Last August as the Syrian Civil War entered it’s second bloody year, President Obama during a White House news conference stated that “a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.” A clear threat aimed at President Bashar al-Assad’s government that if he crossed that red line, the United States would be obligated to intervene on behalf of the rebel forces, whether that be by supplying lethal weaponry or direct air strikes on the regime’s forces.
That threat will be put to the test as of late last month the American intelligence community has concluded that “with varying degrees of confidence” that al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons on the battlefield, specifically the deadly sarin compound. The Obama administration is now between a rock and a hard place in how to proceed with these allegations. By not acting on their previous threat, it will make the United States appear weak and indecisive, however the alternative is intervening in yet another Middle Eastern conflict, a region that the American public has already had enough of.
As of now, President Obama’s team is “assessing” whether their intelligence is 100% accurate, and has called upon the United Nation’s Secretary General to assemble a fact finding team. In reality though, behind the scenes Mr. Obama’s team is trying to weigh the options moving forward. For Israel, America’s closest ally in the region, have already taken upon themselves to conduct airstrikes on Syrian targets of opportunity to prevent sophisticated equipment, in specificground-to-ground missiles and chemical weaponry, to fall in the wrong hands such as Hezbollah, the anti-Israel Shiite militia force in neighboring Lebanon.
The idea of setting a “red line” is also baffling if you step back and think of the message it portrays. In effect, President Obama has given President Bashar al-Assad a free hand in using aircraft, armored tanks, and hundreds of thousands of ammunition to butcher his citizens in a barbaric fashion, it’s only with chemical weapons that the United States will draw the line. This in turn will only embolden Iran and North Korea, who we have also issued ultimatums to not develop nuclear weapons, to test our limits.
Politicians will continue to employ them regardless because they are easy tools to use when a call to action is needed. It allows the lawmaker to give the appearance that he or she recognizes a problem, but will not act until a certain threshold is reached. By issuing an ultimatum, the lawmaker can give the appearance of stopping a problem without actually having to do any work.
The best example of this can be the recent economic sequester that Congress forced upon itself earlier in the year. Back in 2012, both parties did not want to negotiate a major package deal to confront our soaring debt problem given that it was an election year. So instead, they opted to issue themselves with a “red line”, if Congress couldn’t come up with a compromise by March 1st, 2013 (Which seemed like decades away) then automatic budget cuts would be enforced. It gave the phony appearance that lawmakers were addressing the problem, without doing any painful decisions, and we all know the result of what happened on March 2nd.
With President Obama stating that he will not allow chemical weapons to be deployed in the Syrian Civil War, he gives the appearance to his critics that he’s taking action on the conflict, and is not ruling out intervention. The only problem is when that bluff is challenged, and in the case of Mr. Assad, a question of the extent of the atrocities committed.
Lets assume the worse case scenario, that President Bashar al-Assad authorized the use of chemical weapons in a limited scope to test the American’s reaction. What would be the proper response by President Obama? The use of troops on the ground is immediately ruled out, given the American war weariness of Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving only two options, either supplying the rebels with heavy equipment, such as anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, or establishing a “No-Fly” zone, such as with Libya in 2011, which involves cruise missiles and airstrikes. Both options are hard to swallow, weapons can accidentally fall in the hands of anti-American extremists and used against our allies, no matter how careful we are, and military interventions risk human lives and of course, escalates the cost to the taxpayer.
Currently, President Obama’s team is reevaluating the evidence of chemical weapons use, however given our track record on presenting factual evidence, (Ahem, Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN concerning Saddam Hussein WMD’s) I would be skeptical of any official announcement concerning what is actually happening in Syria.
If there one thing that’s true, it’s that intervening in a Middle Eastern conflict will never produce the results that “we” want; in Iraq we upset a delicate balance of power between Sunni and Shiite factions, causing a bloody religious civil war. The mess we’re leaving in Afghanistan is even worse on a corruption level, with President Hamid Karzai admitting that the only way he’s managing to maintain power is with bribes, paid for by our own CIA. Our support for the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt has left us to deal with current President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood who have systematically gutted their people’s civil liberties. Finally, in Libya where we thought our military intervention would bring peace to the region, only brought death upon four Americans, including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, during an attack on our own consulate in Benghazi.
With these results in mind, why did President Obama foolishly issue a “red line” declaration for Syria? It’s a no win scenario, either we will do nothing and appear spineless to our enemies and allies, or intervene and cause even more reprehensible damage to the people of Syria. Next time, our political leaders should be more careful when issuing ultimatum proclamations, because one day they might actually have to be responsible for their promises.
On Wednesday April 17th, much to the shock of gun control enthusiasts everywhere, the first major legislation on firearms after the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting last December failed pass in the Senate. What started off with the NRA (National Rifle Association) on the ropes to explain why common sense gun legislation wasn’t needed, eventually evolved in the organization mustering all of its strength to defeat the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey amendment that would have primarily expanded criminal background rights on the purchasing of firearms. Given that there hasn’t been any major legislation on guns in since 1993, supporters of increased gun control were asking themselves if this wasn’t the perfect time, then when was? It is exactly that type of thinking which doomed this amendment from the start, on the contrary, the months after the Sandy Hook event couldn’t have been much worse.
But first, lets go back in time to last January where anti-gun fever was at its height, it was only mere weeks ago where the nation first witnessed yet another mass shooting, this time involving elementary school children by a troubled individual wielding an assault weapon, and two handguns. President Obama at the time was also having his second inauguration and the Republican Party was still reeling in defeat from November. It is around this time that Senator Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Coburn (R-OK) starting working on comprehensive gun legislation, given that the subject has always been incredibly volatile, a bipartisan approach was needed to make it palatable to the Republican controlled House of Representatives where the bill would eventually end up in. At the same time, the “Gang of 8” made up of prominent Democrats and Republicans began crafting major legislation to tackle immigration. For both sides the reasoning was sound, Democrats had been promising immigration reform for years with little results, for Republicans the reelection of Barack Obama, and the staggering amount of Hispanics who voted for him, forced them to come to the bargaining table in order to stop their electoral death spiral.
As both pieces of legislation began to be worked on, it became clear that the Schumer-Coburn gun bill was beginning to fall apart. In particular, whether to include a record-keeping system to be used when purchasing guns in a store, which many Republicans fear would lay the groundwork for national gun registry for all guns in the future. Democrats began to panic, knowing that the memory of Sandy Hook was fading, the window for meaningful gun legislation was closing fast. Knowing this, Senator Manchin (D-WV) began to furiously work on an alternative proposal and eventually found Senator Toomey (R-PA) to be his Republican partner. Eventually the cornerstone of this newest attempt of gun control legislation was an increase of criminal background checks for gun buyers, an assault weapons ban and a limit on the size of gun magazines were also included as amendments to satisfy more liberal congressmen but had little hopes of being passed though.
After a contentious debate to whether to even allow the bill to be brought on the Senate floor to be voted on, cracks began to show that passage of gun control legislation was already on thin ice. 60 votes are needed for the bill to be passed under the Senate’s current rules, and with the Democratic Party only controlling 54 seats, they needed to peel off at least six Republicans. While some Republicans were receptive, such as Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Susan Collins (R-ME) who hail from liberal states, most were unreceptive to say the least.
However, the major problem facing the Democrats was in fact breakaways from their own party, primarily from Republican held states. Back in 2008, Democrats made major gains in the Senate following on the coattails of President Obama’s election, making deep penetration in traditionally red states. Today though the political landscape is very different, and in 2014 the Democrats will have 21 senate seats up for reelection, with nine of them in competitive states, Republicans on the other hand have 14 seats up for reelection, with only one (Susan Collins in Maine) in a competitive state. Naturally, Democrats will be fighting for their lives during the midterm elections, especially those in traditionally red states.
