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Campaign 2008: Issues? September 10, 2008

Posted by Tim in Uncategorized.

Starting last week, Senator Obama and his surragates began sounding a now-broken record: The McCain camp won’t talk about the issues, they said.  Granted, they kept repeating the line when it became a lie.  But they have a point. McCain has talked up his personal history and his patriotism, and his young heiress’ outsider record, much more than he has specifics of economic and political reform.  The trouble for Obama, of course, is that he too has avoided weighty consideration of the issues for sound bytes and (shudder) pathetic cries of victimization.

I want to make two things clear before I go further: first, I think very little of Obama and will not vote for him.  Because of his pandering, I lately think very little of Mccain and will also (likely) not vote for him.  My second point is related: I count character of much more importance than policy.

That said, there has been a woeful lack of policy discussion since the closure of the primaries.  It’s easy to blame the media, and it bears responsibility for at best tolerating and at worst promoting the sound-byte caricaturization of the race.  But when we remember that these men are running for leader of the most powerful nation on earth, the electorate should be allowed to hold them ultimately accountable.

This week, Obama has honed in on one issue: education, largely a state-by-state issue, not a federal one.  McCain is harping on energy policy, but markets are vastly more influential in energy choices than regulation or subsidies.

To that end, I propose three issues to be brought to the fore-front of the election.  In my humble opinion, I suggest that almost everything you want to know about a candidate is communicated through their positions on the following issues, for four reasons: 1) These issues are complex, and require careful and prinicipled decisions to resolve.  2) While political, they are not black/white (or, red/blue).  Either candidate could make a wide range of decisions on each of the issues.  3) Being value-driven, these issues speak deeply to the character and personal values of the candidate.  4) Unlike education or energy, the next President will have a significant influence on how these three issues play out.


Issue 1: Illegal Immigration

After McCain’s stunning reversal on this issue during the primaries, the issue of immigration has been buried by his campaign, and untouched by Obama.  The media allows illegal immigration to become a polarizing issue, but that simplifyies a vastly complex world underneath the black/white surface issue of mercy and justice.

  1. Legalizing the invisible world of illegal immigrants would most have noticeable effects on wages.  First and most apparent to the left, it would endow these workers with legal protection and a guaranteed minimum wage, vastly improving their quality of life (and likely, reducing crime).  More apparent to the right is the echoes into other blue-collar jobs.  A surge of workers happy to work for minimum wage would drive down blue-collar wages across the board.
  2. A common complaint against the large illegal immigrant population is that they receive public benefits that they do not pay into, noticeably education and health-care.  Legalizing immigrant workers would simultaneously expose them to taxes on their now-monitored income.  Public coffers could expect an increase in income, unless of course the downward pressure on wages off-set the gains.
  3. Over the next fifty years, America can expect to witness and latinization of culture, especially street culture.  Latinos have recently become the largest minority group in America, and both reproduction patterns and immigration promise to bolster those numbers.  As latinos become less segregated, this trend will be fundamentally transformative for American politics and culture.  The ease or difficulty of legal immigration now will have direct influence on future trends.
  4. In my opinion, the larger issue with latinization is not cultural transformation, but demographic sustainability.  The West is on the verge of a population collapse, of a kind never before witnessed in history.  Russia and Japan are on the leading edge of that trend, but the rest of Europe is close behind.  Only one developed nation is poised to mostly avoid the large challenges ahead: America.  Why?  Because, while white America is in lock-step with European trends, black and hispanic America is not, and will help to make America young and economically robust long after Europe and Japan have entered a (likely) long period of aged stagnation.
  5. To be fair, though I see it as a non-issue, the hard right sees border control as a relevant issue in the war on terrorism. I am unaware of any terrorist having migrated across our borders undetected, and the much less guarded, much more porous Canadian border is ignored in the discussion.  Admittedly though, uncontrolled borders do expose America to undetected threats.

