around trying to decide what to do over the upcoming weekend and no matter what anybody suggests, he’s against it. However, when you ask him what he suggests for the weekend, he has no ideas. It seems that the merit of the idea has nothing to do with his reaction, but rather from whom the idea originated. Sound familiar? When we were kids we simply began to ignore that dissenting opinion because we understood that it had no merit. Why is it then, that voters continue to validate that behavior in their congressman or senator when they wouldn’t do it for that kid? We are well aware of what the GOP is against, but what are they for?
We know for example that they are against the Affordable Care Act and have tried to repeal all or part of it over 40 times. We know that they are against immigration reform. It is not surprising then that though a bipartisan group in the senate has passed a comprehensive immigration bill, GOP leadership in the House has refused to bring it to a vote. We are aware that they are against any form of gun control, though they say that we have to do more for mental health to make sure that those who are mentally ill don’t use guns to hurt people. They are against voter fraud, yet they support voting restrictions based on fraudulent claims. They restrict womens’ access to abortion and other forms of healthcare while they profess to be concerned about the quality of healthcare for women. They speak fervently about the need for adequate security around our embassies abroad, yet reduce funding for that very security. They are against marriage equality and equal pay for equal work. They are against an increase in the minimum wage and regulations that will acknowledge and react to the reality of climate change. They are against changing the tax code to close off the advantages to big business and the wealthy. They are against funding for sorely needed infrastructure improvement and job training. They are against the Common Core education curriculum and government regulation in areas such as consumer protection and product safety. I’m sure that there are negative positions taken by the GOP I have not included, but this is a pretty impressive list, don’t you think?
Now let’s see what they are in favor of. They are in favor of restrictive voting laws to protect us against the voter fraud that has been proven not to exist. They are in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act, yet have nothing to replace it with to assure the availability of quality healthcare for all. They support the freedom of all to own and carry weapons at will, though they abhor lawlessness and violence in our cities and our schools. They are quick to call for American intervention and “boots on the ground”, yet they are appalled at the treatment of our returning war veterans as they are prepared to create more. They are in favor of an increase of good paying jobs yet they are opposed to an increase in the minimum wage. They support the need for a strong American economy composed of well-trained and educated workers able to compete successfully in today’s world economy, while they underfund and disrespect science and technical education. They are supportive of strong family values as long as they meet their criteria of what a family is. They are in favor of tax reform as long as that reform does not impose an increased burden on the wealthy or corporate America.
It is clear to me. What they are for, I am against and what they are against, I am for. I have no doubt that this country will suffer greatly if the GOP takes control of the senate and increases its control in the house. I believe that the environment, the economy, individual freedom, education, our role in the world and our quality of life will all suffer. Finally, I believe that government will become even more dysfunctional than it is now if that’s possible. If you agree with me you know what to do. You and everyone you know must get out to vote. The election is less than four weeks away. Let’s make it an election that sends a clear signal to the GOP.
Not long ago the names ISIS and ISIL were added to our glossary of horror. We were first informed of them through the lenses of photojournalists. We were appalled by the genocidal intentions of this group as it sought to eliminate a small ancient Christian sect who had resided in what is today’s Iraq for thousands of years. At that time America came to the rescue by providing humanitarian assistance in the form of food and water drops to the isolated and surrounded victims. We were than introduced to the competent Kurdish fighters who were trying to protect their oil installations and their major cities from an ISIL onslaught. At that time we were informed that we were offering strategic support and arms to help the Kurdish succeed. We were then jolted by the barbaric terror of this group as we witnessed the beheading of an American journalist. At this time we felt it necessary to prop up the Iraqi forces and start to bomb ISIL positions within Iraq. We were then treated to another horrific display of the beheading of yet another American, this time an aid worker. America responded with more purposeful bombing within Iraq. Finally, with the beheading of a British journalist and increased pressure from the hawks on both sides of the aisle, America started to bomb targets within Syria.