With the final vote being scheduled on April 17th, the Gang of 8, as mentioned earlier, also announced that week that a compromise was made on immigration which included a path for citizen for illegal immigrants, a bitter pill to swallow for many Republicans. With tempers already high on the recent immigration deal, the Manchin-Toomey gun bill fell to the wayside as Republican lawmakers began to show their willpower was sapped on any further major legislative overhauls. Those feelings were revealed on April 17th where only four Republicans voted in favor of the Manchin-Toomey bill, John McCain, Mark Kirk, Susan Collins, and the Republican cosponsor of the bill, Pat Toomey.
More surprisingly, four Democrats voted against the bill, Mark Pryer, Mark Begich, Max Baucus, and Heidi Heitkamp. It should be noted that Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, also voted no at the last minute purely for procedural reasons in order to bring the bill up again in the future. What those four all have in common is that they come from deep red states, Arkansas, Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota, who also sport some of the highest gun ownership in the United States. With the exception of Senator Heitkamp, they are all up for reelection in 2014 (Senator Baucus, however recently stated he is retiring) and being tied to a gun control bill is practically political suicide for them.
The grand total at the end of the day was 54 in favor and 46 against, though obtaining a majority, fell short of the 60 votes needed to be passed in the Senate. Gun control legislation has always been a tough sell in America, and due to poor planning on the Democrat’s part, chose the worst time to move forward on it. In the midst of major immigration legislation and numerous vulnerable Democrat seats, in hindsight in seemed destined to fail from the start. Given our history with guns, it will only be another twenty short years till Congress has another pass on the subject.
For the past several weeks, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (Commonly known as North Korea) and the United States have been playing an old fashion game of brinksmanship in diplomacy, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Cold War. Starting with their 3rd nuclear weapon test on February 13th, North Korea has increasingly been more aggressive in their warmongering statements and subsequent actions, such as the recent placement of missile launchers on the coast, daring the United States to either attack or back down. This in turn has forced America’s hand by using a display of force with nuclear-capable B2 stealth bombers, the positioning of anti-missile defense systems, and an increased naval presence in the area. The mainstream media, especially CNN, has promoting the idea that a regional war is almost upon us, one that could possibly evolve to a nuclear exchange, if the current escalation of tension continues. Should we be concerned though? Or is this simply just another cycle of threats and posturing, followed by a mutual easing of tensions? The answer, like so many others, lies in the middle.
Kim Jong-Un, North Korea’s “Supreme Leader”, has proven so far to be unpredictable given his current track record of antagonizing the United States and their southern neighbor. His father and the DPRK’s previous leader, Kim Jong-Il, who equally shared his disdain for the United States openly in the past, had his moments of warming up to the West for concessions such as foreign aid and prospect of reducing the embargo North Korea has been subjected to for years. What remains to be seen is if Kim Jong-Un will follow in his father’s footsteps or chart a new course, and that depends on whether what political scientists call whether he is“rational leader” or not.
A rational leader in summary, is one who acts logically on the world stage given his or her’s strengths and weaknesses to bring prosperity to their nation. Of course the only miniscule prosperity that is in North Korea is only seen by Kim Jong-Un and his inner circle of advisers since most of the country’s population is starving and are poor beyond belief. Rationally, a leader would try to improve this situation, a population near death doesn’t help anyone, unless something else is motivating him; fear, fear of his own population from rising up against him, fear of his military generals who view him as young and experienced and may attempt a coup d’etat, or perhaps a fear that he isn’t living up to his father’s legacy.
Our intelligence’s best guess of what the reasoning behind Mr. Kim’s continuous threats of war and nuclear annihilation is to prove to his inner circle of party leaders and military generals is that he can be just as powerful as his father. Being at the young age of 29, it’s not a stretch of the imagination that his military leaders view him as weak and experienced, perhaps even weak enough to overthrow. Here is where Mr. Kim’s dilemma is, his country has already used up their entire playbook, the only thing to shock the United States is to ramp up the rhetoric to even higher heights. The best example I can give is a heroin user, the more often the drug is administered, the more he or she requires a higher dosage to get the same intoxicating effect as the previous session due to a built up tolerance. The same effect is with North Korea’s threats of war, they’ve already conducted missile launches and nuclear tests, the only thing to get America’s attention is to do more aggressive actions in a quicker succession. Hence, this is why we’ve seen such a rapid escalation of tensions over the past several weeks, the same threats won’t work anymore. In order for Kim Jong-Un to prove his worth to the military leadership, he must show he is a leader who will challenge the United States and South Korea, whatever the costs to preserve his position.
The main fear though is if he will go too far and launch a small attack on South Korea, such as the sinking of the Cheonan in March 2010 and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island later that year in November. South Korea’s new President, Park Geun-hye, has taken a firm stance on North Korea, and it should be believed that she would order a retaliation attack of equal strength, whether that will spiral out of control is anyone’s guess. This is where we hope Kim Jong-Un is a rational leader, since he attended school in Switzerland, outside of North Korea’s propaganda bubble, he would in theory know how powerful the United States, and subsequently South Korea (Who’s military is armed with American equipment) is as well.
So far, the only “unique” threat North Korea has done is the closure of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, a joint North-South industrial complex that 53,000 North Koreans work at along with their southern counterparts. Originally established as a practice run for economic cooperation, the industrial park generates $90 million a year in wages for North Korea, an incredibly important source of hard currency for Kim Jong-Un. Given the magnitude of North Korea’s choice of pulling out of this joint economic venture, it signals that Mr. Kim’s regime is running out of tricks and is resorting to riskier actions to garner attention.
With all of this occurring, it seems North Korea is only digging itself in a hole considering China, their only true ally, is beginning to yank the leash on their bellicose neighbor. Considering that China is literally their only substantial trade partner, supplying the regime with fuel and food, it may be a sign that we may soon seen a reduction of tensions. Not only does Xi Jinping, the new leader of China, not want an increased American military presence in Asia, let alone a complete collapse of North Korea due to an accidental war, he most likely does not share the same camaraderie sentiment as his predecessors did. It must be noted that North Korea only exists because China intervened on their behalf during the Korean War (1950-1953) to halt American lead U.N. forces on the peninsula. Throughout the Cold War, North Korea and China shared a common bond in deflecting American interests in Asia, that is until the Soviet Union collapsed and China began to liberalize their economy and society. While we here in the United States view China as a closed society, they are miles ahead of North Korea, and subsequently their people are much more in tuned with the world. The average citizen in China has little in common with their North Korean counterpart, and do not share their same attitude in war and nuclear Armageddon.
In the near future, I’m sure there will be more saber rattling by both the United States and North Korea, however the most important player, China, in the end will either publicly or behind the scenes put a stop to Kim Jong-Un’s threats. In the unlikely chance that conflict does break out on the Korean peninsula, it will be a true political quagmire concerning the North’s nuclear weapons, and whether they have a weapons system to deliver them on the battlefield. George Wald puts it best if it comes to that; “There is nothing worth having that can be obtained by nuclear war - nothing material or ideological - no tradition that it can defend. It is utterly self-defeating.”
As Time Magazine’s recent cover illustrates, the American public is beginning to accept that same-sex marriages will become commonplace for future generations. Given the high profile cases currently under judicial review from the Supreme Court, DOMA and Proposition 8, numerous sitting senators have announced their support for gay marriage, most of whom are Democrats. With recent polls on the matter showing that for the first time a majority of Americans approving federal legal recognition of same sex marriage, Republicans are left playing catch up on this civil rights issue. Already, we are starting to see cracks from high ranking Republicans who are openly recognizing that it’s an issue they will lose on in the future.
One of the first prominent Republicans to speak on what it means for their party’s future was the former White House political adviser to President George W. Bush, Karl Rove. After the Republican’s shellacking in the 2012 elections Mr. Rove in an interview said he could foresee the GOP nominee backing gay marriage in some fashion, incredibly ironic given his history on the matter. Back in the 2004 election season, gay marriage was still seen in a negative light, with only Massachusetts at the time recognizing it. With President Bush’s reelection campaign underway, Mr. Rove orchestrated to have eleven states propose state constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage which was squarely aimed at socially conservative voters to increase their turnout rate. The rest they say is history, given President Bush’s victory in November 2004.
