Obama’s Debate Challenge

President Obama was caught off guard in the first debate by Mitt Romney’s pivot to the center and his embrace of the Compassionate Conservative position. That Obama allowed Romney to blur their differences on healthcare, social security and even taxes was distressing for Democrats and clearly has shaken up the race. Tonight the President has an opportunity to draw a bright line between his foreign policy and that advocated by Romney. Failing to do that would probably lead to Obama’s defeat in November.

Two weeks ago Mitt Romney’s Foreign Policy Director Alex Wong told reporters that a President Romney would ensure “the restoration of a strategy that served us well for 70 years.” Here is what that 70-year strategy looks like in terms of money spent. That much of the world has been free riding on our blood and treasure is the issue of the moment.

 Romney assumes that the aggressive military strategy of the George Bush administration still enjoys the support of the American public. He surrounds himself with Bush Neocons like Dan Senor and John Bolton who recently stated that America should “not grant any validity to international law” because it will be “used by those who want to constrict the United States.” But the country has turned away from the preemptive war strategies of the Bush era. The Libertarian wing of the Republican party (estimated to represent almost 24% of the voting public by a recent Reason-Rupe Poll) is staunchly anti-war, calling for a pullback of American forces stationed abroad. Even the Republican Realists like former National Security Director Brent Scowcroft have acknowledged that, “the decision (by Bush 43) to …..try to deal with those problems (terrorism and the empowerment of non-state actors) as a unilateral nation-state using traditional military power, is what brought America to the point of crisis.”

President Eisenhower warned the country in his Farewell Address that, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” But he would have been shocked to see how far that power has been extended. A view of our current budget priorities tells the tale.

What is really remarkable is that Congress has already passed laws (the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the Sequester) that reverse the 70-year policy of continuous increases in the Military budget. For the Pentagon, the Sequester would mean about $50 billion a year in less defense spending from fiscal year 2013 to FY2021, on top of the roughly $450 billion in reduced defense outlays from the Budget Control Act according to the Congressional Budget Office. And while the Corporate Welfare crowd like Senator Lindsay Graham vow “that I will fight this with every ounce of my being”, he is on the losing side of the political argument. As an April 2012 ABC News Washington Post Poll found “two-thirds of Americans now say the War in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting.”

As Gary Wills pointed out in an important essay, President Obama came in to office trapped by the facts on the ground of the National Security State–what Wills calls “the Entangled Giant.”

The permanent emergency that has melded World War II with the cold war and the cold war with the “war on terror”—all these make a vast and intricate structure that may not yield to effort at dismantling it. Sixty-eight straight years of war emergency powers (1941–2009) have made the abnormal normal, and constitutional diminishment the settled order…

Here is the irony. Reagan and the neoconservatives managed to convince their followers that the only thing the government knew how to do well was fight wars. All the rest–building the Interstate Highway System or the Internet, running Social Security and Medicare—the government must be incompetent. But it is the financing of the National Security State that prevents us from providing a world-class universal health care and K-College education system. Nothing else. And what is Mitt Romney offering us? A return to Reaganomics, with higher military budgets and lower taxes on the wealthy, leading to endless deficits. The tragedy of Ike’s warning is that both Democrats and Republicans alike have embraced the Military Keynesian model, which Romney used in his convention speech: “we can’t cut the military budget and sacrifice all those good defense industry jobs”. Even Bill Clinton, presiding after the fall of the Soviet Union, never delivered a peace dividend because his own draft record left him too vulnerable to take on the Pentagon. Now Obama has a once in a lifetime chance to do some nation building at home instead of in the Middle East. He must seize the opportunity or become a one term President.

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8 Responses to Obama’s Debate Challenge

  1. Flint says:

    I’m not a fan of arbitrarily giving military more money, but I am interested in knowing what we are expecting our military to be capable of and giving them the right amount of money. But yeah, I think the Pentagon, like every other department, could take a 20% cut and not be hurt by it.

