As I sat listening to the debate tonight I couldn’t escape the idea that all of them really wanted me to be afraid. Each of the candidates provided their own version of how the Obama Administration had allowed us to become vulnerable and the inevitable target of all of those around the world who hate us. Naturally they also believe that there are many more people around the world who have come to hate us during these past seven years as well. They want me to go to sleep each night worrying about the safety of my family and the security of my workplace and my children’s school. They want me to believe that President Obama has created a world filled with danger simply because he refuses to utter a few words to describe the terrorists and because he is too concerned with political correctness. Finally, they tried to convince me that they have the solutions that will keep my family and me safe. My God, who do they think their audience is?
They did achieve one goal. They made me very afraid. No, not of the current dangers, but rather of how much more dangerous the world would become if any of those on the stage this evening became President. Their solutions ranged from shooting down Russian planes to carpet bombing ISIS, to defeating them with unfathomable force. They provide sort of a Marvel Comic Book version of the world and how it works. They truly believe that might makes right and that we must concentrate on rebuilding our military to establish our role in the world. The fact that they helped deplete the military budget with their intransigence regarding budgets over the past several years or that ISIS was created because of our heavy-handed, clumsy and ignorant war with Iraq was not even approached in any honest way. This has become a campaign of sound-bites and one-liners. The candidates lack substance and gravitas. They are all trying to play a role and feed the audience what they believe they want. Perhaps that is the most frightening part of the whole thing. The polls are showing that they are achieving that goal. Good Lord, who have we become that this is what we want to hear?
I keep asking myself, is this truly the way to choose a Presidential nominee? I am well aware that primaries and debates have been the basic process for decades now. But has the increasingly sophisticated science of public opinion assessment and the mushrooming of social media added elements that make the debates nothing more than the candidates following a script? A script that is created from the results of focus groups, internal polls and research.to become what the voter is seeking? I remember a book that I read many years ago, though I can’t remember the title, that pretty well described what is happening now. In the book a candidate was created strictly by computer research. The candidate didn’t really exist, but had the physical appearance, the voice and the opinions dictated by that research. He never appeared in person, but only on TV. Yet he was so attractive in every way that he won the nomination and ultimately the election. If that sounds so far-fetched, think about the debate tonight. We had a bunch of people trying to look, sound and say the things dictated by their best research.
It is interesting that recent polls have indicated that national security is the issue most important to Americans today. Naturally the events in Paris and San Bernardino have impacted all of us. It is therefore not surprising that the candidates saw this as their chance to establish themselves as super heroes. I wonder, however, whether security has become the top concern because it has been spoken about so much or is it being spoken of so much because it is the top concern? The fact is, that as long as we are afraid they can manipulate us. That could mean that the values and laws that we cherish have to be bent just a little to keep us safe. Isn’t that what Trump advocated? They do have me afraid, but afraid of them.