Even though the 2016 presidential elections are rather far off, the only one who could possibly fit this criteria is Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who like his father Ron Paul, embraces a more libertarian and hands-off view of the federal government. The other potential candidates, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), Rick Santorum, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) have all openly declared they support traditional marriage. While time erodes all things, it’s possible their positions could change, though for now I don’t see a Republican presidential nominee backing gay marriage in the next election cycle.
Joining Karl Rove, the always controversial radio host, Rush Limbaugh said during his show that conservatives must accept they’ve “lost the issue”. In addition, conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly during the Supreme Court hearings on DOMA and Proposition 8 said that “the compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals”, referring to the point that gay Americans just want to be treated like ordinary citizens.
The recent about-face on same-sex marriage can be contributed to the recent report by the Republican National Chairman, Reince Priebus, which went into detail about their party’s losses in 2012. While GOP’s platform on traditional marriage will still stand, he stressed that the Republican Party needed to change its tone “on certain social issues that are turning off young voters” and welcome those with other views to strike a balance. This sounds all well and good, however the real reason behind this shift is the fear of younger voters, who are overwhelmingly supporting gay marriage.
Despite this, only two Republican senators have endorsed same-sex marriage, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rob Portman of Ohio, both for different reasons. Mr. Kirk is up for reelection in 2016 in an increasingly blue state which can easily become a hostile environment for a very right-wing conservative. For Rob Portman, his change of heart came when his college son revealed that he was gay himself, which propelled him to flipping his position since any parent would want their child to be treated no less than anyone else.
On the Democratic side, we’ve seen a wave of support come since the Supreme Court hearings began; Kay Hagan (NC), John D. Rockefeller IV (WV), Mark Warner (VA), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), Bob Casey (PA), Tom Carper (DE), and most recently Bill Nelson (FL). As of now, there are 50 supporters of same-sex marriage in the senate, a massive increase, considering in 2010 there were 16, and only 8 in 2008. This leaves only a handful of Democrats left to weigh in on the issue, but it is truly a milestone in our nation’s history that a majority of senators (If you include Vice President Joe Biden) are now in favor of same-sex marriage.
Nate Silver, from the New York Times, recently has wrote a piece predicting the likelihood of additional congressmen endorsing gay marriage as well, where he sees that the numbers have plateaued for the immediate future. It’s possible that if same-sex marriage gets a favorable result from the Supreme Court in June we can see more endorsements, but for now the GOP is on the spot to change their attitude towards the issue. The longer they wait and appear out of touch with the American public, the more likely it is that they’re reduced to a regional party, whose only bastion will be the deep South and pockets of the Midwest.
Never in recent history have the prospects of a major overhaul of our nation’s federal laws to same-sex marriage been so tantalizingly close. Last week, the Supreme Court took up two cases related to the matter, Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, both of which were passed with the premise of “protecting” traditional marriage on the state and federal level against the rise of their same-sex counterparts. While most insiders are speculating that the court’s final ruling will come no sooner than June, supporters of gay marriage have a lot to cheer about if last week’s hearings are a sign of what’s to come.
Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on Proposition 8 and whether it conflicted with the Constitution’s 14th Amendment which guarantees equal protection under the law. Passed back in November 2008 by California’s populace by a 52%-48% majority, it circumvented state legislators and banned same-sex marriage throughout the sate. This was in response to an earlier ruling six months prior by the State Supreme Court which stated that marriage was a fundamental right and must be extended to gay couples. By August 2010, Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 had violated the 14th Amendment, and said that it “does nothing more than to enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.” Choosing to keep the law in place temporarily, he advocated an appeal, which is what occurred on March 26th.
The justices of the Supreme Court appeared to be uneasy about the entire matter, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy who has often been dubbed as the “swing vote” on the court’s nine appointed members. In the transcript he stated he found it hard to establish a “legal injury” for Proposition 8’s defenders, and whether if they have the legal standing to defend the case in court at all. The other eight justices seemed to be evenly split on the issue, however if Justice Kennedy views that the defending advocacy group supporting Proposition 8 could not prove how they have suffered harm, the case could be dismissed. If that occurs, it will most likely mean the lower federal court’s ruling declaring Proposition 8 unconstitutional would stand.
While this would allow California to reinstate same-sex marriage licenses and benefits, it would not pertain to the rest of the United States, leaving us with a patchwork of state laws concerning gay marriage.
The real prize though would occur the following day where the Supreme Court listened to oral arguments concerning the Defense of Marriage Act, or as its more commonly know as, DOMA. Signed back in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, it forbid recognition of same-sex marriage throughout the nation, and prevented same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits. The Washington Post recently asked President Clinton to write an opinion piece on the subject and said that it was originally seen as a way to “defuse a movement to enact a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would have ended the debate for a generation or more.” Mr. Clinton has recently renounced the law and stated it was simply “a very different time”, which had only 81 members of Congress opposing the measure out of 535, a stark contrast today where the issue of same-sex marriage is much more welcoming.
The general consensus from experts watching the case (video cameras for some archaic reason are still not allowed in the court room) is that DOMA will most likely be struck down on the grounds of the 10th Amendment, in which states must recognition their fellow state’s laws and certifications. In is in essence the reason why you can drive through multiple states without having to carry multiple state driver’s licenses for example. Justice Kennedy expressed multiple times throughout the hearing he believed that DOMA infringed on state’s rights, and would be the basis of why the more liberal side of the court will strike down the act.
The most heated exchange occurred between Justice Elena Kagan, who was appointed by President Obama during his first time, and Attorney Paul Clement who was representing the House GOP on the issue of DOMA. Mr. Clement argued that “In 1996, something was happening, states were considering whether to upset to ‘traditional’ view of marriage and include gay and lesbian couples.” He continued on saying “In a sense, it was forcing Congress to choose between its historic practice of deferring to the states and its historic practice of preferring uniformity.”
Justice Kagan, clearly prepared for this statement, responded and said “I’m going to quote from the House Report here – is that ‘Congress decided to reflect an honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.’ Is that what happened in 1996?” Which immediately produced audible gasps from the crowd watching in the courtroom. This exchange essentially removed the notion that Congress wanted to simply have federal uniformity among the states without any moral misgivings, a key defense argument proponents of DOMA typically state.
With the court adjourned, it seems likely that the justices will favor striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, and punting Proposition 8 on the basis that the defenders do not have the standing to defend the case in court. If there’s anything the Supreme Court does not like to do is to make overarching laws, so you will probably not see the justices ruling that gay marriage is protected under the 14th Amendment, and hence all states must allow it. While we still may have our patchwork of states concerning same-sex marriage, if DOMA is taken down it will give same-sex couples the opportunity to no longer be second class citizens, and move wherever they want without worrying if they’ll receive their benefits that all other Americans have access to.
Last Thursday the Senate got their first chance to question John Brennan, President Obama’s nominee to replace Leon Panetta, as our next director of the Central Intelligence Agency, or the CIA as it’s commonly known as. This was also our first chance to get a peek at the American drone policy that’s been heavily supported by the Obama administration in our war against Al Qaeda and similar terrorist threats. While drone operations were utilized by former President Bush, Mr. Obama has vastly increased their use in the field from intelligence gathering to missile strikes on suspected terrorist hideouts, which has recently raised the question of the legality of such actions when it comes to choosing targets. The current administration has been tight lipped over its drone policy in the past years, only recently allowing certain documents to be released to Congress on the targeting of American citizens.
As of now, it is known that President Obama is given a list of targets and related intelligence information pertaining to suspected targets. After deliberation with staff, an executive decision is made to either proceed with the assassination via drone strike or temporarily delay action, most likely to gather additional intelligence. We’re assured by the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, that actions taken by the administration, including the order to kill American citizens, are “fully consistent with our Constitution”. However, this is an incredibly slippery slope we are now traveling down on if American citizens can be executed without trial. Most importantly of all, we are writing the rules of engagement for drones that all nations will adapt once they acquire the appropriate technology.
