This "Month of Debates" now gets to set the stage for
the coming Denouement of the Presidential Election Campaign
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Political interest and controversy center nowhere more acutely than in the question: What are the proper objects of Government? This is one of those difficult questions upon which it is possible for many sharply opposed views to be held with almost equal weight of reason. Its central difficulty is this: that it is a question which can be answered, if answered at all, only by the aid of a broad and careful wisdom whose conclusions are based upon the widest possible inductions from the facts of political experience in all its phases. Such wisdom is quite beyond the capacity of most thinkers and actors in the field of Politics; and the consequence has been that this question, perhaps more than any other in the whole scope of Political Science, has provoked great wars of doctrine.-- future President of the United States [T.] WOODROW WILSON: The State-- Elements of Historical and Practical Politics 
Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past.-- KARL MARX: the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon 
I have opened this piece with two quotes- the first from the man considered the Father of international Collective Security (or, for those in the "black helicopter crowd", the so-called 'New World Order' [;-)]), the second in whose very name attached to an "ism" all too many have sung L'Internationale; and with which neither of whom the so-called 'Tea Party' movement in today's United States is very much enamored (the disapprobation of Marx being altogether obvious, that of the other somewhat less so [although President Wilson did once top political pontificator par excellence (an italicized descriptive I here use most ironically, by the way, and in more ways than one!) Glenn Beck's list of "Top Ten Bastards of All Time" (itself the very definition of conspiracy-laden historical [I here use that last term most loosely] drivel)])- for the simple reason that each such quote contains much truth and, in addition, is applicable to that portion of the 2012 General Election campaign for the American Presidency we now enter upon with the onset of what can best be termed the Month of Debates.
It is the conventional wisdom that the three Presidential Debates (the first of which is scheduled to be held in the evening of the very day of this posting) will either make or break former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's campaign for the Presidency (while, as for the lone Vice-Presidential Debate: it is expected that- as with all such events in the past- there may well be great theater, yes: but with little substance and not all that much usefulness [the self-evident theory behind a nationally televised debate between the Major Party running mates is that it is intended to well demonstrate the "presidential timber" (or lack thereof) of those who would be but "one heartbeat away" from the Presidency itself (In this I am nothing, but I may be everything-- as the first U.S. Vice President, John Adams, so well put it) but the core problem here is that running mates cannot ever afford to all that much deviate from the message being presented by those at the top of their respective National Tickets (for where one- if not both- should do so, that would create headlines no Presidential Campaign would really want!)])...
it, of course, remains to be seen whether such conventional wisdom does so play out (as it more often does: which is precisely why it's "conventional" [like it or not!]) or, instead, some "curve ball" yet causes said conventional wisdom to (as often enough still happens) prove to not have been so wise; but this does not at all change the notion that- in this regard, at least- Karl Marx's above-quoted warning, as it were, is most worthy of all due heed.
As for Wilson's comments, as quoted above, it is rather clear that the overarching theme of this Presidential Election is one involving conflicting views of those "proper objects of Government" the later 28th President of the United States himself so examined: as I myself wrote back on 8 September of this year, in the immediate wake of both Major Party National Conventions (and how long ago these gatherings themselves already now seem less than a month beyond now!): the Nation is to be presented with a stark choice, made evident through the stark contrast between the two standard-bearers, come early November: early 21st Century Fiscal Conservatism versus early 21st Century Progressive Liberalism- each of which has its most devoted supporters who are also the other ideology's more vehement detractors...
"great wars of doctrine", indeed!
It is within the realm of Domestic Issues (of which the Economy has, clearly, been the most important throughout this entire Presidential Election cycle) that the many differences regarding "the proper objects of Government" as seen by Fiscal (where not also sociocultural) Conservatives and Progressive Liberals most play themselves out "straight up". Domestic Issues is, indeed, the very subject intended to be the focus of the very first Presidential Debate this evening and there should be sharp contrast between the Obama/Biden message ('Our Administration's policies have started to work but they haven't completely worked yet') and the contradistinctive Romney (I have purposely left the surname of Congressman Ryan out of this equation for reasons that will become clear shortly) message ('President Obama's policies have not worked over these nearly four years- mine, on the other hand- will!')...
as for, again, that one Vice-Presidential Debate a week later, the major interest in same will be with Ryan's own message ('Not only have President Obama's policies not worked, they were never ever going to work in the first place!' [by contrast, Governor Romney seems to be more saying 'Nice try, Mr. President']) and how the Wisconsin Congressman's own presentment of it therein might well dovetail- or not- with that of Romney himself (based on their respective performances at the most recent Democratic National Convention, there is little- if any doubt- that Vice President Biden is already well "in sync" with President Obama here... literally! [;-)]).