    I don’t think the attendees at a town hall are going to be very wonky, though. This is going to be about ‘I lost my job… What are you going to do to help.’ My real question is, ‘who can be undecided at this point.’ As I’m neither a lobbyist nor do I need an Obamaphone, the choice is clear to me.

    Who isn’t it clear to?

  2. len says:

    Candy Crowley has a very tough assignment: keeping her mouth shut.

    I agree with Flint and others. If someone is undecided at this point, they are a) dumb b) willfully ignorant c) incapable of making a decision d) lieing.

    A combination of a and d seems likely for most of them. So one wonders what the rules are for coaching the questioners.

    The substantive part of this topic is the MIC budget. That is too easily oversimplified and a wave of the hand achieves nothing. The topic deserves more thought.

  3. Parkle says:

    The problem with low-information voters is they can be caught using a shiny enough lure. Obviously Romney’s trying to do that with his “31 Flavors” Medicare proposal. Who knows what new Crackerjack prize he’ll come up with?

  4. Roman says:

    Joe & Jane don’t give a flying xxxx about a ‘substantive discussion’ on the budget, or any other ‘pressing matter of the day’. Given the first debate’s postmortem, if they even bother tuning in, their primary interest will be – cojones. Specifically, is Mitt still slingin’ ’em, and has Barry finally found his?

    No, the real issue for tonight is ‘which Obama actually shows up?’ Will it be the ‘Phoenix Rising ~ Raging Bull’ Obama, or the “aw, shucks, do I really have to do this?” Obama?

    If it’s the later, there’ll be a run on the DNC Wed morning; is there a refund policy on campaign contributions?

    But no worries. It’ll be the former; the ‘smartest man in the room’ won’t be bested by the likes of Mitt Romney, twice.

    Just to be certain, note to make-up: hair color – dark with a hint of gray at the temples (read – no salt & pepper hair color), and wardrobe, traditional cut suit with extra padding in the jacket’s shoulders and chest (read – no form fitting suits, narrow lapels etc.).

    Heck the bylines were written over Sun’s first pot of coffee. How’s this for the NYT headline, “Debate 2: Obama – He Finally Found His”.

  5. Fentex says:

    Having just researched a fact on my phone a fact jumped out of the graph I found.

    Follow this link and which country jumps out as having inferior health care…

    Maternal mortality

  6. len says:

    “It must suck to be a Republican this morning.” FB comment

  7. Rick Turner says:

    A few points:

    Ever hear of swords into plowshares? Or MIC into Infrastructure for US? I’m sure that the MIC fat cats can get just as fat padding budgets building something actually useful to us here in the US. But it’s not as testosterone fueled making solar arrays as it is to be playing video games…oh, those are real drones and missiles? Could have fooled some of us…

    “Smartest man in the room” doesn’t equate with winning elections. Smarmiest white guy might now…

    Fentex, I got tired of pointing out just how bad our measurable results are with regard to health care. We suck. Our system sucks. The problem is that “they” blame it all on illegal immigrants pulling down the numbers. Infant mortality, maternal mortality, life expectancy, even “pleased with the system”…we suck. But we don’t have gummint death panels! No, we have private ones…

    Obumma has been a huge disappointment for the liberal ( ooh…nasty word! ) contingent (of whom I am one) who ignored the Harvard economics and the Chicago politics. He became a sheep in wolf’s clothing to those of us who thought he’d actually quickly end the Mid-East wars when it came to going up against the MIC. If he gets his ass handed back to his own bad se’f in this election, I can only hope that he shows balls big enough to go down as a screaming lame duck telling the truth. Not holding my breath, though… If he somehow squeaks through, ditto on my hopes for him as a last-term president. And ditto on my breathing style…

    I wish I had the optimism to go along with Len’s last quote. If I were a Repug, I’d be feeling pretty damned hopeful right now.