The first high level assassination order by the United States would be President Roosevelt’s order to proceed with Operation Vengeance in 1943, the targeting of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s personal transport plane during the Pacific campaign in World War II. Admiral Yamamoto was responsible for the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor two years earlier, and was by far one of Japan’s most decorated naval commanders, his death it was thought, would be an incredible blow to Japanese moral and damage their leadership structure. One may call this a historical example, and possibly a justification of the United State’s current drone policy of targeting Al Qaeda leaders, expecting the same results of hurting moral and tactical organization of a foreign enemy.
However they are not the same in the slightest. During World War II, President Roosevelt formally declared war upon Japan via Congress and obtained temporary, though extraordinary, war powers that he used to the fullest to protect the United States. In our case, we are fighting a multinational enemy which is an enemy philosophy, not a country where we can dictate terms to. In addition, Admiral Yamamoto’s plane was designated by Japan’s military insignia, and was legitimately targeted by American pilots, not an unmanned and amorphous drone that is targeting what we think are Al Qaeda operatives in a civilian car or similar transport. Throwing American citizens into the mix and we have a terrible recipe for highly questionable strikes for the future. Some will rebut that argument and view it as outlandish; an American president would never order the death of an innocent American. Back in 2008 I would have viewed something similarly; that an American president would never authorize the death of even a guilty American, not without a trial of course. Then came the death of American citizen Anwar al-Awaki in Yemen in 2011, who was linked to multiple terrorist attacks. While most likely he would have been convicted and put to death if he stood trial in the United States, the fact that we didn’t, and instead chose to assassinate via hellfire missile speaks volumes. I’m not against the death of a well known terrorist, however I’m against the execution of a citizen without a trial, something that will only be used as justification 10 years later when a United States dissent is killed on American soil.
The best case for historical restraint would be during the dark days of the Korean War where by 1951 a stalemate had occurred around the 38th parallel. Earlier, Chinese troops had intervened on behalf of North Korea, and pushed the American lead UN forces back from the northern border to the middle of the peninsula nation. General MacArthur, frustrated by the lack of progress by American troops suggested using nuclear weapons in a tactical way to destroy large swathes of the interior to disrupt supply lines and open gaps in the front lines. President Truman rejected this idea and soon relieved him of command, we can suspect that he knew that the United States would be setting the example of future nuclear warfare, and wanted to prevent the use of such weapons in a small scale manner. The Soviet Union two years earlier had tested their first nuclear weapon, if the United States used theirs in a small regional conflict, what was to stop the Soviet Union from using theirs against UN forces in South Korea?
This leads us to today where we face a similar position. Currently, the United States is the sole owner of drones on a large operational scale, and under President Obama’s administration, have seen an increased use on the battlefield. Though the American public has backed this new technology by wide margins, the regions affected by the drone strikes view them with hostility. While we’ll never know the exact number, it’s estimated that at least 260 civilians have died in Pakistan alone, due to either human error or possibly even under the term “collateral damage”. The bigger question is will the United States tolerate this once other nations inevitable develop their own drone technology? We are currently writing rules and accepted uses of drones right now with our actions in our continuous war against terrorism, rules that other nations such as China, Russia, Israel, and other military minded countries will adopt. Will the United States be able to claim the moral high ground if Israel uses drone strikes on the Gaza Strip and Lebanon? What if China uses drones to spy on its citizens, or Russia uses them on Chechen insurgents? The future is uncertain concerning drones, and it would be foolish to assume we will forever maintain a monopoly on this technology.
Now is the time to step back and realize that this is our Korean War moment, if using this technology in this current way is the best example for future nations developing their own similar adaptations. If we can justify the killing of our citizens without trial, how could we stand up to North Korea who mistreat their own citizens? Adopting a policy of “do what I say, not what I do” will not be acceptable in the eyes of the world, who are already wary of American power used aboard. Now is the time for the public conversation on drones, and John Brennan’s hearing is only the first step in self regulating the use of this powerful new technology.
Recently, President Obama nominated Chuck Hagel, a former Republican Senator from Nebraska for the Secretary of Defense position that is being vacated by Leon Panetta. A little background on Mr. Hagel; As a Vietnam War veteran, he ran in 1996 for Senate in Nebraska and would serve two year terms as a Republican who often bucked with his own part on foreign policy issues. While he voted in favor of the Iraq War in 2002, he became an outspoken critic of President Bush’s conduct and handling of the war, and in 2007 voted to withdraw American combat forces. Currently, he is the Chairperson of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which as it sounds, recommends President Obama on foreign intelligence threats and the legality of his actions in that scope.
In the past, presidential nominations have been seen as a privilege that comes with the office, which usually had the opposing party waving potential cabinet member through, the only notable exceptions are with Supreme Court Justices. Nowadays, every nomination is bloody conflict, with nearly every nominee being viewed as having a hidden agenda that must be exposed during the hearing. Chuck Hagel seems to be no exception to this, and will most likely face a brutal nomination process through the Senate due to his previous comments on key issues. However I have no doubt in my mind that he will clear the nomination process, given that he is a Republican (granted, one who has had serious issues with his own party) it would be foolish for the Republican Senators to unanimously block him. For the public, that would confirm that they have no interest in stepping aside from petty politics and simply want to oppose whatever Mr. Obama does. While he must be examined, as all nominees should, now is not the time for the Republican Party to engage in partisan rhetoric, there will be plenty of worthy fights in the near future over policy.
One of the major complaints that Mr. Hagel is facing are his previous comments on Pro-Jewish organizations referring to them as the “Jewish Lobby”. While people in the past have said far worse things about the Jewish community, coming from a statesman is rather tasteless. However, I understand where the words come from given his stance on Iran as well, which has also rattled the Pro-Jewish organizations given his willingness to negotiate with them. Even though I wouldn’t word it so crass, I believe the United States should begin to draw down our commitments and aid packages to Israel, even risking our alliance with them. During the Cold War, the United Nations created Israel due to the horrors of WWII that occurred to the Jewish people, with the United States backing this move heavily. Naturally the Soviet Union threw their weight behind numerous Middle Eastern nations such as Egypt, Syria, and Jordan in order to protect their vital interests in the region. This lead to a large amount aid flowing to both sides, which contributed to the several wars of survival Israel endured. Friendships and bonds were formed during that era of conflict, but the Cold War is over now and no longer warrants our massive aid packages that we give yearly. Israel is one of the few nuclear powers, rumored to possess some 100 tactical nuclear weapons, and has a top notch experienced military. It’s absurd that such a regionally powerful nation needs the backing of the United States financially. I suspect Chuck Hagel has some similar views and wants to cut aid to Israel as part of his responsibly of managing the defense budget.
The other issue that Mr. Hagel is taking heat for is his stance on possibly negotiating with Iran and reducing our sanctions imposed on them. I’ve written before that I believe this is exactly what the United States should do since the costs and potential risks are too high to maintain our present course. The United States has more to gain by normalization relations with Iran since we operate nearly 100 military bases in neighboring countries, eating up hundred of billions of dollars that could be going to something better. In addition, the key geographical feature of Iran is its proximity to the Straits of Hormuz of which 20% of the world’s petroleum passes through yearly. While I’m sure military action could force open a blockade by Iranian forces, the political and economical fallout is too great to antagonize Iran consistently which is our current policy.
For what it’s worth my small blog will endorse Chuck Hagel’s bid for the position of Secretary of Defense. It is my hope that he will be able to reign in our incredibly bloated military budget as he as alluded to in the past. Some pundits may say that his previous comments disqualify him for the cabinet position, however I completely disagree with this assessment, and on the contrary acts further on his personal convictions.
