Are Voters So Ill-informed That It Places Our Form Of Government In Jeopardy?

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?

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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.

Okay, We Know What You’re Against, But What Are You For?

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.

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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.

Mr. President, No Must Mean No!

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.

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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!

BOOM! CRASH! BAM! Are We Being Given The Comic Book Version Of The Battle Against ISIS?

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.

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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.

Are We The Proxy Warriors Of The Middle East?

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?

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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.

But Mr. President, If That Doesn’t Work, Then What?

Any of us old enough to remember the steady mission creep that characterized the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War can’t help but cringe as we watch the President speak about our limited and almost antiseptic strategy to eliminate the threat posed by ISIL.  It seems that his plan is predicated on a strong commitment and success of others, yet to be named.  To his credit he didn’t make ISIL out to be the most threatening scourge the world has ever seen.  He did, however, attempt to place them within the context of the war on terrorism.  I applaud him in his effort to diminish the hysteria that has been ramped up over the past couple of weeks by both politicos and press.  At the same time, he did call ISIL what it is.  They are a threat to the Muslim, Christian and minority religious populations in Iraq and other middle eastern countries.  They are brutal, genocidal and amoral.  Their goal is to terrify and control populations and to expand their sphere of influence.  While they do not pose an imminent threat to our nation at home, they do pose a threat to American interests abroad.  This is a valid rationale for implementing a strategy to degrade and defeat them.  But Mr. President, if your stated strategy doesn’t work, then what?

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To say that the middle east is incredibly complex and defies rational thought is an understatement.  Imagine that what the President is attempting to do is thread a needle twice using the same needle.  He is trying to get Sunni Arab nations to commit to supporting and participating in a ground war against ISIL, a Sunni Muslim group.  He is further trying to get the Free Syrian Army to fight against ISIL, an anti Assad group, while also fighting against Assad.  To make things a little more interesting, he is trying to get the newly constituted Iraqi Army, under Shia control, to go after ISIL in Sunni controlled areas of Iraq, while the Sunni populations of those areas have, based on recent history, little confidence in the Iraqi Army.  If this all sounds counterintuitive and confusing, it should.  To further complicate the situation, you can’t discuss the middle east without the overlay of the 1300 year war between the Sunnis and Shias or the Israeli/Palestinian dispute.  Finally, I know through my own personal experience that I won’t expand upon  here, that the middle eastern mindset regarding negotiation and agreement is sort of “now you see it, now you don’t”.  What was agreed to yesterday is forgotten today.  Based on all of the above I think it is valid to ask, “Mr. President, if your strategy  doesn’t work, then what?”

It has been interesting to note that the polls over the past couple of weeks have increasingly supported military action by the United States to destroy ISIL.  It is true the action being discussed has been limited to expanding American bombing into Syria, but  the numbers seem to indicate a greater acceptance by Americans to engage in this battle.  While there is still an overwhelming objection to “boots on the ground”, do you really think it would be difficult to move public opinion in that direction?  If the President made the case that ISIL is at our very doorstep and could strike America at any moment if not stopped, do you think it would take much to push Americans over the edge in that poll?  We are at the nexus of “911 syndrome” v. “Vietnam syndrome”.  It consists of our great fear of being attacked at home again verses a fear of a multi-year entanglement fruitlessly costing America and Americans dearly.

I find our current dilemma unsettling.  I am not accusing the President or his administration of not being honest with us.  I believe that he sincerely trusts that his strategy will work and wants to avoid placing Americans in harm’s way on foreign soil once again.  But still I must ask, “Mr. President, if your strategy doesn’t work what then?”

 

Who Do You Trust To Deal With ISIS?

As I sat down to write this blog post I was torn and conflicted.  I cringe at the very mention of the beheadings that have occurred. I find that act to be so reprehensible and barbaric.  My first reaction is to want retribution for those lives that were taken so needlessly.  But, at the same time, there is a little voice that keeps asking, “are we being drawn again into a war that will end badly?’  Sadly, I simply don’t know.  Yet, there is no shortage of those who will tell us what we should be doing.  There, are as always, experts who are only too happy to tell us what is really going on.  But who really has the answer?  Who should we trust?

Over the last few weeks we have been surrounded by news of ISIS.  I say surrounded because it is literally all around.  It is on Twitter, YouTube, all newscasts, all news feeds and in the punditry.  This group and its exploits have seemingly met the criteria to become a new international scourge.  I say this not in an effort to diminish ISIS’ horrific behavior.  They are surely ignoring  all acceptable international standards of warfare.  Yet, they are not the first group to act barbarically towards their real or perceived enemies.  History is filled with such examples.  However, today’s media environment seems to magnify and enhance ISIS to a level never before confronted by the Western World.  Given this new media reality, it is difficult to separate fact from hype.  That is of particular concern given our most recent history in Iraq and the unstoppable drive to invade to rid the world of another scourge.    Will we look back on our actions against ISIS, whatever they turn out to be, with the same sense of regret and feelings of betrayal that accompany our discussions of Iraq?  Again, who should we trust to tell us the truth and lead us in the right direction?

There is little doubt that today’s rapid-fire and ever-present media creates a new environment for presidential decision-making.  When we compound that with “shoot from the hip” congressional comments from candidates who have no responsibility for policy implementation, the President finds himself under great pressure to respond.  While we have all been appalled by the barbaric executions of two American journalists, we hope that our leaders act based on a complete understanding and appreciation of how those actions will impact on our nation now and tomorrow.  We do not want a leader that is reactive and emotional, but rather one that is pragmatic and purposeful.  This isn’t to say that President Obama can deliberate forever.  But deliberation and careful consideration of consequences of any action is what was sorely lacking in our last leader.

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President Obama has often been criticized for his seemingly slow and excruciatingly deliberative style.  There are those who view this as indecisiveness and weakness.  The Neocons of the Bush years are drooling over the opportunity for America to again show its muscle in the Middle East.  There are calls from all sides for America to take the lead and rid the world of its latest scourge.  But the President is listening not to those who will gain politically or economically from such a commitment, but rather to a war-weary nation.  Balancing the need to deal with ISIS with the need to respond to the many other pressing issues confronting our nation is the responsibility of only one man.  All of the other voices  seeking attention have personal agendas.

Again, I come back to the question of who do you trust to make the right decision?  If it is President Obama, make sure that he has all of the support he needs in your vote in November.  I fear for our future both domestically and internationally should the GOP take charge in both houses.