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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Random Observations Re: Last Night’s Debate

When I finally tuned out last night, the bobbleheads were calling the debate for Mitt Rombot because (i) the Rombot failed to completely short circuit on stage, and (ii) none of the other contenders really went after it.  From the bobbleheads’ perspective, calling the debate in the Rombot’s favor is undoubtedly the safe call as the Rombot is almost certain to win the New Hampshire primary two days from now and apparently is topping the polls in South Carolina (curse you, Newt Gingrich!  You have once again proven that I simply cannot predict what Republican voters are likely to do.)

In no particular order, below the fold are some random observations about last night’s GOP debate:

(1)        The questions were pretty execrable.  For example, Diane Sawyer asked Jon Huntsman why he would make a better Commander-in-Chief than the others, a lay-up question if there ever was one (although Huntsman refused to talk smack about the other candidates; I swear, it’s as if he doesn’t really want to be the nominee in 2012).

And George Snuffleupagus spent about 15 minutes asking Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul about whether they think states should be permitted to outlaw contraceptives.  I know what Snuffie was trying to get at – the Right to Privacy – but he couched his question so badly that the candidates were able to skate right past it and the crowd began groaning.

For the record . . . Roe v. Wade declared the complete outlawing of abortion to be unconstitutional because it interferes with a person’s reproductive autonomy, which is protected by the “right to privacy” that the Court previously had held arises out a “penumbra” of the other civil right explicitly protected by the Constitution.  (The Right to Privacy itself cannot be located in the text of the Constitution.)  The candidates declared that Roe was wrongly decided, with Santorum and Ron Paul indicating that they did not believe in any right to privacy other than as spelled out in the Fourth Amendment, which only protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

However, the Right to Privacy was also the basis for the Supreme Court’s 1965 decision in Griswald v. Connecticut, which held that the individual states could not ban access to contraception.  Presumably, what Snuffie was trying to get at was where and whether Mitt and Santorum would draw the line:  anti-Roe but pro-Griswald?  (Although Santorum is pretty much anti­-Griswald, too)  And it that’s their position, why draw the line explicitly there?

But Stephanopoulos apparently felt that the debate format did not lend itself to a long lead-up question, and so skipped right to asking about whether states have the right to outlaw contraception.  The Rombot essentially declared it was a stupid question because no states want to do that, and mocked George S. for asking it.  Santorum – who has stated explicitly that he thinks the use of contraception is morally wrong – took advantage of the confusion to simply say that Roe was wrongly decided.

(2)  Newt deployed his favorite rhetorical trick for not answering a question:  refocusing the debate until you’re looking at it from so far away you might as well be in outer space.

At one point the candidates were asked about whether they were in favor of bringing the troops back home from Afghanistan.  When it was his turn, Newt just sighed and said that we were not seeing the big picture, and then proceeded to list all the dangers of “radical Islam” that he could think of, including Iran.  By the time he had wrapped up with some standard boilerplate about America taking a “firm stand against this serious threat” nobody remembered that he had failed to answer the actual question.

(3)  Ron Paul’s decision to go after Santorum as a “big government Conservative” for voting to increase spending – No Child Left Behind, the Medicare Prescription Drug Amendment, voting to raise the debt ceiling on numerous occasions – struck me as a little weird.

First, it’s an incredibly ineffective attack.  Conservatives say they’re in favor of reducing spending and shrinking government, but they like big government just fine if it’s spending money on them and things of which they approve.  It’s only when they think money is being given to the poor, to foreign countries, or to lazy, shiftless black and brown people that they get upset.  Arguing that Rick Santorum isn’t conservative because he voted to give old people prescription drug assistance is just lame.

Second, it seems strategically strange to attack another Not Romney and not to attack the Rombot itself.  Sam Seder of The Majority Report has floated the possibility that Ron Paul wants to use whatever leverage this last race gives him to extract some concessions from the GOP on behalf of his son Rand, and that this might explain why Paul has gone so easy on Mitt Romney during the race.  I confess that Seder’s speculations flitted through my mind once or twice during last night’s debate.

(4)  Nobody seemed to notice, but Santorum made the most radical statement of the night by declaring that he believed the business of marriage is legitimately a federal concern because, he said, it lies at the heart of American society.  This despite the fact family law always has been a state issue, and is an area of which the federal government has always steered clear.  Simply unbelievable.  This guy thinks the 10th Amendment (which reserves to states the powers not delegated to the federal government) means that the fed cannot impose environmental restrictions on polluting corporations, but that it can dictate to the states and their citizens what “marriage” means.

Newt Gingrich added to the confusion by saying that he respects gay couples in long-term, loving relationships, but that this doesn’t mean the government needs to extend to gay couples the “sacrament” of marriage that it extends to heterosexual couples.  Psst . . . . Newt!  A marriage license is not a “sacrament” – “sacraments” are something you receive from a church.

And the Rombot appeared to be the most addled, drawing the line against gay marriage by arguing that America has an interest in fostering families that have both male and female parental figures, and that in order to encourage such unions we grant married couples certain legal and financial benefits.  So . . . Romney thinks people get married for the government benefits?  Or that gay people might renounce their homosexuality and marry opposite sex partners if the government just sweetens the pot a little bit?  Jesus . . . what a poorly designed tool.