With 2012 officially behind us, and humanity surviving the Mayan Apocalypse of December 21st it’s prudent to look forward to what 2013 will bring to us. I have always been fascinated with long term geopolitical forecasting, such as the state of America, China, and Europe in 30 years and their relations to each other. If you do a simple search for this topic you’ll see that most writers envision a dystopia with the United States embroiled in a second civil war, China dominating the world in a militaristic fashion, and the Soviet Union reemerging on the global stage. While these may make for good alternative history stories, they are hardly likely to come to fruition. If you go back every two decades till the creation of the United States I’m sure you’ll meet plenty people who felt as if “now” was the starting point of the decline of the nation. Furthermore, in 1900 hardly anyone would have thought that by 1920 the world would have gone through a terrible global conflict, inflicting millions deaths across most major continents. Even worse, those living in 1920 wouldn’t believe that by 1940 the world would plunge into an even more devastating multinational conflict, causing even more death and destruction, learning nothing from the horrors of World War I. My point is, take any predictions with a grain of salt, every year added makes the forecast twice as difficult. For now though, predicting one year in advance isn’t too hazardous so lets get this started, these are my predictions for 2013:
The Chinese Economy Cracks: Since the start of the Great Recession in 2009 the brunt of the damage has affected the developed nations such as the United States, Great Britain, and Japan, while emerging economies like China, India, and Brazil have weathered the storm. This is due in part because of the industrial transition they are undergoing currently, with capital flooding the market to modernize their outdated infrastructure and economic centers. China is the best example, seeing GDP growths as high as 10% in some quarters, which has caused many pundits to predict that they will soon eclipse the US economy entirely. That may have been true under some circumstances, however we are now seeing the Chinese economy being to falter as it becomes a more developed country. Already the GDP forecasts are predicting lower growth for next year, and the cause is actually simple: China is now experiencing the woes of being a developed nation. Due to the rise of the standard of living across nearly all parts of China and an emerging middle class comes the burdens of a modern economy; those people unfortunately want stuff. Namely healthcare, insurance, pensions, less work hours, all the things that other developed nations continue to balance even to this day. While China does have those things in some capacity, they all need to be expanded to meet the needs of their wealthier citizens. With economic growth also comes the outcry gain more liberal freedoms, which the Chinese Government has had a terrible track record in maintaining, especially with the advent of the Internet. With inflation on the rise, and food prices are up, there is a dangerous combination brewing within the Chinese mainland of economic uncertainty. While there will be some growth that the United States will only dream of, it will be significantly down since recent years. Expect to see the Chinese government begin to take extraordinary measures to curb inflation as they begin the inevitable bust cycle that all modern economies face eventually.
No New Major Gun Laws: In the wake of the heartbreaking mass shooting that took place in Newtown, Connecticut there has been an outcry for new gun laws restricting “assault weapons” in the hands of general public. While some outspoken Congressmen such as Senator Dianne Feinstein have vowed to change the gun culture by introducing new restrictive legislation it’s unlikely that anything will pass in 2013. Polls show that even after the tragedy in Connecticut a majority of Americans still are against any ban and still view the National Rifle Association in a positive light. Some of my readers are probably thinking how is that even possible? It is due to the gun culture the United States has developed since the birth of the nation back in the 18th century which was formed out of violent conflict. Throughout every generation of Americans there have been gun wielding “heroes” who have been celebrated; Jesse James, Al Capone, Dirty Harry, etc. and today we are incredibly desensitized to most forms of gun violence. For President Obama, new gun control laws are not on the agenda until the economy is fixed, if he wasn’t willing to change them after the attempted assassination of Representative Giffords in Tucson Arizona, then there’s little chance he’d take up the cause now. If a bill was even supposedly passed in the Democrat controlled Senate there is little chance that it would clear the Republican controlled House of Representatives. Mass shootings will still occur in the near future, that I can predict with almost 100% certainty, even if all firearms were banned (Which is blatantly unconstitutional) someone would get a hold of 1 of the 300,000,000 guns rumored to be in the United States and commit a gun related crime. The best hope we have is to push for legislation to help mentally ill instead of punishing those who have not committed a crime for owning a firearm.
The European Union Weakens: I want to be careful with this prediction, while I’m not saying it will collapse since the organization has shown a tenacity for conducting deals at the last minute, I do believe it’s power will wane as a strong currency. As of now, the European Union is struggling to save the euro, only recently giving power to the European Central Bank to manage over the largest banks whose assets or wealth exceed 30 billion euros, something that should have been in place years ago in this fiscal union. Already forecasts are down in the Eurozone in terms of GDP growth for the rest of the year, and unemployment is at a record high if taken as an average. Greece and Spain are among the worst hit, with unemployment figures still topping over 20% with the prospect of getting positive GDP growth still years ahead in the forecast. Great Britain as well has started to show signs of breaking away from its already loose ties to the EU, with Prime Minister David Cameron possibly holding a public referendum on the issue of leaving the European Union if re-negotiations to stay turn sour. All eyes will rest upon Germany who has managed to become the the de facto leader of continental Europe when it comes to fiscal matters. Chancellor Angela Merkel will be up for reelection as well this year, which could complicate further EU negotiations as policies begin to morph into political ammunition for advertisements. For 2013 I predict the Euro to continue to remain in existence, though the dollar to become much stronger, and possibly overtake it in global currency strength.
A More Functional Congress: Don’t break out the champagne just yet, I am confident Congress’ approval ratings will remain under 20% barring an unforeseen major event (For example after 9/11 produced extremely high presidential and Congressional approval ratings due to “rallying around the flag”). However, I suspect 2013 will be the best year President Obama and Democrats have to get real work given that the election season is finally over, that is until the 2014 midterms. With the recent passage of the fiscal deal, I suspect future negotiations on big budget items will be hashed out by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who were able to produce an impressive 89-8 outcome, something that would have been unheard of two years ago. The Tea Party caucus on the Republican side is gradually losing its influence, especially after blundering Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” two weeks ago, which would have been a better deal for the Republican Party. 2013 is the best shot for President Obama to fulfill his campaign promises such as reforming our immigration policy and reducing the unemployment rate, all the more reason why I don’t believe new gun legislation will be on the table, it’s too much to deal with currently. In 2013 expect to see some compromise on both sides on the budget, which will most likely be done in chunks. The biggest test will be the deficit ceiling which is only a few months away.
Without a doubt, the Democratic Party in 2012 performed well above expectations, not only winning the presidency, but also increasing their leads in the Senate, and gained ground in the House despite remaining in the minority. 2014 however will be an uphill slog for them if history tells us, given that the party in power usually loses seats in the midterm elections. In 2006 on the heels of two unpopular wars, the Democrats regained control of the House and the Senate during George W. Bush’s second term. On the flip side, the Republican Party swept the House in 2010 during President Obama’s first term, regaining the majority and giving the Tea Party national recognition as a political force to deal with. Most likely 2014 will be no different, with the Republicans most likely increasing their numbers in both the House and Senate, but for two different reasons.
The Senate will be the primary battleground for the midterms, which has the Democrats defending a staggering 20 seats compared to the 13 seats of the Republicans. Not only that, most of the Republican seats that are open are in deep conservative states such as Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wyoming. Conversely, most of the Democrat’s open Senate seats are also in traditionally red states such as Alaska, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Realistically, the only opening Democrats have is in Maine where one of the few moderates left in the Republican Party, Susan Collins, is up for reelection. The only logical strategy they have to maintain the majority in the Senate is to hope that Tea Party members primary their establishment counterparts and then go on to fumble the general election. The best examples would be Christine O’Donnell, Richard Mourdock, and Sharron Angel who lost big in what was suppose to be easy seats to win. Adversely, the Republican candidate could say something demeaning about women and/or rape, such as Todd Akin. While I’m sure one or two of those instances have a chance of appearing, most likely the Democratic Party will lose control of the Senate unless economy under President Obama picks up dramatically.
On the House of Representatives front, the Republican Party is poised to remain in control after the 2014 midterms. To some this may sound peculiar considering if you look at the results of the 2012 election results, which had the Democrats obtaining more votes nationally in their House races, which resulted in a net gain of seats. The caveat to this logic however is part of the same reason why the Republicans have an excellent shot in making up ground in the Senate; registered and independent leaning Democrats tend to vote less often in the midterm season. This can be attributed to the fact that motivating minorities and younger voters is much harder without someone running at the top of the ticket, aka for the presidency. This is how you can have a scenario where Pennsylvania has voted Democrat nationally since 1992 but elect Pat Toomey, a Tea Party Republican as one of its senators back in 2010.
