I rarely watch televised presidential debates. It's not that I've become jaded, it’s just that my sense is we’re not really seeing the candidates or hearing their true views on issues, only a sanitized version put together by their handlers. On Tuesday night, we’ll see two men telling us what they think we want to hear and trying not to sweat too much so their make-up doesn't run. I actually believe those hysterical Saturday Night Live skits give a better idea of what the candidates are like than the actual debates.
To get a better sense of what I’m talking about, rent the 1972 Robert Redford movie The Candidate. It’s about a young social activist recruited by the California Democratic Party to run against the Republican incumbent. Redford is told he probably won’t win, but they need a candidate, and it will give him a chance to talk about his liberal social views.
As the campaign progresses, Redford starts to move up in the polls and his handlers convince him to make his views more moderate to appeal to a larger audience. He gets political fever and agrees to getting further and further away from his liberal core values. He actually wins.
But at his victory party, he panics, dragging away one of his handlers to ask, "What do we do now?"
I trace the style-over-substance thing back to the Kennedy/Nixon debate. For many of you, it's ancient history, but I actually watched it with my folks. As an impressionable 10-year-old, I thought JFK was cute and young while Nixon resembled a bad guy in the movies and looked like he hadn't shaved in a few days. Turns out it was just a poor make-up job and bad lighting. (And judging by pictures in the media of young male celebrities, that look is now hot!Guess Nixon was ahead of his time, at least in the area of fashion._
In the ’60 and ‘70s, Baby Boomers were notorious for the slogan "Don't trust anyone over 30."
We weren't totally stupid. We knew one day we’d be over 30. What it really meant was people in authority positions were not always right, nor did they always tell the whole truth. As the years have rolled on, style continues to be emphasized over substance in political debates. I believe the public must share the blame. We don’t get more substance because we haven’t demanded it.
As the incumbent, President Obama is more exposed. We’ve observed him over the last 4 years and have a better sense of what he stands for. That can work for his good or it can work against him. He also has the advantage in national security and foreign policy, as a lot of what goes on in that area is classified, so the Romney team is not as well informed as I’m sure they’d like to be.
For instance, in tonight's town hall debate, say someone has a question on what are the right actions to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
What Romney won’t do is applaud the current and previous administration’s efforts that have so far kept Iran from building a nuclear weapon, andthen go on to give specific details of how his Iran policy will differ.
Instead, what Romney will say will be something similar to comments on his web site:
“Unfortunately, President Obama has made no progress in slowing Iran’s nuclear weapons program. In fact, the progress of the program has sped up and today, Iran is on the cusp of nuclear weapons capability. Iran is enriching uranium at its fastest rate ever, has installed and is operating more spinning centrifuges than ever, and is nearing completion of its fortified underground enrichment facility in Fordow.
The Iranian program has gotten to this point because President Obama has squandered all credibility with the ayatollahs. His willingness to talk without preconditions or pressure, his shameful refusal to support dissidents in 2009 as they were being killed in the streets, his efforts to oppose and water down crippling sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank, and his administration’s constant efforts to talk down the military option have indicated to the ayatollahs that we are not serious about stopping their nuclear arms program and that they need not opt for a peaceful resolution. In the face of such irresolution, the ayatollahs are pressing forward without fear of repercussion.”
President Obama will probably give some variation of what he said in his recent speech at the UN:
“In Iran, we see where the path of a violent and unaccountable ideology leads. The Iranian people have a remarkable and ancient history, and many Iranians wish to enjoy peace and prosperity alongside their neighbors. But just as it restricts the rights of its own people, the Iranian government continues to prop up a dictator in Damascus and supports terrorist groups abroad.
Time and again, it has failed to take the opportunity to demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful and to meet its obligations to the United Nations.
So let me be clear: America wants to resolve this issue through diplomacy, and we believe that there is still time and space to do so. But that time is not unlimited.
We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United Nations is to see that we harness that power for peace.
Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
That's why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that's why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We know from painful experience that the path to security and prosperity does not lie outside the boundaries of international law and respect for human rights. That's why this institution was established from the rubble of conflict; that is why liberty triumphed over tyranny in the Cold War; and that is the lesson of the last two decades as well.”
What the president won’t say if the current efforts fail and some sort of military action becomes necessary we have military assets in place to take care of it. Here’s some unclassified stuff. The Navy’s Fifth Fleet is homeported in Bahrain. At any one time there is a Carrier Strike Group, Amphibious Ready Group or Expeditionary Strike Group (Marines) with a total of over 25,000 people afloat. He also probably won’t talk about the mine countermeasures exercise held in the Persian Gulf last month. Over 30 nations participated. To me it was a not so subtle hint to Iran if they ever try to mine the Hormuz Strait, one of the world’s busiest sea lanes; we have the capability to keep it open.
