By Harry C. Blaney III
“And so just understand — the folks on the other side, they’re counting on you being cynical. They’re figuring you won’t think you can make a difference. They figure you won’t organize. They figure you won’t vote. You will just go along with the status quo…. Don’t buy it. Don’t be cynical. Be hopeful…. Cynicism didn’t put anybody on the moon. Cynicism has never ended a war. It has never cured a disease. It did not build a business. It did not feed a young mind. Cynicism is a choice. And hope is a better choice. ” – President Obama while campaigning for Mary Burke in Wisconsin (October 28, 2014)
We are now just one day from the midterm elections and we are providing a quick review of what we have seen in the debate, or really a lack of substantial debate, on foreign policy and national security this election season. It will be no surprise to those interested in how America engages abroad that there are at least three very early sad insights we can draw from this election season’s lack of strong debate about key international issues, and worse, a flight to emptiness and lies.
One reality is that there was very little serious and thoughtful debate about these international issues. Instead, there was a bit of rather nasty, partisan (nothing new here), and totally malicious statements which provided for our citizens little insight or real understanding of our challenges abroad. Think Ebola and efforts to frighten the citizens into an anti-Obama frenzy. Think “border control” and terrorism or disease coming over from Mexico. Think assertions of “weakness” to deal with ISIS while not really providing any thoughtful and realistic alternatives, and least of all a debate and vote in Congress.
“The problem is with Mark Pryor and Barack Obama refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and refusing to secure our border. I’ll change that when I’m in the United States Senate. And I would add, it’s not just an immigration problem. We now know that it’s a security problem. Groups like the Islamic State collaborate with drug cartels in Mexico who have clearly shown they’re willing to expand outside the drug trade into human trafficking and potentially even terrorism. “They could infiltrate our defenseless border and attack us right here in places like Arkansas. This is an urgent problem and it’s time we got serious about it, and I’ll be serious about it in the United States Senate.” – Congressman Tom Cotton (October 7, 2014)
Second, note how little insight was provided by the campaigns and most candidates on how Americans should deal with all the problems and dangers abroad. Think of how many times you heard a discussion about Iran, Afghanistan, global climate change, international trade, our defense policy, global poverty, human rights, Syria and Iraq, China, Russia, and Ukraine. There were a few comments on some of these (see our quote section for a sampling, but hold your noise), but few truly addressed any of these issues in other than a myopic and partisan way. And as for our media, both newspapers and TV and even mainline “web” gave overall little insight and in most cases simply added to our confusion by imparting often truly repetitive lies.
“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” – Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaking with ABC’s Jonathan Karl (May 11, 2014)
The third element is how massive right-wing “dark money” directed and obfuscated the debate, along with a conniving and toadying press which made loads of money from right-wing advertisements. This happens with much of the media now controlled by conservative and mega rich Republican backers (think the Koch brothers). Even public radio and CSPAN gave inordinate time to the right-wing groups and speakers. How much did you see of any fair or balanced analysis of our foreign policy? Most was on who was winning and who was losing. How often did any of the mainline media give any insights into what issues should be on the agenda and where any of the candidates varied from the truth or were simply malicious and untruthful? Big “dark money” has to be the main theme and how it determined the debate, agenda, and the messages of this election. All of this was at the expense of any time spent on serious examination of the issues and on what polices made sense, who understood the forces at work in our globe, and which perspectives did not. The media today may be the accomplishers of the death of our democracy.
We acknowledge that foreign policy issues were not ranked high on public opinion polls with people prioritizing jobs, unemployment, health care, and other issues, but some of this was also driven by TV and newspapers that abandoned their responsibility to present serious and balanced substantive analysis. But this was also true on much of the domestic issues that were of concern to the electorate. It seemed again that only the horse race and snide basis towards right-wing views, presenters, and guests were the order of the day.
More after the election and the implication of its results for our policies abroad, as well as a look forward to the 2016 election.
We welcome your comments!