Another key reason is the Republican Party maintains a commanding lead of governor mansions throughout the United States, which have a lot of sway when it comes to redistricting for their respective state’s House members. These districts are often go through a process called “gerrymandering” which entails creating the district either to be incredibly safe to the incumbent, or incredibly hazardous, depending on what party controls the governor’s office. Given that the last census was not too long ago, most of the current Republican members in the House will start off under favorable territory as we go into the 2014 midterms.
Barring any unforeseen events, the Republican Party will most likely retain control of the House and make a serious play for control of the Senate, despite Democrat’s good fortunes in 2012. While it’s too early to begin discussing 2016 in detail, the best chance the Democrat Party has in regaining control of all three chambers of power is with Hillary Clinton if she chooses to run for president. If she does indeed take that route all bets are off of what the political landscape will be, but one this is for certain, 2014 will have a Republican Party fighting for any type of win with 2012 loses fresh in their minds.
Another election has come and gone, and while Mitt Romney may have gotten a respectable amount of the popular vote, there’s no prize for second place in politics. His loss has shocked the Republican Party, who until right up to Election Day believed that Mr. Romney had this contest in the bag, after all who could vote for the incumbent during a time of economic misery? The best representation of how hard the loss was to comprehend is Karl Rove’s meltdown on Fox News on air, who was convinced that Barack Obama would lose Ohio. With today’s choices for media consumption it’s quite possible for both sides, whether you’re a liberal or a conservative, to live in a bubble of news you view as “factual”, which contributed to the millions who were bewildered by President Obama’s reelection. In fact, if you look at the electoral college tally it wasn’t even close, 332-206 which is practically a landslide, Mr. Obama could have lost Ohio, Florida, and Virginia and still would have squeaked out a 272 victory. Finally, if we’re to believe the popular vote is fully counted after taking in all remaining absentee and overseas ballots, Mitt Romney obtained less votes than John McCain back in 2008. Conservatives around the United States are asking themselves how was this even possible? The answer you’ll get depends on who you asked.
If we delve into the demographics, Barack Obama took an astonishing 71% of the Latino vote, which was one of the primary reasons why Mr. Romney failed to clinch the race. George W. Bush back in 2004 got 44% of Latinos, and won by small margin – 284 electoral votes, and they are by far the fastest growing minority in the United States. Caucasians on the contrary are declining, and made up only 72% of the vote (59% went to Mitt Romney on Election Day), which is only decreasing as time goes on. It’s these numbers which the Republican Party fear, it means that simply concentrating on your base is not enough, they will need to change or accept they’ll become a regional party of the Midwest and South. With that in mind, they have a lot of work to accomplish for 2016 to reach out to African Americans, Asians, and Latinos. Currently, there is only one Republican African American in the House of Representatives, where they maintained a stable majority of 233-199. On the Latino front prospects are much brighter with Marco Rubio, the freshman senator from Florida, beginning to take center stage for the GOP. The bottom line is the Republican Party must soften their stance toward immigration, thinking like Mr. Romney who though that illegal immigrants would self deport is not a sound idea for legislative policy.
One of the overarching issues the Republican Party had leading up to November 6th were the rather tasteless statements Todd Akin (R-MO) and Richard Mourdock (R-IN) about women and rape. Ironically, both men were running for their respective state’s Senate seat which were meant to be easy pickups for the GOP. Both men would go on to lose, despite Mitt Romney winning by a healthy margin in Missouri and Indiana, states that were not contested by President Obama. What this means is a significant about of voters (presumably women) voted cross party for the Democratic Senate candidate, who weren’t exactly stellar quality themselves. The gender gap from the exit polls reinforces this idea, with women overwhelmingly siding with Barack Obama, who also outnumber men in the United States, a troubling trend for the GOP if this continues in future elections. In addition to this, there are now more women in government than ever before, especially in the Senate where now 20% of sitting Senators are female.
Some Republican leaders are acknowledging these problems, and have publicly dismissed Mr. Romney’s recently comments he made to his key donors that he lost because President Obama promised more “stuff” to his electorate. The Hispanic vote is only going to grow data indicates, which is why rising GOP stars such as Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Bobby Jindal have been making their presence known after being silenced during the age of the Tea Party. In addition, Congressmen such as Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have started to break with their colleagues on Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform who have famously forced nearly every sitting Republican member to sign a pledge to never raise taxes. While I’m not in favor of raising taxes, simply eliminating that option in all possible forms is dangerous and unproductive since a majority of Democrats, and effect the American populace given the election results want higher taxes to be in the negotiations.
The future for the Republican Party will be rough, however Democrats have been in the same position before, such as the defeat of Walter Mondale in 1984 when they lost every state except for Minnesota and D.C. to Ronald Reagan. If the moderates regain power in the Republican Party then the future is bright, however if party leaders come to the conclusion that more extreme conservatives are needed then it will be only a few short years till Arizona and even Texas become swing states.
We’ve finally arrived in the home stretch of the presidential campaign, and for millions of people living in this election cycle’s swing states they can hardly wait. An unprecedented amount of money has been pouring into states such as Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia that I wouldn’t be surprised if every single commercial you watched was a political ad of some sort. Now is the time to see if all of these investments will pay off on November 6th, and for the Republican Party there’s little good news if the current polls are to be believed.
As of now, we’re seeing President Obama enjoying a momentum in the polls ever since his last debate, especially if you look at the competitive state polls. In Ohio, the mother of all battleground states, Mr. Obama has held consistent lead for the past few weeks if you take an average of all reputable polls. By now, most polls you see are rather accurate portrayal on what’s happening on the ground, there are few, if any, undecided voters left this late in the game. If Mitt Romney does lose Ohio, he will have few paths to winning the White House, even if he wins nearly all of the other competitive states. The only hope he’d have is winning Pennsylvania in its place, which he has only recently started campaigning in. The reason why Mr. Romney has so few paths to the White House is because the Republican Party has failed to put any traditionally Democratic states in play, instead opting to hold onto George W. Bush’s electoral map victories in 2000 and 2004. Democrats on the other hand, have introduced Virginia, Nevada, and Colorado to name a few since 2000. With that, President Obama has many more options to win this Tuesday, and can afford to lose Florida, Colorado, etc.
National trackers as well have shown an uptick for Mr. Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction on the East Coast. In the aftermath, an overwhelming majority of Americans have given him a thumbs up on his leadership during this national crisis. It also helps that Govenor Christie, the always bombastic, and charismatic rising Republican star gave President Obama lavish praise for his performance in handling this disaster. It’s easy forget that not so long ago, Chris Christie was the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention, and once linked Mr. Obama as a leader who was bumbling in the dark, looking for the light switch. In fact, some Republicans are preparing to blame Mr. Romney’s possible loss this Tuesday on the hurricane. If President Obama wins, Sandy will forever be known as the biggest “October Surprise” in the political world.
In my opinion, I feel that President Obama will win the electoral college due to his edge in Ohio, Nevada, and Iowa. The popular vote is more unclear, due to the general lack of enthusiasm of Mr. Obama’s supporters vs. the enthusiasm of the Republican Party. If there’s a split result, with Mitt Romney winning a majority of the votes, President Obama’s second term will be wrought with calls of resignation (which is preposterous, since the law on the books is the electoral college), and inactivity of Congress since the House of Representatives will most likely remain in Republican control. For the good of the country, I hope whoever wins the election, secures both the electoral college and the popular vote to dispel anyone from claiming that Mitt Romney or Barack Obama “cheated”.
Back to the original topic, if you’re one of my readers I implore you to vote tomorrow even if you dislike both candidates, there is always a third party candidate to vote for. In the Middle East we’re seeing a resurgence of democratic ideals as ordinary citizens fight and perish for the chance to elect their leaders. The least you can do is take advantage of your right to vote since so many do not have the luxury to do so around the world.
Before I begin, I want to apologize for this late update considering my last installment was about two weeks ago during the highpoint of the debates. As you may know, or if you read my short bio, I work in NYC for a political consulting firm. Needless to say this month has been hectic considering I’ve had my own races to work on such as fundraising, data entry, meetings with clients, etc. However, I assure you I am committed to continuing this political blog and should be back to a normal weekly updates soon. Lets get this show on the road though and examine some potentially mind-blogging outcomes on November 6th.