Throughout this period the President has assured us that there would be no American “boots on the ground”. He stated clearly on several occasions that while the defeat and destruction of ISIL would require “boots on the ground” to compliment the bombing efforts, those boots would have to come from other countries, preferably Arab countries. So far, however, while the coalition has grown to over 40 nations, only Iraqi and Kurdish boots are touching the ground. The other coalition partners are providing funds, training sites and bombing runs in Iraq, but no “boots on the ground”. Throughout this gradual increase in American engagement we have been educated and informed about the nature and composition of ISIL. We have been informed that there are many American and European members of ISIL with valid passports who could easily return to their homes and carry out an act of terror. It seems, than, that the clear inference is that we must defeat them over there before they come and attack us over here. If that is the case, why are we hesitating to go after them with all of the resources necessary to defeat them quickly and completely? Just imagine if this scenario had presented itself during the Bush/Cheney era of interventionism.
The answer is quite simple, politics. While the GOP is pushing, the Democrats are resisting. Right now the Iraq debacle is still associated with Bush and the GOP. The moment Obama introduces ground troops to this mess is the moment it becomes Obama’s and the Democrats’ mess. Certainly he does not want to do that before the midterms. But what about after the midterms? I think the answer is in the polls. In an NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll quoted by Chris Matthews on Hardball this past Monday, 72% of respondents expect America to introduce ground troops into Iraq, while a plurality of 42% approve of that introduction. If we drill down into these numbers it becomes clear that the majority of the affirmative responses come from Republicans, while a small minority of Democrats support such action. The GOP appetite for a new war appears to be growing once again. There seems to be a purposeful and carefully crafted information campaign that is designed to make the case for the introduction of American forces to fight ISIL. It is the steady drip, drip of bad news mixed with American exceptionalism and nationalism that is moving us in that direction. Will the President feel the need to act after the midterms? Is there logic to the argument that if we don’t stop them over there, we will have to fight them over here? Should America get bogged down again in a war that should be fought by the residents of the neighborhood? Are the Democrats willing to allow the GOP to push them into a war so that they can erase their blunders of the past? There is still time to limit our engagement and insist that Sunni and Shia come together to fight their common enemy. In the meantime we need to invest in tightening our own security at home as much as possible to prevent an attack. No matter how tempting it is and how much we feel that no other nation can do what we can, we must not allow ourselves to get sucked into another endless, costly and ultimately senseless ground war. Mr. President, no must mean no!
I used to love to read comic books. The story lines were simple, the action was amusing and the good guy always won in the end. I remember when they brought Batman and Robin to the TV screen with much the same approach. We all loved it for the same reasons. We have often created cartoon-like characters to amuse ourselves, even when the real life characters were anything but amusing. Take for example the TV show Hogan’s Heroes. The German commandant and the German sergeant were always laughable in their actions and reactions. Yet, while amusing to watch, the real life equivalents were not at all amusing to thousands of GIs held in German prison camps. Our lives are filled with many serious challenges and humor certainly helps to alleviate some of the stress so inherent in todays fast-paced and information-overloaded existence. Yet, we must be careful not to confuse the truth-lite, filled with caricatures and simplicity, with the whole truth, filled with real people and real consequences . Remember, George Bush, Dick Cheney and their merry band of truth-lite purveyors told us that after our invasion of Iraq we would be welcomed as “liberators” and the war would be over in short order. Comic books fade and turn to dust. Truth is what we have to live with for decades and sometimes generations.
The President is being straight with us. He is not feeding us truth-lite when he describes the brutality of ISIS. They are the real deal. They are true-believing fanatics whose’ tactics are filled with horror, violence and pain. Not a single statement from any quarter has disputed this. In fact, ISIS itself takes great pride in this reputation. It is not the truth about ISIS that I am disputing. It is rather the rationale for the US response to ISIS that I am questioning as well as the response itself. Are we bombing ISIS because we fear that they will attack the US, or are we bombing ISIS because we feel an obligation to lead the fight against evil in the world? Has the US again become Batman and Robin, fighting against all evildoers? I use the word again because of our last Bush-Cheney-lead comic book-like adventure in the Middle East. That was a case in which entering the battle was clearly easier than extracting ourselves from it. In fact, it is easy to make the case that we are still confronting evildoers in the Middle East because of the Bush-Cheney Middle East adventure. Our actions have consequences. What will be the consequences of our current Middle East adventures? Yet we have been spoon-fed the rational and the facts of our bombing campaign for the past several weeks. First we started bombing in Iraq to prevent the genocide of an ancient Christian sect at the hands of ISIS. Then we were bombing in Iraq to avoid allowing a major dam from falling into the hands of ISIS. Then we were bombing in Iraq to support the Kurdish troops in their fight against ISIS. Now we are bombing ISIS in Syria to attack them at their base. Please note that the difference between the rationales for our bombing ISIS in Iraq and our attack in Syria is the difference between defensive actions and offensive actions. It is like a series of comic books. Each rationale has a simple good versus evil plot with the loud BOOM,CRASH and BAM of the bombs dropping on the evildoers. We were even treated to a video presentation on Tuesday morning of the bombs being dropped on Syria.