    My main concern is for my kids now. I’ll be dead in 25 years; they aren’t going to take away my Social Security or MediCare unless they want armed rebellion in the streets. But I have a teen aged son with medical conditions that pre-existed his very birth. I have three older kids who deserve a decent and affordable life. I do not believe in the supremacy of the corporation, though I do believe in entrepreneurship. I want my kids to have a good shot at a good life, and I don’t see that possible under the bland corporate view of America as championed by Romney. Obumma is not all that far from that, either. To put it bluntly, there is a corporate Oreo demeanor about him that I think fooled a lot of us on the left.

    Oh, fucking, well…

  8. Hugo St. Victor says:

    Begging permission to reenter the Dining Room…

    Please excuse my absence of mind, gentlemen and Ladies. When last we sat together at Jon’s ever enlarging Table I’m afraid the Salmon must’ve gotten to me, as I’d grown suddenly ill and had to excuse myself for an appointmentment with the WC, where I met John Cleese and Mr. Death also. Those bloody Limeys. They’re always going on about “I’d in no way wish to unsay this…” and “It isn’t for me to say that…” and “While you might very well not unwish to say that…”. Well, You Goddamed Washed UP Pederasts, we’re a free People and we like it that way, Pansies! We fought a war over it–two in fact–and you lost. So go back to Tunbridge Wells, the lot of you!

    Having picked that fishbone Ah Jus’ Wanna Say a few things from a larger perspective gained by my distance of late from this enterprise and from national issues of great interest to us in Maison Taplin.

    First, Jon’s work grows almost exponentially in its brilliantly innovative contributions to our Democracy and our American Academy. As I am so pleased and proud to have been associated with you ALL, so am I enobled by association with Professor Dr. St. Jon Schoolday, our Resident Clinician of vital ills. I could not be more advisedly sincere in stating this.

    Second, it is crystallographically clear to me that this shall be the most crucial presidential election of my lifetime. And I was born just as John Kennedy received his party’s nomination. This is that kind of atom smashing moment, yet with still higher stakes in play. Therefore it is imperative that every voting Yank throw in with all might behind the candidate of the party of her choosing, and do so STAT, exhaustingly unto reckoning day.

    I myself am a Republican unionist who spent the lower part of his life working for and with several of the most powerful Democrats of the past 30 years. My role, as a Fourth Generation certifiable Lagunatic raised by wolves in Darkest Republican Newport Beach, was to serve as conduit and peckerwood diplomatic emissary unto the unreconstructed GOP. I still love both parties, and am pleased to report that indeed I did keep faith with my promise to support young Mr. Obama’s election. It happens, however, that under the election laws of the State of Georgia I am barred from the voting booth, as I have been found by a Georgia magistrate mentally unfit for civic duty. I have no quarrel with Georgia’s Constitutional interpretation in this regard. It’s simply another reason to haul my ass back to California where I belong.

    My view of Barack Obama consistently has been that he simply is the most astonishingly undistinguished and alarmingly unqualified man ever put up by either party for election as our President. As ever, I state this dispassionately, as an American Cultural Historian, as a card carrying Journeyman Reporter, as someone who has known of Barry from the time he was in Freshman Orientation at Oxy. As a jack Anthropologist I will disclose my lens: I’ve always regarded him as my slightly younger, somewhat confused and lazy little brother; in that way, with loving understanding mixed with fraternal concern.

    To me there’s no use in trying to buy or sell him as the logical standard bearer of any of our hopes, simply because the man always has been a lovely dilletante (rather in the mold of dear Jerry Brown, yet lacking the Jesuitical brilliance and originality), and half-formed.

    All of this brings me to do, as I am doing, everything in my miserable power to secure the election of Mitt Romney, because we urgently need an adult on deck at this time. Please, I hope I haven’t again made a bad smell at this gracious table. If so, then Cleese really must go fuck off, if that ungainly powdered barrister can’t handle our Colonial vulgarities…

    Peace unto us all, and God Save our beloved Republic.

    yr. Hugo

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