Lately, President Obama has been clawing his way back in the polls since the infamous first debate in Denver in early October. No one back in September thought that he would slide so far down after a terrible performance, which seriously jeopardized his chances of reelection. It took two debate victories to make up for that loss, and only recently have the polls shown a tighter race, with each candidate within 1-2 points of each other. Gallup in particular has come under the the spotlight, which once showed a whopping 7 point lead for Romney, only now being halved to 3-5 points. Numerous Republicans point to this as a foreshadowing of a Mitt Romney victory, however if you look deeper in the data there is a different story, one that I suspect other polls share as well. While Romney leads overall, Obama leads in the East, Midwest, and the West, while severely lagging behind in the South. Considering that the only swing state in the South is Florida (North Carolina, is not a swing state in my opinion), we’re seeing an interesting development taking place.
Given that President Obama undoubtedly has the electoral advantage, it’s quite possible that we may see him with reelection, but lose the popular vote. This has only happened four times in history, 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000. Most likely you’ll remember the 2000 election the best, which featured Al Gore losing Florida in a recount to George W. Bush, and subsequently the electoral college. If we see a repeat of 2000 with Obama emerging as the victor, I suspect the Republican anger will be palpable in the air. Every conservative pundit and politician will call for an end of electoral college as we know it, citing the system as unfairly benefiting “liberal” states. Obama himself would be in quite a dilemma, who would surely be viewed as haven stolen the election by a majority of voters. His second term would be plagued by stalemate in the House of Representatives (Which the Republican Party will most likely hold on to), rejecting him as an illegitimate president. We’d probably see an even more unproductive Congress if that’s even possible, with the entire conversation revolving around what to do about the electoral college and how to “fix” it.
You may be asking yourself why the electoral college exists in the first place, and you wouldn’t be alone. Most Americans when asked wouldn’t know the reasoning behind it, however it dates back to when our nation was founded, with a focus on state’s rights. In theory, the electoral college system allows for equally proportional representation for the presidential election. While large states such as California and Texas have the largest share of votes, they are not overwhelming compared to more sparsely populated states, such as Wyoming or Hawaii. In fact, one of the swing states of this election is New Hampshire, a small state, but could prove pivotal in determining the winner of the election. While some may say that only “swing states” are getting the only attention by the candidates, having a popular vote method wouldn’t solve this complaint. Instead of visiting various swing states, under a popular vote model we’d see President Obama and Mitt Romney only visiting large cities such as Los Angels or New York. This in turn would have suburban and rural citizens complain that their issues weren’t being addressed at all. While the electoral collage can produce some weird results from time to time, it has served the United States well for over 200 years, and has become so ingrained in our political system I don’t see it getting a massive overhaul anytime soon.
Another deadly scenario is if we have a 269-269 tie in the electoral college, which would call for the House of Representatives to decide the winner with each state getting one vote. Given that the Republicans are expected to hold onto the House, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Mitt Romney would be elected president. However, the story gets more confusing because the Senate gets to vote for the vice president, which the Democrats are expected to maintain their majority. In theory, we could have a Romney-Biden administration would would be hectic to say the least. We would see Romney giving him absolutely no power at all, leaving Biden to just attack his boss left and right on his policies and decisions. The only precedent of a cross-party administration would be before the 12th Amendment in 1804, which had the runner up to the presidential election become the vice president by default. For example, in 1786 the Federalist John Adams was elected as our second president, with Thomas Jefferson running under the Democratic-Republican party banner. Needless to say they didn’t get along too well, which lead to the 12th Amendment being passed for future elections.
Both of these scenarios are unlikely, however possible for when we see the results come in on November 6th. Either one would severely damage the the next administration give the hyper-partisan climate we’re experiencing. As the board of elections says “Please Lord, let it be a landslide”.
As of now, we’ve seen two out of the four debates scheduled for the 2012 presidential election, one presidential and one vice-presidential. For our first encounter, we saw Mitt Romney on the offensive against Presidential Obama on domestic issues, in which he soundly defeated the incumbent president in one of the most lopsided victories in the history of debates. While it wasn’t specifically due to what Obama said during the debate, his physical performance was lackluster to say the least; looking tired, disengaged, and stressed. For our second debate, we saw an aggressive Joe Biden who stuck to Paul Ryan’s every statement, offering a critique every chance he could get. Fundamentally, what we’re witnessing are probably the most influential debates in a presidential race, which have historically not moved the poll numbers by a significant amount. Who is winning the debates though? Who has the edge? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Let me be clear, Romney defined all expectations at the first debate and won it, few will argue that the president’s performance was more enthusiastic than his. While some may question Mitt Romney’s actual facts and figures, he showed the public that he was a competent leader that was ready for the presidency. More astonishing was his clear turn toward a moderate stance, insisting that he would not cut taxes for the wealthy and openly accepted his infamous “Romneycare” healthcare plan that he established in Massachusetts. President Obama on the other hand looked as if he did not want to be there, constantly looking down and refusing to challenge Romney on most of his statements. Soon after, Romney began surging in the polls nationally, which chipped away at Obama’s substantial lead in various swing states around the country. While I believe there are few undecided voters left, President Obama’s poor debate performance greatly hurt his soft support and the moral of his more ardent followers. When you’re going into battle, nothing is more disheartening than looking over your shoulder and seeing your commander walk away from the battlefield. That is what most Democrats though of his performance, which trickles down to every part of the campaign, from the state organizers to the average canvasser.
The tables were turned on the following debate which pitted Biden vs. Ryan, the first and only vice-presidential debate, which hosted a wide range of topics, from taxes to foreign policy, and even abortion. Joe Biden was determined to make up for President Obama’s performance and reinvigorate the Democratic base. And by most accounts he did for better or worse. Republicans charged him as being too aggressive, impolite, and disdainful. Democrats stated that he was genuine, setting the facts straight, and lively. Either way, a general rule-of-thumb is whatever party complains about the moderator, that party usually “lost”. For the vice-presidential debate, Republicans blamed Martha Raddatz for letting Biden steal the show, due to her connection by attending Obama’s wedding about twenty years ago. I disagree with this charge, considering Raddatz’s first question was pointed directly at Joe Biden and the Obama administration’s poor handling of the Benghazi event that lead to the death our ambassador Chris Stevens. Regardless, Biden stole the show and bought his boss a week before the next debate this Tuesday on foreign policy and domestic issues. As for Ryan, I don’t believe he “lost” the debate, however he seemed overwhelmed by the wide range of topics, and clearly stumbled at some points regarding taking stimulus funds for his congressional district and his views on abortion.
If you’re a poll junkie like me, you’ll notice that Mitt Romney has currently regained a lot of lost ground in national tracking polls. On the state poll front, we’re seeing him retaking the lead in several states, most notably in Colorado and Florida, while Ohio still seems to be in Obama’s category for now. However, we’re in a rather volatile time for polling with President Obama starting to halt Romney’s advance due to Biden’s strong performance and the overall decent job report last Friday. Polls are best interpreted over the long term, taken as an average, and right now we’re experiencing the opposite; multiple polls averaged together over a short period due to several major events. Due to this, I’d advise my readers to take every poll with a grain of salt, such as a recent one showing President Obama ahead in Arizona by two points, or another showing Mitt Romney ahead in New Hampshire by nine points.
Tuesday is the next debate which will center on foreign policy along with some domestic issues, which I suspect will be easier on Obama due to his multiple accomplishes on this front. However, given Romney’s recent surge in enthusiasm he could be a wild card and continue his moderate winning streak in this debate. For President Obama, literally any performance will be better than his first one, so the bar is set rather low. Given his recent performances out in the field I’m sure the president will be feistier, another poor performance could jeopardize his campaign. As always, I will be live tweeting my thoughts on the debate, so follow me at @stenvens on Twitter for my comments as the debate unfolds.