The rationale for our engagement keeps shifting from one week to the next. We are told that Batman and Robin will be bringing in other fighters to join them in the battle against the evil ISIS. So far they have joined only at an altitude of 30,000 feet as they drop bombs. But we are told by all who are expert in these matters that bombs alone won’t do the trick. I am concerned about what the next comic book will depict in our effort to fight all evildoers.
By third grade we have figured out which group to align ourselves with to be safe on the playground and in the bathroom. WE have no intention of getting into a fight and that’s why we make sure that we are associated with those who will stand up for us and throw a punch if necessary. This isn’t rocket science. Every kid learns that our associations are either a liability or an asset. We all understand from childhood into adulthood that whether we are in the workplace or on the ball field, it is best to associate with those who are willing to do what it takes to be strong and successful. Nations have understood this concept for a very long time as well. It became particularly prevalent in recent history with the creation of NATO and all of the similar mutual defense associations. Basically, the underpinnings upon which these associations were created were the expectation that if any member state was attacked by a non-member state, all of the other states would come to their defense. In truth, however, the reality was that if any member of NATO were attacked it meant that they could depend on the United States to come to their rescue. The Warsaw Pact nations could in turn depend upon the Soviet Union to protect their interests. This bi-polar world-order created a surprising degree of stability during its time. However, times have changed and the world has become much more complex with multiple points of influence and interest. It consists not only of nation-states, but non-state players as well. The Middle East is particularly complex and defies easy understanding or solutions. While our engagement in the past might have seemed rational to some, today it belies those rational explanations. The rules and expectations of yesterday are no longer relevant. Today we must ask, are we willing to continue to be the proxy warriors of the Middle East?
Many years ago when I was in my teens I went to a lecture given by Marvin Kalb, then the Diplomatic Correspondent for CBS News, now the Director of the Kennedy School at Harvard. I have always remembered a key point that he made in his presentation. He stated that we should always understand that nations act only out of national self-interest. If it also works for other nations with which they associate, all the better. But it first has to serve the interests of the acting nation. Is this no longer true, or have we lost sight of what our national interests truly are? Even as kids we learn that there are playgrounds that are simply not safe to play at regardless of who are friends are. As a nation what are our obligations and priorities? Is our commitment to ideology or security? Is our obligation first to create domestic tranquility before international tranquillity? In Econ 101 we all learned about the natural tension created by the tug and pull between guns and butter. Are we to place our priorities first at building a nation that provides the best quality of life possible for its citizens or are we first obligated to provide military cover for all of those who choose to associate with us?
It may seem that I am presenting a dichotomy that is unrealistic to resolve. You may feel that there needs to be a midpoint somewhere that can serve all involved parties. In some cases that may be possible, but not in the current confrontation with ISIS. I believe that we have committed all of the blood and treasure to the Middle East that is appropriate. Actually I believe that we have spent much more than we ever should have. Our young men have died and we have spent our national treasure as those who live in the neighborhood pledge minor involvement only after extreme coaxing from our Secretary of State. Frankly, it is their problem, not ours. I think it is time to completely vacate the area of all American interests and citizens and wish them good luck. Our national security is in jeopardy only because we are there. It is time for us to stop serving as the proxy warriors of the Middle East. Now is the time for the inhabitants of the neighborhood to take responsibility for cleaning up their own mess. We have other issues that are far more important to our national self-interest.