But it is the final Presidential Debate- the one that is supposed to be focused on Foreign Policy- that may yet prove to be the most interesting (where not also the most impactful upon the outcome of the Presidential Election itself). This is because, despite the so obvious (as well as necessary) focus of both Presidential Campaigns on the American Economy (that is: its recovery- or lack thereof- as we move through this Fall of 2012), Geopolitics has- indeed- well reared its ugliest head of late.
To take just a couple self-evident examples here: the ongoing civil war in Syria is, obviously, a "biggie" in this regard; yet here- as with the Economy- there is actually rather little that an American President can actually do here. As a noted post-Cold War historian (writing before 9/11, let alone the so-called 'Arab Spring', however) has so well put it: "it is difficult for those outside a particular country, however powerful, to prevent those on the inside from trying to kill one another if they choose to do so"... more to this point (and, again, within the Middle East), we also have Iran continuing to develop its nuclear program while Israel does something of a "slow burn" about same.
And here, Governor Romney's position simply must be better articulated-- for he criticizes President Obama for talking with what is termed a "rogue state" in an attempt to (however unrealistic this hope) negotiate a settlement over this very issue but what, then, is Romney's proposed alternative to this? (In truth, assuming that Iran is just such a threat to American interests, there are only two such alternatives for an American President: ignore the problem altogether [clearly not the Romney/Ryan position!] or "take it out" [which means, in a word or two, military action- if not even war]-- else, Romney is merely banking on the typical conservative Republican mythos [aside from irresponsible, where not also incoherent, rhetoric such as a fear-mongering/war-mongering Congressman Allen West (R-Florida) with his recent, frankly child-like, reference to "The Angel of Death in the form of an American Bald Eagle... visit(ing) you and wreak(ing) havoc and destruction upon your existence" (that is: 'I'm not really a jealous and vengeful God, I only play Him on social media!')] that, somehow, those "out there" across the Globe fear Republicans much more than they might fear Democrats in the White House [this even though the abject stupidity inherent in statements such as Congressman West's (merely a paranoid "variation" on the overarching conservative Republican mythos "theme") is that Nation-States with one-man rule (especially one such as an Iran for whom its President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad is really just the mouthpiece for a puppeteer known as the Wali Faqih [usually rendered, in English, as "the Supreme Leader"] and the Islamic Republic's [I kid you not!] 'Council on the Discernment of Expediency') either cannot- or, at least, will not- make the necessary distinction between Administration Policy and the ravings of a moronic Congressional back-bencher of either Major Party (even while, in Iran's specific case, we're all expected- by said Islamic Republic- to suspend all due common sense and believe that its President, its Wali Faqih and its 'Expediency Council' are all, somehow, acting totally independently of one another ['pay no attention to that Supreme Leader behind the curtain!']).
Governor Romney has to well separate himself from such extremist geopolitical garbage as Congressman West's if he is going to the more attract the "bell curve" Center and actually take it before President Obama himself can-- yet, as with his policies on the Economy (including his own views on 'Obamacare'), he will be unable to separate himself too much from this kind of "We want Our Country back!" rhetoric, for he cannot- at the same time- risk alienating too large a chunk of that very base he will need in order to build a healthy number within the Electoral College (not that it would be expected that all that many of said base would, instead, vote for Obama!) from which he might yet make the "leap" to the 'magic' 270 (should he still be able to gain that 'Center' nonetheless). As I've been saying in my earlier Commentaries of this year, Mitt Romney walks a political tightrope: his R I N O-ness as one-time Governor of Massachusetts allows him to be the best chance for his Party to take back the White House but it is- paradoxically- also a potential weakness (especially given who his running mate happens to be, a running mate who has much more "cred" with such as the aforementioned 'Tea Party' movement than Romney himself has but who has to, nonetheless [and by virtue of his own position on the GOP National Ticket], enable Romney's candidacy more than he might his own [Congressman Ryan's continuing to campaign for his seat in the national House of Representatives at the same time also adds something of a complicating factor (as running for the lower house of Congress more usually entails appealing to a narrower political constituency than, say, either Joe Lieberman or Joe Biden- as statewide candidates- had to while both ran for re-election to the United States Senate during their own respective vice-presidential bids)-- whatever Ryan might say as a Congressional candidate ever potentially produces "blow-back" onto the Romney/Ryan National Ticket itself (that is: where Ryan might lean further Right than Romney himself)]).
