American voters are facing an election cycle of tough decision making. The field of candidates and the enormous stakes for the country require greater attention and more determined digging than the average voter tends to commit to the electoral process.
It probably surprised many viewers that at the last Democratic debate none of the frontrunners would promise withdrawal or even redeployment of US troops from Iraq, by 2013. While it is difficult to know what future events on the ground might dictate, some attempt to clarify the realities that do exist is not an unreasonable expectation; i.e. will our troops be engaged in stemming sectarian violence, or tasked with destroying Al Qaeda cells? Can a mission that lacks a clearly defined purpose or a satisfactory endgame ever succeed?
For those who, in support of our Iraqi occupation, point out that we still have troops in Korea, Germany and Kosovo many years after our encounters there it is worth noting that they are not engaged in combat. Neither are they confused about their mission or threatened by insurgents and terrorist groups who fade in and out of the landscape planting bombs and taking potshots at them. Such arguments are witless attempts to support untenable positions.
But it isn’t only in discussions about the war that reason is confounded by candidates whose broad ideological constructs fail to provide real substance. Hence there is the goofy performance by Rudy Giuliani when his speech before an NRA conference was interrupted by a cell-phone call from his wife, Judith. She may have been calling to squelch his mistaken reference to the fourth amendment when he meant the second, who knows. But after chatting briefly with her, he asked, as so many parents do when toddlers interrupt, if she would like to say hello to the NRA folks. And there followed a Giuliani fundraiser for which the entrance fee would be $9.11 – – Get it? Aside from his trigger-happy “take back the night” police units when he was mayor and his tax cuts that failed to address NYC’s infrastructure weaknesses Giuliani feels most relevant when he is co-opting 911.
Perhaps more disturbing Senator McCain declared this to be a Christian nation and that “he’d prefer a Christian president over someone of a different faith”. Discussing Islam and whether a Muslim could be a good president he said ‘yes if they shared the proper values’. Was this a swipe at Barak Obama who spent his early years in a Muslim school but is, in fact, a practicing Christian? Or is religion an appropriate issue at all? In any case the good Senator might take a moment to read Article VI “the Supreme Law of the Land of the Constitution which states unequivocally that “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or Public Trust under the United States”. What is it that politicians on the right don’t get about the Constitution they claim to revere?
And why, at a time when the country desperately needs to stand together and celebrate its diversity did all four Republican front runners fail to participate in the debate held at Morgan University, a prominent black institution? Is the Republican Party still playing the race card to hang on to the old-south vote or are they just hopelessly out of touch? (Side-bar to Fox News ranter Bill O’Reilly whose unwitting racist comments caused such a firestorm. Take a walk down memory lane Mr. O’Reilly into the world of Doo Wop where black male singing groups invariably wore tuxedos just like sophisticated folks. What a shocker.)
For his part in a long, agonizing wave goodbye the president has suddenly introduced initiatives purporting to address global warming/climate change and pressing energy issues. James Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, endorsed his modest proposals as if they were the best hope for our country if only people would listen. And recently he said that, anyone who wasn’t willing to embrace the development of nuclear energy couldn’t be very serious about energy independence. There are of course concerns about what to do with nuclear waste no-one seems ready to address, but that is very much the way this administration goes about everything from war to energy concerns. Most insulting of all are the projections for the full implementation of the president’s protocols, many years down the road and into other administrations, after seven years of inattention and a total lack of creativity during his presidency.
And as for health care the president claims a “philosophical difference” with the framers of the new SCHIP provisions which would increase children’s health care coverage beyond the Bush budget parameters. Bush and supporters on the right claim that beefing up the program is just one step from “socialized Medicine”, would encourage people to drop insurance they already had and benefit families of four who earned as much as $83,000 a year. In fact the latter provision would only apply in specially approved cases while the eligibility would more realistically be expanded to families of four making in the range of $62,000 annually. It may come as a surprise to some that there are times when a family with a $60,000 income and an unmet deductible sweats the $100 it will cost to take their sick child to the doctor.
It is hard to know most of the time where candidates really stand and how they will proceed in the future. The biggest applause line at the Democratic debate came when Joe Biden described Giuliani as the “most uninformed person on American foreign policy now running for president.” Sadly voters, hungry for information, are often overwhelmed by false choices and meaningless rhetoric. They will have a steep uphill climb when it comes to making a decision in 2008 and should demand answers of substance from their candidates. Questions like Russert’s about candidates’ favorite passage from the Bible – – forget about it.

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