This Wednesday will be the start of the last hurdle before November 6th, the presidential and vice-presidential debates on a wide array of topics ranging from foreign policy to the economy. For Mitt Romney, this represents the last chance he has to turn the tide against an onslaught of polls and pundits saying he’s as good as finished. Likewise, for President Obama this will be his moment to finish off Romney and secure his reelection. How they go accomplishing that goal will be completely different, and in this article I will examine their different strategies for success.
For Mitt Romney:
The first debate should arguably be his best performance, with the topic centering on the economy and domestic issues. Polls have indicated that the economy and unemployment are the most pressing issues the next president should tackle, however as of recent both, Romney and Obama are tied, and in nearly every other issues President Obama has a substantial lead in. What he needs to show is a capable leader that has specific ideas on how to fix the economy. He mentions closing tax loopholes to close the deficit — name them in detail. Also, numerous economists have repeated the point that tax cuts alone as his plans stipulates cannot solve our debt crisis, and is sure to be brought up. Romney needs to assure the voters that tax cuts on wealthy income earners will spur growth and provide clear examples, simply saying “have faith in me” will not cut it. This has been a common complaint conservative columnists and officials have stated; that Mitt Romney isn’t providing a bullet point plan, now is the time to unveil it.
Don’t go all in with zingers and belittle your opponent. Romney’s team has eluded that he will utilize one-liners and zingers in the hopes to catch Obama off guard. While this may be a nice talking point right after the debate it won’t stick, people want a debate not sound bites. In addition, Mitt Romney has never gone up against a well prepared opponent like President Obama for a debate, in the primaries he simply waited out for his opponents to implode. Debating one on one is also a different format entirely, Obama will be able to respond immediately to any personal attack, and the chance for executing a poor delivery will be high. If the attack backfires, you can be sure that it will be the only talking point the news will cover the next day, the media loves stories that can bleed people.
Empathy is the name of the game, throughout the entire race Romney has been seen as an out-of-touch rich guy who’s now running for president. One only needs to look at the likability polls to see the massive deficit between him and Obama, and his 47% comments certainly didn’t help. Mitt Romney needs to connect with the voters and the camera, showing that he does indeed care for struggling families. An even better tactic would be to tell voters that it was perfectly alright to vote for President Obama back in 2008, but he was in over his head so a change is needed.
For Barack Obama:
Stay the course, polls already show the president has a wide lead in nearly all of the swing states, and is tied in North Carolina, an absolute must-win for Mitt Romney. Back in 2008 we saw a similar setting with Obama vs. McCain where he was ahead in the polls, the end result was a rather boring set of debates, which is what he needs to replicate. For Romney to turn the tide he needs a blowout, and Obama simply needs to deny this, a tie in the debates is a victory for the incumbent. We may see a multitude of talking points that have been rehearsed and repeated throughout the campaign, which may put the snooze on viewers but will prevent an opening for Romney. Now is not the time to gamble it all away.
Press Romney for specifics, and prevent generalizations. The reason Bill Clinton did so well at the Democratic Convention this past August was his thorough use of numbers and statistics. This gave the impression that he did his homework on the economy and cared enough to study it in depth. For Romney, this is his exact weakness as mentioned earlier, don’t let him get away with grand ideas and stereotypes, if he mentions balancing the budget with cuts, ask which ones exactly and how will he increase the defense budget at the same time. By sticking to this point he can fluster Romney which anyone can see as weakness on television.
Avoid blaming President Bush on economic shortcomings. While it’s true that a portion of the United States still blames Bush for the recession, it’s been a repeated talking point for years now and has exhausted its weight. Pundits and critics alike will chastise Obama if he brings this up again, saying that he had four years to fix the economy and failed. A better tactic would be to mention his job bill and other economic measures that Congressional Republicans have blocked simply because they wanted to make him fail at the cost of the people’s well being.
For my readers, when you watch the debate don’t get swept up in what the analysts will say as well, they’re there to make it entertaining and will exaggerate every minute detail. I can assure you unless one side completely botches it, both Republicans and Democrats will say that their side won the debate. While historically debates have done little to completely change the race, it should be interesting to watch if any of the attack ads we’ve witnessed spill over into the confrontation. As always you can ask me questions directly on Tumblr, or follow me @Stenvens on Twitter.
Modern campaigns have been won and lost by video and sound clips, usually when a candidate is caught unaware that he or she was being recorded, or has gone completely off script from their original message. In 2008 John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, once said during an event that the United States may have combat forces deploying in Iraq and Afghanistan for up to 100 years. Given that most Americans have been rapidly losing the willpower to continue America’s longest war, it was no surprise that Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, pounced on his comments as being unacceptable to the public. On the flip side, Mr. Obama was caught during a private event during the same time period claiming that there were still people who “cling to their guns and religion”, an obvious spat at conservatives in general who greatly value their faith and the 2nd Amendment.
For Mitt Romney, soon after jumping the gun with his comments related to the embassy attack in Libya he was again cast in a negative spotlight concerning a video that was recorded at a closed door fundraiser last May. In the video, we can see Mr. Romney addressing a crowd of wealthy donors about his presidential race with President Obama. Candidly he says, “there are 47 percent who are with [President Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them.” If that wasn’t scathing enough, he further added that “my job is not to worry about those people”. Naturally, Democrats from across the nation denounced his comments as being yet another example of how Mitt Romney is only in it for the 1% super wealthy, and not for the common American worker. Soon after, Mr. Romney hastily organized a press conference and doubled down on his statements, opting for consistency than moderation. However, this may have been the wrong action to take, with Gallup showing an overall negative view of his comments, especially with independents. For my personal opinion, I believe the ramifications will be felt in his favorability ratings which are already rather poor to begin with. Needless to say it’s been a rough week for Mitt Romney’s team, and the GOP has already started thinking of contingency plans in case Mr. Obama does indeed win reelection.
Some of my readers and friends have asked why are we seeing a staggering difference between national and state polls. When one looks at the Gallup or Rasmussen daily presidential tracking polls you’ll discover that the race has been deadlocked for quite awhile, only nudging in favor of either Romney or Obama on occasion. Meanwhile, state polls show a completely different story with President Obama either tied or leading in nearly every single battleground state. In some cases, states such as Virginia and Ohio show him with a consistent lead over several months. What makes this even worse for Mitt Romney is that early voting has already started, or will start very soon in over 25 states, which are favorable for Mr. Obama at the current moment. The reason why there is such a disparity between state and national polls could be our current political extremes.
Back in 2008, President Obama enjoyed a large crossover of Republican voters (mostly moderates) who were tired of President Bush’s administration, which contributed to Mr. Obama’s landslide victory. Even in historically conservatives states such as Georgia he lost only by 5 percent, by far the closest a Democratic candidate has taken the state since Bill Clinton back in 1992 who had the advantage of being a southern himself. This time around, the latest poll shows Mr. Romney ahead by whopping 21 percent, which will itself is quite impressive does not help him in the slightest when it comes to the electoral college. You can find this theme as well in over a dozen states where President Obama made significant inroads to traditionally Republican states. This time, with moderates in both political camps becoming a rarity, most Republicans have joined the hardline far-right group whether it was for political survivability or a genuine change of heart. Is it for that reason why Mitt Romney’s numbers have been on par with Mr. Obama in national tracking polls, but have waned in battleground states. This November, I wouldn’t be surprised if President Obama dramatically lost support in all Republican states such as Nebraska and Mississippi, states that he would have lost anyway in the general election. So while the popular vote may be close, the actual electoral college vote may be more decisive.
Democrats as well must not get to complacent when their edge they’ve been enjoying since the Democratic Convention. They are endanger of squandering their newly found enthusiasm and must utilize their GOTV operations in early voting states. As of now the election is Mr. Obama’s to lose, with the burden on Mr. Romney to pick up the slack. Ironically, he’s been spending more time fundraising than campaigning due the fact that a portion of his funds must be appropriated to the RNC and their congressional races. This leaves him trying to wrangle more wealthy donors for his campaign in expensive fundraisers while President Obama is more on the campaign trail, most recently in Paul Ryan’s backyard, Wisconsin. Mitt Romney needs to rekindle his campaign and make serious changes, or we may be seeing another victory for an incumbent president.