But this does not mean that President Obama doesn't have his own work cut out for him as regards articulating Foreign Policy: 'Osama bin Laden is Dead' can only take the incumbent so far, but not nearly far enough!
For the same post-Cold War/pre-9/11 historian from whom I quoted a few paragraphs back also notes that it is not "unprecedented for small states situated along the periphery of empires, through their own self-centered behavior, to embroil great powers in unintended confrontations with one another" (and this is precisely what is going on as regards- among other things- Iran rattling its nuclear "saber" against an Israel that is, by all accounts, currently sitting on an at least moderately-sized stockpile of such nuclear "sabers" of their own. Like it or not, America is- indeed- an "empire" [in fact (and it is, indeed, well within the realm of Historical Sense itself to say that), we are currently still within what can- despite the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet "empire" (the word is being used in quotes herein, by the way, because- during the Cold War- neither side accepted the designation while yet claiming it was the other that was the imperialists) more than two decades ago now- be fairly seen as America's third "empire" (that is: the United States as a post-World War II "Superpower"): the first being America's expansion across the North American continent from east to west (the Territories that eventually became States of the American Union being to the Federal Government what the 13 original "colonies" were to the British Empire from which they had formally separated themselves in 1776 [except that the USofA was not going to repeat the Brits' mistake of not allowing for Responsible Government within its own such continental "empire"]), the second being America's acquisition of territory beyond what would become the 'lower 48' (beginning with Alaska just after that American Civil War that had so threatened to actually break up the first American "empire" and ending with the acquisition of the so-called 'Insular Territories', the last of these being those US Virgin Islands acquired on the very eve of the United States entering World War I [and, in this period, the USofA was to act more like a typical 19th Century Great Power in its handling of at least most of these newer "colonies" ('Responsible Government? American Citizenship?! Well-- uh-- we'll have to get back to you on those!' [in most cases, Responsible Government and American Citizenship for these 'Insular Territories' came as a grant from the third American "empire", not its second!])]...
this second American "empire" bleeds somewhat into the timeline of the third, if only because- between the World Wars- the USofA refused to pick up the mantle of 'Great Power' until Pearl Harbor itself ultimately forced its hand [thus, while having the potential to be the very Superpower- that "third American 'empire' " it later became as early as the end of World War II, it continued to play under "second American 'empire' rules" to- if not even for at least a short time beyond- the very end of that later conflict]...
in any event, the Constitution of the United States of America- from the very start- provided for a President acting as an "[indirectly] elected King [or Queen]" [and an English one, to boot!] in the 18th Century sense of the term [for the Royal Prerogatives of the Crown during what the Brits have traditionally called 'George and pudding time' are themselves well enshrined within Article II of America's most fundamental Law: "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy"; "on extraordinary occasions, conven(ing) both houses (of Congress), or either of them"; the "receiv(ing of) ambassadors and other public ministers"; "commission(ing) all the officers of the United States", etc.]-- that is: a "crownless constitutional Monarch" who, at the same time, acts as his [or her] own "Prime Minster"-- yet, in retrospect, there seems to have been no little inevitability that the President of the United States would also- sooner, rather than later- become an elected "emperor", a function that would continue [as it yet continues] through all three [so far!] such American "empires"!).
That the United States of America is, at this point in the early 21st Century, postulated- as it, indeed, so very often postulates itself!- to be "the sole remaining Superpower" (the "jury" still being out- as I type this in late 2012- as regards the so-called 'BRIC' Nations [Brazil, the Russian Federation, India and the People's Republic of China]- not to also mention the European Union- as to the possibly, as well as the potential efficacy, of their respective future Superpower statuses) and, thereby, the very metropole of the sole remaining significant "empire" on Earth at this time, is irrelevant to the applicability of that quote a few paragraphs back now, as this same historian has also written that "the blunders of an adversary can at times accomplish as much as one's own actions in resolving one's own dilemmas" and there are plenty of powers (where not also nascent or emergent Superpowers-to be) who can be seen as said (at least potential) "adversaries" (including at least half of the aforementioned 'BRIC')!
