This Was a Foreign Policy Debate?

I made a comment to Washington Post Associate Editor Robert Kaiser in an online chat this afternoon about the debate last night:

It’s likely that Romney’s limitations [in last night’s debate], which kept him trying to drag the subject back to domestic politics, owe to real limitations and inexperience. I don’t know why Obama was so ready to oblige Romney’s fallback to safety and follow him there. Nor do I understand why Bob Schieffer restricted most of the discussion to the Middle East and the military, as though that’s all the foreign policy worthy of being discussed or that Americans are capable of caring about. What about climate change, energy and geopolitics, immigration, drug war policy, the Eurozone and currency wars? This was the least informative debate in memory, except it did tell us almost too much about how vacant the discourse in the US has become, especially among the political class.

Kaiser replied:

Good comments, thanks. But I think both candidates are convinced that domestic issues will be much more important in voters’ final decisions than any concerns about foreign affairs.

The discussion is over, but here is how I respond to Kaiser:  Why have a foreign policy debate at all if it’s understood that the candidates and their campaigns don’t think it’s important to the voters and the media are willing to go along with them on that? Who was this debate for? Who are any of these debates for?

If you want to hear candidates actually talk about the stuff of foreign policy–how politics and economics in the US relates to politics and economics in other countries around the world–you have to watch democracynow.org’s Expanding the Debates, in which Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman allowed the Green Party’s Jill Stein and the Justice Party’s  Rocky Anderson to respond to questions Bob Schieffer put to the president and Mitt Romney. (Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson declined Democracy Now’s invitation. )  It’s doubtful, if you watched the official debate only, that you’ll have learned very much at all, given the extremely limited subjects discussed and the frequent derailments with domestic politics. But it’s almost guaranteed you will learn something watching the expanded format.

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Obama: The Lesser or the More Effective Evil?

AMY GOODMAN: … I want to ask Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report, as you talk about Obama, President Obama, being the more effective evil, are you saying it would be better to have Romney in the White House?

GLEN FORD: No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that with Romney in the White House, even Dr. Dyson and others, many others, would join in the resistance to austerity, the resistance to war. Apparently, they cannot muster the energy to do that under a Democratic president, under the first black president. It’s their behavior that does in fact facilitate these austerity assaults and these war—this warmongering, because they don’t resist it, and they accept it as something that is a fait accompli, that is an inevitability. But what our obligation is, is to resist austerity. I do not accept that Obama has to make these so-called compromises. I don’t think their compromises; I think they’re part of his overall plan to have a grand accord with the Republicans. But if you accept that, then you’re saying that the Democrats could not on their own stop these assaults on Social Security. And that’s just not true. But they cannot be expected to stop these assaults on entitlement programs if there is a Democrat president in office who is putting his bully pulpit and his immense prestige within the party itself towards these compromises. That’s what Obama has done. That’s how he facilitates it. And, yes, if you do not—if you do not have an effective critique, make effective demands against this president, then he will go on his right-wing-drifting merry way.

Debate on Bemocracy Now! between Glen Ford and Michael Eric Dyson on Pres. Barack Obama and the 2012 DNC

Here’s some more food for thought–or an alternative preparation of the recipe Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party proferred in the last post–pertaining to the question of whether a vote for Obama advances or obstructs a progressive/leftist agenda. The author and editor Glen Ford makes a consistently strong case throughout his debate with Georgetown sociologist Michael Eric Dyson against giving the president full-throated support and for telling the truth about his effectiveness in pushing further the agenda of the 1%. “We say that he is the more effective evil,” Ford says of Obama, “because he is able, being a Democrat, to accomplish more of that right-wing agenda than the Republicans ever could.” If you doubt this bald statement, I highly recommend watching the debate in full. Ford’s case against the president as progressive, in domestic and foreign affairs, on Social Security and “national security,” is devastating and difficult to refute.  (Certainly, as Conor Friedersdorff at the Atlantic astutely noted, Professor Dyson had difficulty refuting it.) Continue reading