We were told that we could hope. They promised us change. But as the first debate went on, most of what we saw was more of the same.
There was John McCain who, like Bush before him, tried to appeal to us on a personal level. Whereas President Bush campaigned as the kind of guy we would like to have a beer with, McCain spoke as the proud upright veteran who has been in almost every trouble spot in the world and has learned from his experiences. Of course, McCain did give us a Bush-like gaffe. In trying to show that North Korea was run by a tyrant, he said that proof of this was that the average South Korean was 3 inches taller than his counterpart in the North. Would McCain have used this evidence if he knew that the average American is shorter than his European counterpart?
Then there was Barack Obama. Just like the last two Democratic Presidential candidates before him, Barak tried to appeal to us as an intellectual but without their weaknesses. Whereas Gore displayed a wooden personality and Kerry was known for his flip-flops and elitism, Obama was neither as he showed his ability to think through and articulate his points on foreign policy. What became Obama's finest moments was when he showed he could counterpunch against McCain's attacks.
So as McCain wanted us to conclude that his experiences have qualified him to be the next decider and as Obama tried to convince us that his comprehensive world viewpoint gave him better judgment, what became more and more apparent was that this Presidential debate was just a sequel rather than a glimpse into a future filled with change.
First, both believe in the projection of American power in the world. McCain demonstrated this belief when he spoke about the war on Iraq. He strongly contended that Iraq was the central battlefront of the War against Islamic extremism. McCain demonstrates the classical WWII viewpoint of America that says overwhelming force and unity at home make America invincible. Victory was McCain's battlecry partly because, and this is understandable, our troops should never again taste defeat they did in Vietnam.
Obama took a different track. He emphasized that Iraq was not only a distraction from our real target who is hiding out in Afghanistan, the drain on our resources and the debt we have incurred to fight this war has crippled us from showing our power elsewhere. Here, Obama was thinking of the Americas that lie south of the border.
Second, just as with the Vietnam War, the opposing party to the war offered no moral assessment of our actions in Iraq. This kind of judgment was missing despite the fact that 1) we violated the Nuremberg Principles by invading Iraq without experiencing any imminent threat; 2) our war against Iraq has displaced 4.7 million people; 3) up to 1.3 million Iraqis have died because of this war; and 4) our presence in Iraq has drawn Al-Qaeda into the country and thus making Iraq a national shield that protects us from our enemy.
Obama's criticisms are more concerned with business measurements. According to Obama, the War against Iraq has not been an efficient use of our resources in that because of the war, we have fewer assets available to maintain our infrastructure. In addition, he asserts that the War against Iraq was not an effective part of battling Al-Qaeda because while we were fighting in Iraq, Al-Qaeda has been recovering in Pakistan. McCain's criticisms of the Iraq War were not criticisms against the war itself but how it was being prosecuted.
Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky, in their book "Manufacturing Consent"- noted that views opposing the Vietnam War were allowed as long as they fit within certain parameters. And by establishing these parameters, American opinion was guided. So the media, as well as our two main political parties, show the same degree of tolerance for opposing views to our present war. There is no major candidate who declares that our War against Iraq is both criminal--as it would be if judged by the UN charter and the Nuremberg Principles--and immoral. Certainly McCain would never say that. As for our opposition candidate, he never challenges our right to invade Iraq; he only questions whether it made good business sense to do so.
One other point must be made. Both candidates are, for all intensive purposes, protecting those who are in power who finance everyone's campaigns. When talking about our economic woes, neither candidate touched on the real cause for government's overspending. That cause is not pork barrel projects or cost overruns by contractors who should know better; it is the basic policies that both parties support. How can we expect to not have deficit spending when we are fighting at least one war, funding covert actions in another country (Iran), and maintain well over 700 bases around the world? It is former CIA consultant and historian, Chalmers Johnson, who sees bankruptcy as one of 4 curses that will visit us for trying to maintain our American Empire.
Third, we are limited to listening to only the two major party candidates. Despite the candidacies of Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, and Bob Barr, only the richest candidates are given the free campaign resource to participate in a nationally televised debate. This reinforces what has been said before regarding the parameters that limit what opposition is allowed to be publicly voiced.
There was one other small difference in last night's debate. The moderator, Jim Leher, was allowed to ask follow up questions when he felt that the candidates did not answer the question the first time. Of course, that the candidates did not answer most questions the first time asked was another example of us getting more of the same.
Perhaps if the moderator selected was not only allowed to ask follow up questions but had the expertise to challenge the accuracy of the statements made by all participants in the debate, then we could see the beginning of change.