(5)  Oh, and speaking of the federal government dictating to its citizens whom they can love, marry and have sexual relations with . . . I think pretty much everybody at some point talked about the troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and how they are fighting for our “freedom,” or “to keep America free,” or how it is only our military that ensures we “remain free.”

To me, it sounded like they were all speaking in tongues or invoking some ritualistic incantation designed to please the Great God GOP.  And, good lord, I wish I could have strangled this trope in its crib.  The plain fact is that American freedom is not in any danger from terrorists or mullahs or foreign nations of any sort.  It may be in danger here at home from our own elected representatives who want to give the president the authority to detain American citizens indefinitely without charge or trial, or who want to proscribe the most intimate contact two people may share with one another, but sad fact remains that there isn’t a single service member wounded or killed in either Iraq or Afghanistan who made any person in America any more “free.”

America is the world’s preeminent nuclear power, and nobody else on the planet even punches in our weight class when it comes to conventional warfare.  Which is why absolutely nobody (else) in the world is trying to destroy America, or take it over, or proscribe our freedoms – because they know there isn’t a chance in hell they’d succeed.  These days our active military engagements are used to project American power, not to defend the country against nations attempting to conquer it.

A lot of the point of [my] blog is to say bad words on the Internet as a way of blowing off steam.  But the other idea is to find the touch moments of ideological censorship and fuck with them.  For instance, no active military service member is fighting for the freedom of any American civilian.  Individual American freedom is not now seriously threatened by any foreign enemies, nor has it been for generations.  Likewise, no service member who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan sacrificed their life so that any American might be more free.  It is just the facts.

(6)  With the exception of Ron Paul, everybody seemed to be itching for a new war, this time with Iran.  No wonder Iran might think it’s a good idea to get its hands on a nuclear weapon.  Quick history note – number of countries with nuclear weapons the US has attacked or invaded:  zero.   

(7)  Finally, I was struck by the candidates’ conception of US/China relations and what it means to be “competitive” in the 21st century.

China remains a reflexive bug-a-boo in conservative circles and – who knows – maybe they even believe China is a threat.  Hell, prior to 9/11 the Bush Administration -- or at least Dick Cheney’s wife -- was lobbying hard for declaring friggin’ war on China.  And, of course, we have this nastily paranoid and jingoistic anti-Huntsman ad put out by someone who supports Ron Paul:

The Rombot argued that America needs to slash taxes in order to remain “competitive,” but it isn’t clear with whom he thinks we are competing.  America’s effective corporate tax rate (what companies really pay) is already among the lowest in the industrialized world, and if we are looking for comparators to gauge our economic success I would rather look to the industrialized countries of Europe (whose manufacturing industries, with high worker salaries and benefits, higher real corporate tax rates, stronger unions and a greater social safety net, appear to be doing just fine) than to, say, the emerging BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China), where the standard of living is far, far below that found in Europe or here.

More fundamentally, I wonder whether “competing” is still the best way to view our relationship with other nations.  Historically, nations have competed with each other either in the exploitation of resources or in warfare.  I would like to think that humans are slowly getting out of the idea that declaring war on a country in order to annex them/subjugate them/steal from them is a good or even a valid idea (although, let’s be honest, that is exactly what George Dubya was attempting to do in Iraq).

And now that there are no new frontiers to grab, nations simply are not competing against each other to colonize, monopolize and exploit newly discovered natural resources.  Wherever natural wealth is found, countries have to – or, at least, they are supposed to – negotiate with the people already living there to expropriate and exploit that wealth. 

I suppose one could say that nations compete with each other for markets, but even that isn’t really true.  Multi-national corporations compete with each other for markets, and increasingly it is of little interest to any nation’s actual citizens which of these enormous corporations can obtain a particular competitive advantage – especially if, as everyone on stage last night seemed to argue, those corporations should pay nothing in taxes.  What do I care whether ExxonMobile or BP gets to exploit an Iraqi oil field if not a penny of that money is going to be taxed in order to help pay for the common good here in America?  I am not ExxonMobile, and I certainly am not going to cheer if they beat out BP for a lucrative contract because “they’re my team.”  Because no . . . no they are not.  They’ve been making it quite clear for some time now that they aren’t playing on my behalf.

Besides, in an increasingly interconnected world of global trade, the richer China gets the richer America gets.  China is growing its wealth by exporting to us, and we are eagerly snatching up all the cheap Chinese goods we can pack into our Wal-Mart shopping carts.  Americans love getting cheap shit, and we’ve got a lot of it now.  I suppose Americans would love it even more if they could get all that cheap shit without paying for it at all, but if continuing to purchase cheap Chinese crap means that China continues to grow, the American consumer is going to think that is a pretty good trade.

And although the Rombot argued that China is “taking” our manufacturing jobs, that isn’t true either.  We are giving those jobs away by failing to do anything but reward US manufacturers who ship jobs overseas because labor costs are cheaper.  If we’re not shipping those jobs to China then we’re shipping them somewhere else, and the only government that can halt this race to the bottom is the US government. 

As Europe’s manufacturing industry demonstrates, racing to the bottom in terms of lower wages and less benefits isn’t the only way to compete in today’s world, it’s just the way the 1% wants America to compete.  In the end, it isn’t China that’s impoverishing this country, it’s the American plutocrats who control it.

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