Monday, October 18, 2004

The Non Debate

The presidential election is down to a dead even heat. So close that the outcome may not be known any sooner than last time. The close margin is a testament to the Republican machine that has managed to present disaster as strong, steady leadership. An incumbent president with a record of job losses and a deadly, inchoate war in Iraq should already be packing boxes. Instead, Bush is about as likely to win (or steal) the election on November 2. A Bush victory would seriously question the efficacy of the Democratic Party. If they can’t beat this guy, what good are they? (Between first and second drafts, I found this article that gives me some hope that Kerry will win but it doesn't change the nature of the debate in this election season.)

Of course, now that we are in the final two weeks, any hope for serious national dialogue is long gone. From now to Election Day each campaign will be rallying the faithful, getting out the vote and torpedoing the opposition. It’s time for enthusiasm, telephoning and old fashioned door knocking. Being involved in the campaign is exciting. Contacting voters is tedious work but it does connect me to my fellows in this polity. The work has meaning in a swing state. Arizona has a decent chance of going Democratic this year so anything I do toward that goal can make a real difference.

Although this campaign has not really debated issues of war and peace, a few differences have emerged between Kerry and Bush. Kerry asserted in the first debate that he would not pursue any long term interests in Iraq-–no permanent bases. Bush/Cheney are planning on an extended presence. Kerry also opposes the development of “bunker busting” nuclear weapons. He noted the incongruity of the US insistence that other nations stop nuclear weapons development even as this administration pursues a new generation of weapons. But these have been mentioned only in passing; little public discourse has been devoted to defining the US long term interests and the most effective policies for achieving these interests.

Karen Kwiatkowski addresses that void in her most recent column. A retired lieutenant-colonel, Kwiatkowski, is amazed that a small group of policy advocates have launched the US into a bid for a long term regional military presence in the region largely to protect the interests of American corporations who would otherwise loose out to European and Asian competitors. Yet in the election, the only issue seems to be whether to continue with Bush’s unplan or go with Kerry’s “better plan.” Americans are not asked to look beyond the next few months or a year. Instead our candidates talk about the short term. Tactics, not strategy. It’s our loss, especially when the advocates who got the nation into this mess were so short-sighted.

But American presidential campaigns are rarely about such big issues. Big issues require sustained thought and attention, something unlikely from most media, especially the electronic media that serve as the news and information source for most Americans. And many Americans want to believe in their president. It’s part of what they see as believing in their nation. They do not want to think that the president would lead them astray, that he would fail to put the national interest first. Thinking about long term consequences can challenge those beliefs, forcing Americans out of their comfort zones. At this stage of a very close election, neither campaign wants to disturb voters too much.

But this inattention has real costs. That the Bush Administration completely bungled the occupation of Iraq is without question. Their plan to totally reshape geo-political reality in the Middle East was little more than a dream created by the tactical invincibility of the US military and faulty intelligence. Bush and company actually believed that America could easily dispose of Saddam Hussein (correct) and the Iraqi people would welcome us (not so correct). Knight-Ridder provides a telling insight into their unwillingness to realistically plan for the post invasion occupation. This account documents the kind of irresponsibility that has characterized American policy in Iraq. The Washington Post documents the unfortunate result of that flawed planning.

To return to my original question, what good is the Democratic Party if it cannot remove these people from office?