Issue 2: Guantanamo Bay

Both candidates have stated in the past that they support the closing down of Guantanamo Bay, a detention center in Cuba that is controlled by the United States and has been used to “detain” and interrogate suspected terrorists.  Closing Guantanamo may be a moral, political, military, legal, or security issue.  But it is not, unfortunately, a simple one.   Consider:

  1. There are known terrorists being held and Guantanamo.  Many of these men have, however, been mistreated and under normal civil courts would probably be released due to a lack of legal treatment.  “Closing” Gitmo, then, would almost by necessity release known, violent, ardent terrorists back into a world still full of seething fundamentalist organizations.
  2. Many of these men are likely NOT terrorists, as the dozens of dismissals and releases that have occurred in the past indicate. Legal and security priniciples aside, we are holding innocent civilians, usually for years, without release or trial.
  3. Continuance of Guantanamo Bay perpetuates a legal precedent that ignores common international law and basic consitutional guarantees, weighing it against the argument of national security.  Closing the camp would hinder terrorist investigations, some of which have purportedly prevented attacks.  Not closing the camp would perpetuate tension with the West and maintain the poster-child for terrorist recruitment abroad.
  4. HOW the camp is closed is massively complex.  Do you deport all the prisoners (excuse me, detainees) to their home countries, some of which with human rights records abysmally worse than Gitmo’s?  Do you push them all through military trials, admitting them one set of rights (essentially as prisoners of war and war criminals) or through civil courts, admitting them another set of rights (as murderers)?  Do you release them to an international body, which would be inclined to release them all on grounds of America’s failure to maintain due process?

Issue 3: Russia

Being a Russian major, this may seem like a pet issue.  But I propose it as the best test for the next president’s foreign policy.  At the very least, it is certainly a better guide than Iraq or Afghanistan policy, which have become too mired in truisms.

  1. The fundamental question here is, of course, whether America should resort to hard or soft power as it continues into the 21st century.  Hard power options include admittance of Russia’s neighbors into NATO (making them military allies) and the deploying of missile shields.  Soft power options include aid for democratic groups internally and in surrounding areas, and manuevering to break Europe’s dependency on Russian gas and oil.  The Bush administration’s response has been fairly middle-ground, but a bolder Russia (which is predicted) would force a qualitative decision by the President.
  2. You cannot touch Russia.  It is biligerent and still bristling with nuclear weapons.  Beyond the question of what mode of power to use, the President must set the objectives, short-term and long-term, for Russian policy.  Is containment the goal?  Democratization? Do we back off completely and let Europe, China, and even India lead on the issue of Russian imperialism?
  3. The President of the United States will likely, by his words and actions, establish for the rest of the world what kind of fight this will be.  For most of the last decade, it has been economic.  Now, with the muddle in Georgia (which is also, again, economically motivated), it can be recast as a military stand-off, or even a Cold War-esque clash of ideologies, this time one of democracy and pluralism versus authoritarianism.  This signal will determine what direction the tension takes.
  4. Watch for nuance on this issue.  There is ample room for it, but it is terribly easy for a candidate to get away with diatribes.  Consider Medvedev, the new President of Russia.  Most pundits agree Putin is still in charge, but few have ascribed Medvedev into the role of mere lapdog.  How the power-sharing or policy choices are happening in the Kremlin is still poorly understood.  Medvedev, ultimately, may be a cultural ally of the West, not an enemy.  Also, no one in the mainstream media has yet discussed the obvious (for Russians) parallels between the West’s tough-minded support for the breakaway republic of Kosovo and Russia’s tough-minded support for the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  This is a DIRECT response to what the Russian leadership sees as a spit in the face for their Slavic brothers in Serbia.  Will either McCain or Obama show the knowledge and sensitivity to recognize and admit that fact and pursue reconciliation in the midst of the rhetoric?  Will either give Medvedev the chance to be a liberal leader in an impossible situation?  It is hard to imagine any American politician doing any better in Medvedev’s place, given the contexts.  But expect him to be discarded or discredited in both candidates’ sound-byte solutions.
  5. Finally, keep an ear open to a distinction between Russian leadership and Russians.  Most Russians are proud to be Russian but disaffected with politics as a world of solutions (and given their history, it is hard to blame them).  Putin and his cohorts aren’t holding Russia captive, but they also certainly are not opening themselves to criticism and accountability.

So, in conclusion, if the candidates are pressed to speak candidly and robustly about these three issues, I believe we will have a clear window into fundamental questions of their judgment, values, worldview, intelligence, sensitivity, and prescience.  Politics being a game of give-and-take, it also tells you where they stand on issues of justice, security, economics, education, power, and America’s role internationally, when those issues come into conflict.



1. truettguy - September 11, 2008

So much good stuff here… Thanks for putting all of this down for others to read. One of the biggest tragedies in America is people that vote under bad information or no information at all!

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