It’s just my opinion but I think President Obama doesn’t talk about details like this because he doesn’t want to come off as a modern day Dr. Strangelove; after all he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Here’s the way I see it. North Korea’s actions are pretty erratic. We are still at war with them. There was never a signed peace treaty. Every once in a while they do things like sink a South Korean Navy ship or shell an island killing South Koreans. They have nuclear weapons and sometimes threaten to use them but so far they have not. Now why do you suppose that is? Simple I think it’s because they know if they did should the U.S. choose there would no longer be a North Korea. The U.S. has not dropped a nuclear weapon on another country since WWII; but I’m sure both North Korea and Iran know they can’t rule it out if they would decide to use nuclear weapons to attack another nation.
Think I’ll end here. As always my views are my own.
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UPDATES: 6:20PM (Mountain Time)
As I said, I don't usually watch these debates. I decided to watch the Presidential debate tonight primarily because the news gurus are saying tonight's efforts will be aimed at two groups I'm a part of: women and independents. Apparently after the last debate President Obama is losing ground with women in spite of his support for abortion rights and equal pay. It will be interesting to see if the real candidates will show up or will it be more of saying what they think their target audience wants to hear. It seems that for many the economy is trumping social concerns.
I think a September 4th article in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/05/us/politics/better-off-its-less-clear-than-in-1980-campaign.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0) is most relevant for me as I prepare to listen to the candidates: "When Ronald Reagan asked voters a week before the 1980 election whether they were better off than four years earlier, he turned a race that had been nip-and-tuck for months into a landslide victory — and showed how a pointed question can be a lethal political weapon."
In some ways I'm better off in others I'm not; but this is something everyone has to decide for themselves.
More to follow.
7:10 PM Mountain Time
College student has asked how to make sure its easier to pay for college and find a job under graduation. Romney's answer was vague except when he talked about programs he put in place while Governor. President Obama was specific and had a 5 point plan for not just jobs but good paying jobs. Score one for the Prez.
7:26 PM Mountain Time
Who's Winning the Debate So Far?
President Obama. He's forceful and self assured but not conceited So far Governor Romney appears to be on the defensive and trying too hard.
Both candidates are prowling around the stage like panthers as they talk.
7:44 PM Mountain Time
Who's Winning the Debate So Far?
Candidates asked about inequality in the work place.
Romney won on the first go around on this question speaking about success he had recruiting women for his senior staff and cabinet positions while Governor. Earlier he had said 3 and a half million modre women living in poverty under President Obama's administration. Also made the point 582,000 women lost jobs.
The President's initial answer was weak speaking about his Mother raising two kids on his own and his Grandmother hitting the glass ceiling in the banking industry. It shows he understands from personal experience but not really an answer. He did a follow up and provided more detail. Since woman are a target audience this could be significant.
8:09 PM Mountain Time
Who's Winning the Debate?
I think it's a draw on the immigration issue. I give kudos to Governor Romney giving a concise run down of his views. Key points:
- 4 million people waiting to get here legally.
- will not grant amnesty
- will not give driver licences to illegal immigrants
President Obama said if we do something about people here illiegally do it smartly. For instance go after gang bangers not productive folks. Talked about the Dream act.
Talking about Benghazi now. President attacking Romney for criticizing his administration as crisis was unfolding. Says Romney is playing politics. Romney is doing the government didn't know what was going on and saying the President wasn't engaged because he was flying around the country. Romney also giving usual statements on Syria, Iran 4 years closer to nuclear weapon, etc. So far he has not said how he would do anything different. President says Secretary Clinton works for him so he is responsible for the Benghazi securitiy situation. Score one for the Prez on foreign policy.
8:41 PM Mountain Time
Who Won the Debate Tonight?
It was close but I think the Prez won. He hit a home run at the end talking about Romney's 47% comment. He said who are those folks?
- People who worked all their lifes
- His Grandfather used the GI Bill it wasn't a hand out, he'd earned that.
I think Governor Romney held his own and made some good points attacking the economy but blew it when he said the President waited days before saying Benghazi was a terrorist incident. The Prez said he said it the next day the and the moderater backed him up. Just my thoughts. It will be interesting to see what happens in the polls over the next few days.