If we define the current American "empire" as embracing at least the current Member-States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it can be easily seen that both Iran and Syria are on the very periphery of same (given Turkey's long-established NATO membership)... it is, therefore, the responsibility of the current "American emperor" (as it were)- President Obama himself- no less than it is that of the most viable challenger now seeking that position (Governor Romney, of course)- to well explain to the American voter just how 1. such "unintended confrontations" are to best be handled in at least the near term and 2. the United States itself can avoid becoming that very "adversary" to another who might then so well exploit America's own "blunders" in this regard!
It is because of this Foreign Policy-related component to the 2012 Presidential Campaign that I specifically included the quote from Karl Marx at the head of this piece: in an Election Cycle that- all along- seemed all about the Economy, Foreign Policy has lately come onto the American political stage to at least share the spotlight with Domestic Issues.
It is almost (although not quite) the reverse of what had happened four years ago: on Wednesday 5 March 2008, Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) was formally accepted by then-incumbent President George W. Bush as their Party's apparent standard-bearer- a pretty good feat, considering that McCain's own campaign for the Republican Presidential Nomination had been all but "dead in the water" a mere 3 1/2 months before. What had saved McCain was his position on the War in Iraq which showed clear differences with the Bush Administration's own approach up till then (the so-called 'Surge' which, in addition, seemed to actually be working at the time) combined with McCain's own "street cred" in Diplomatic and Military Policy enhanced by his status as a genuine hero of the otherwise divisive Vietnam Conflict...
simply put: McCain was the one candidate in the Republican field of presidential contenders in 2008 who gave the Grand Old Party its best chance to retain the White House (at least that Spring) and now he was to be that Party's nominee (but only come the Fall).
But just six and a half months later, McCain's Spring strength had become his Fall liability (his problematic choice of then-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate here put aside): for, by then, Economic- and not Foreign/Military Policy- Issues were far more front and center. Unemployment was, by then, rising (and, although these numbers certainly pale when compared to current statistics, the trend was already quite alarming): a 5% nationwide unemployment rate in April had zoomed past 5.5% by July and was well over 6% in August with no end in sight (a feeling well proven out by the unemployment stats we have seen since then) and- just a week after McCain had accepted his Party's nomination at the Convention in Minnesota- Lehman Brothers was teetering and venerable Merrill Lynch- once "bullish on America"- was up for sale (and what had been a housing/mortgage crisis was fast becoming a more general crisis within the financial sector itself)... enter TARP!
The point of this summary trip down political "Memory Lane" is to now remind the reader that McCain was primarily nominated in order to handle a Foreign Policy issue that was (or so it seemed during the Spring of 2008) to be the predominant issue going into the ensuing Presidential Election but only ended up getting tripped up by the faltering Economy. It's not that McCain (or, for that matter, then-Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, still battling each other for their Party's own presidential nomination at the time) at all ignored the Economy at the time McCain was "anointed" with Bush 43's Imprimatur that Spring... it's just that the political issues that so seemed most predominant in the Spring were far less so come the Autumn of that year.
2012 is- at least so far!- not quite so dramatic, in this regard, as was 2008: again, the Economy has always been the overriding concern throughout this most recently concluded Presidential Primary/Caucus "season", the ensuing Major Party National Conventions and now the General Election campaign itself. Yet, at the same time, both Major Party standard-bearers, Obama and Romney, do not get to- as this General Election campaign itself now progresses- focus on that which they each might most wish to focus on; they, indeed, do not "make their own history... just as they please" and they cannot truly escape those "circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past"- circumstances greatly colored (where not also enhanced [often too much so, if only because- while today's Current Events will become tomorrow's History- we who live through them as Current Events don't get a chance to view them as History while they are actually occurring: too many things loom much larger than they will tend to do for future observers, many yet unborn]) by what might happen to be going on on 'this day' or 'in this hour' or even 'at this very moment'... they cannot at all ignore, or even downplay, Iran or Syria-- or Egypt and Libya, or North Korea, etc.:
and it is that which will make this current month of October- and these Debates over the course of the next nearly three weeks- so bloody interesting while we all anxiously anticipate the final outcome of this Presidential Election as Tuesday evening 6 November becomes the wee hours of Wednesday 7 November this year!